Music from New York’s Dutch Cathedral
Prelude: Sonata in E-flat, opus 65: Andante by Horatio Parker (1863-1919) We open our worship this week with a piece of music composed a century ago for one of Marble’s sister churches, St. Nicholas Collegiate Church.
Historically referred to as the Dutch Cathedral, St. Nicholas was the largest of New York City’s Collegiate Churches for the 77 years it stood at the northwest corner of 48th Street and Fifth Avenue before it was demolished to make way for Rockefeller Center. The sanctuary housed a large Odell & Co. 4-manual pipe organ (1900) that had tubular-pneumatic action. (An innovation in late 19th-century organ building, tubular pneumatic actions—tubes of pressurized air—began replacing mechanical trackers—levers and rods that for centuries had connected the keys to the pipe valves—enabling more flexibility in console placement and a lighter physical touch for the organist.) In 1902, Horatio Parker became the organist of St. Nicholas Church. A native of Auburndale, Massachusetts, Parker had enjoyed early success, composing his choral masterpiece, Hora Novissima (In the Last Hour), at the age of 28. In the 1890’s he served on the faculty of General Theological Seminary, as well as that of the American Conservatory of Music while Antonin Dvořák was its director. Parker became a professor of music theory at Yale University in 1894, and later assumed the post of dean of the School of Music from 1904 until his death.
The Sonata in E-flat, opus 65 is Horatio Parker’s largest work for solo organ, and it displays his gift for beautiful lyric melody and intricate chromaticism, which have inspired comparisons to the music of César Franck. LISTEN The Andante serves as the second of four movements, offering a tranquil oasis in the sonata. The Récit Hautbois (swell oboe) plays a winding melody over a gently undulating accompaniment. Twice it is interrupted by a quiet chorale played on the Voix Humaine (literally, “human voice”). A fugal middle section again turns gloomy and unsettled, but as quickly as the storm swells it subsides, returning to the peaceful serenity of the opening.
Two Takes on an Ascension Hymn
Hymn: Hail the Day that Sees Him Rise (Llanfair) LISTEN Thursday, May 9 marks Ascension Day, and this Sunday it will be a liturgical focus of our worship service. Llanfair is a Welsh hymn-tune that was first published in 1837 and is now widely associated with Charles Wesley’s Ascension text, “Hail the Day that Sees Him Rise.” The name points to Llanfairynghornwy in Anglesey, Wales, as the tune’s likely place of origin. Typical of early 19th-century Welsh tunes, the forthright melody is based on the notes of the tonic chord, and the straightforward structure of the hymn is A-A-B-A. This audio sample is from a 2010 service at Marble for which I composed a brass arrangement of this majestic hymn.
Prelude: Chorale-Prelude on Llanfair by McNeil Robinson (b. 1943) It is hard to believe this is the same hymn as that above, for Robinson recasts the angular Welsh tune as a delicate aria. LISTEN His tender and poetic Chorale-Prelude on Llanfair was composed in 1994 for the ninetieth birthday of Clementine Miller Tangeman, a philanthropist and donor of Park Avenue Christian Church’s Holtkamp Organ. The hymn-tune is accompanied sparingly by a tenor countermelody and gently moving bass line. Later, a second countermelody is introduced in the form of a lightly flowing scale, babbling brook-like under the theme. Answering each verse is a peaceful chorale of ethereal beauty. This is one of my favorite organ works, and playing it truly feeds my soul. My only regret is that on Sunday much of its tender beauty will likely be drowned out by pre-service conversation. Nevertheless, I offer this as a wordless prayer, and on Sunday I invite everyone to join me in that spirit of worship.
Two Takes on Another Hymn-Tune
Hymn: Engelberg (When In Our Music God Is Glorified) The hymn-tune Engelberg was composed by Charles Villiers Stanford in 1904 and originally published with the text “For all the saints, from who from their labors rest.” Of course, we now sing “For All the Saints” to the famous hymn-tune Sine Nomine, composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams, one of Stanford’s students. But Engelberg is a magnificent hymn in its own right, and it will serve as the tune both for our closing hymn and for the theme of my postlude. Stanford’s tune derives much of its strength from the downbeats on which the congregation does not sing; each phrase of the hymn actually begins with a rest. LISTEN (I strongly suggest taking a good deep breath on those rests!) Furthermore, each verse concludes with a great “Alleluia” which, rather than settling back on the tonic, instead ascends to the dominant of the key, literally launching us forward harmonically into each next verse.
Postlude: Voluntary on Engelberg by Calvin Hampton (1938-1984) A brilliant organist and himself a major contributor to 20th-century hymnody, Calvin Hampton was asked in 1983 to improvise on the hymn tune Engelberg at the American Guild of Organists’ Convention. Since it was a favorite of his, Hampton instead composed this Voluntary on Engelberg and presented the manuscript as a souvenir to those in attendance. The voluntary opens with a jolly, original theme in the style of a brisk march. This gives way to a brief fugue based on the Engelberg hymn-tune, and then, as only Calvin could do, the two themes are combined in an absolutely perfect union of counterpoint and harmony. LISTEN In this audio sample I first play Hampton’s own original tune – the jolly march – and then after a brief pause I demonstrate how the two themes –Stanford’s hymn-tune and Hampton’s original – are simultaneously combined in a stroke of pure genius.
Listening for God
Offertory: We Know that God Is Speaking by Kenneth Dake Gregory Chestnut, a friend who is Director of Music at First Congregational Church in Sarasota, Florida, showed me a fine hymn he had written to be sung at a denominational gathering. It speaks powerfully of the ways God is at work in the church today – not merely speaking through prophets past but through present day “dreamers, builders, visionaries…keepers of the future, explorers of the now.” I was taken with the text and decided to set his words in an original choral anthem. As I composed the music I challenged myself to move away from the “one syllable, one note” style of my other writing in order to achieve a more fluid, melismatic lyricism – meaning the melody would flow with several notes per syllable of text. LISTEN My models were the gorgeous melodies of Morten Lauridsen and sensuous harmonies of Herbert Howells, plus a bit of the shimmering texture that is evocative of Eric Whitacre’s choral writing.
In the a cappella middle section the music comes to a stop on the phrase, “We listen still for guidance.” I deliberately took the word “still” out of context in order to make the point that we must “be still and know God.” As Rev. Travis Winckler reminded the staff this week, it is important to begin each day with at least fifteen minutes of quiet time alone – for prayerful reflection, journaling, contemplation, or simply listening. In this way we nourish our soul before getting swept up in the inevitable onslaught of daily life. How to build such a spiritual practice into one’s daily routine will be a focus of a special workshop at Marble this Saturday, May 11th: The Sacred Journey: Prayer Intreat.
Let us carve out sacred space in our busy lives in order to be still,
quieting the mind’s chatter and listening deeply for God’s still, small voice.