Livestreamed from the Church of the Transfiguration, Orleans, MA
Friday, September 30th, 7:30 PM
Angel vop̃iyáshe (The Angel Cried Out)
Tibi, Christe, splendor Patris, (10th c. Hymn)
A Sequence for St. Michael
Faire is the Heaven
William H. Harris
An Angel Stood by the Altar of the Temple
Festival Te Deum
Angeli, Archangeli, Gregorian Chant
The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels has its origins in the fourth-century Eastern church. It first appeared in Western liturgy with the dedication of a fifth-century church just outside of Rome, built in honor of St. Michael the Archangel. The first of three Gregorian chants sung in tonight’s program, Angeli, Archangeli, is a Gospel canticle antiphon beckoning the many orders of angels to praise the Lord.
Angeli, Archangeli, Andrea Gabrieli
Andrea Gabrieli, uncle of the famous Giovanni Gabrieli, was a Venetian composer from the Renaissance period who became organist at the well-known San Marco Basilica in the heart of Venice. His composition, Angeli, Archangeli, demonstrates the Venetian style of soaring polyphonic lines and antiphonal calls, making use of the acoustics of the Basilica’s many domes. The text of this piece is taken from the original Vespers liturgy of All Saints Day: “All ye saints, intercede for us!”
Duo Seraphim, Juan Esquivel
Spanish composer Juan Esquivel paints the scene as described by the prophet Isaiah, in his motet for six voices, Duo Seraphim. The opening soprano duet introduces the two seraphim in conversation with each other until the entire ensemble joins for the celestial outcry, “Holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” The sweeping motion of the melody and bold leaps of the counterpoint characterize God’s glory manifested in his created world.
Imnul Heruvimic, Gavriil Musicescu
Composer, conductor, and musicologist, Musicescu played a key role in the development of Romanian and Moldavian choral music. Many of his compositions were based on folk melodies and ancient hymns. Imnul Heruvimic (Cherubic Hymn), part of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, is sung as the priest blesses the people with incense following the Gospel reading. The hymn is an invitation for the listeners to empty themselves of every worldly thought, care, and burden to receive the King of all.
Angel vop̃iyáshe (The Angel Cried Out), Peter Tchaikovsky
Tchaikovsky’s setting of Angel vop̃iyáshe (The Angel Cried Out) comes from the Orthodox Easter Liturgy. Echoing the Annunciation, an angel appears to the blessed Virgin Mary (the Theotokos) to bring her the joyful news that her son is risen from the dead. The hushed opening chords accompany the tender approach of the angel before bursting at the words, “Rejoice! Your Son is risen!” The resulting fugal conversation urges all to rejoice in the Lord. The piece concludes with an intimate word to Mary: “Be radiant, O Pure Theotokos, in the resurrection of your Son!”
Tibi, Christe, splendor Patris, Gregorian Chant
The second of our three Gregorian chants in tonight’s program is a joyful tenthcentury Lauds hymn to Christ, giving tribute to all archangels. In particular, it praises Michael, the chief of the heavenly army, who battles for us and repels the wickedness of the enemy.
A Sequence for St. Michael, Herbert Howells
A Sequence for St. Michael is a wonderful setting of a medieval poem originally written by Alcuin of York in the ninth century. It was set to music by Herbert Howells in 1961 to celebrate the 350th anniversary of St. John’s College Chapel in Cambridge, England. The composer’s petition to the Archangel Michael comes from his personal wrestling with the horrors of World War II, and more importantly, his ever-present anguish over the loss of his son, Michael, who died at the age of nine. From the first impassioned cries of “Michael!” to the sublimely peaceful conclusion, A Sequence for St. Michael captures the essence of earth’s unpredictable sorrows and heaven’s overarching, comforting presence.
Heilig, Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy
Born into a Jewish family in Leipzig, Germany, Felix Mendelssohn set Heilig (Holy) in the final years of his life, as part of his German Mass for Double Choir. This simple and reverent composition expresses the familiar text of the Sanctus with a soothing and uplifting character. “All nations are full of his praises. Hosanna in the highest!”
Faire is the Heaven, William H. Harris
Faire is the Heaven is one of the most beloved compositions of Sir William Henry Harris. He served as choirmaster at several different posts during his lifetime, including St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, at which he conducted for both the 1937 and 1953 Coronations. The text for this piece comes from selected lines of Edmund Spenser’s An Hymn of Heavenly Beauty, published in 1596. Harris shows great sensitivity to Spenser’s beautiful text with his initial yearning of “faire.” This is followed by the vivid description of angels as the “bright Cherubins,” the “eternal burning Seraphins,” and the “Archangels which attend on God” that give us a vivid picture of the “endlesse perfectnesse” of heaven.
Stetit angelus, Gregorian Chant
The third Gregorian chant in tonight’s program uses text from Revelation 8, a chapter about angels. This antiphon from Lauds depicts the angel holding a golden censer, sending our prayers as incense rising up to God.
An Angel Stood by the Altar of the Temple, Leo Sowerby
Considered to be the leading twentieth-century American composer of church music, Leo Sowerby made a contribution of colorful music for organ, both sacred and secular, that remains unsurpassed. A master craftsman, he wrote never to impress, but rather to illuminate the sincerity and dignity of the text.
In this anthem, Sowerby joins the prophetic texts of the Old Testament Psalms to the New Testament book of Revelation. Through his contrapuntal skill, changing textures, rhythmic vitality, and instinct for building an extraordinary musical climax, Sowerby takes us on a journey to “Sing praises and magnify him above all forever.”
Festival Te Deum, Benjamin Britten
Benjamin Britten was an English composer, conductor, and accomplished pianist. A central figure of twentieth century British music, he composed a wide range of both secular and sacred works. His most well-known compositions include the opera Peter Grimes (1945), The War Requiem (1962), The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra (1945), and A Ceremony of Carols (1942). Although those close to Britten considered him to be agnostic, there is a depth to his sacred works that belies a certain spirituality.
The opening section, “We praise Thee, O God,” begins with ethereal, almost otherworldly unison voices singing in free time against a strict organ line. It abruptly changes character with, “Thou art the King of glory,” becoming more vigorous and rhythmic. As the piece concludes, the soprano soloist leads the final prayer, “O Lord, in Thee have I trusted, let me never be confounded.”