Advent Calendar Day 10: Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence (Bairstow)

Have you recovered from yesterday’s post yet?  I’m still giggling about it, to be honest.  But moving along, here’s a somewhat more conventional setting of the same text.

Edward Bairstow was one of the great composers of English (Anglican) church music in the late 19th to early 20th century, and his work does feel very English – and Edwardian – to me.  There is a sense of old-world restraint to it, though this certainly doesn’t stop it from being both lush in its harmonies and evocative in sound.  That bass and tenor line at the very start (and end) of the piece sends shivers down the spine, and when the choir starts singing about the choirs of angels it’s one of the most beautiful vocal lines out there.  And the Alleluia is – as it should be – like a shout of joy.

(I use the word shout advisedly.  That is not what you are supposed to do with Bairstow… but most choirs can’t resist it in the forte sections.  I’m not entirely sure, for instance, that this one did.)

It occurs to me that I’ve used this text twice in two days without actually saying why I think of it as an Advent piece, but I’ve sort of figured that the whole ‘Jesus Christ to earth descending’ is a bit of a hint.


Advent Calendar Day 4: Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord (Michael Wise)

Now that we’ve seen what Handel does with Every Valley and Isaiah generally, I thought it might be fun to see what someone else does with the same text.  Also, of course, we sang this piece on Sunday and I loved it immediately.

Michael Wise was born nearly forty years before Handel, but died quite young – in a duel, if I recall correctly – so their paths did not cross.  And nor did their music.  If you thought that Handel liked to show off occasionally  by using music to illustrate the words, well, he had nothing on Wise, who took this to an extreme degree.  I especially like ‘the crooked shall be made straight’, and later ‘get the up into the mountains’, though the bit where the grass withereth is also good.  Wise feels much earlier than Handel, to my ear.  Where Handel pretty much wrote the book on English Baroque Oratorios, Wise was still playing with verse anthems, and harks back much more to Gibbons in his style of composing.  Which is better?  I really couldn’t say.  I’d hate to do without either of them.

Advent Calendar Day 2: The Record of John (Orlando Gibbons)

I know I link to this every year, but to me, this is where Advent starts.  I’ve been singing this with the Wesley Choir for about twelve years now, most of that time as the alto soloist, though I have also dabbled with the first alto and soprano lines in this and other choirs.  It is, I think, one of the most beautiful and evocative pieces of church music out there, and whenever we walk into choir on that day in late November and our conductor plays the opening bars, some part of me just settles into a place where all is well, and Advent is here, and it’s all just *right*.

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Monday Music: My Shepherd is the Living Lord (Tomkins)

Did you know that singers are like bats?  Or at least, I am.  I can’t think of any other way to describe it, but sitting at Mt Carmel on Friday, getting ready to sing for the Order of St Lazarus (who still can’t quite live up to their rather magnificent title), I found myself doing something bat-like, analysing the space in some way that I can’t properly define, but feeling with my body the different way the sound would travel in this new space, so that when I got up to sing, I’d know how to project in it. I’ve sung at Mt Carmel before, but we’re usually at the side, where there’s a chapel to help us, rather than at the center, where one has to work a little harder in some way I can’t define… but part of me was defining it, so that by the time the first note emerged from my mouth, I knew where to put it so that it would carry. So very strange.   It’s one of those things that is partly conscious – I know I’m doing it, after all – but I don’t know how or what.  I imagine someone who really understood the physics of acoustics would know the equations my body and ears were figuring out, but I am not that person.

Anyway.  Moving along from this little side-step into chiroptology, it must be time for some music, and since this post started at Mt Carmel, it might as well move along to Wesley, because we sang a rather gorgeous piece by Thomas Tomkins yesterday.

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Friday Fun: Let all the People Praise Thee, O God (William Mathias)

Today’s post is a bit late, mostly because I’ve been on leave and got engrossed in another project until very late last night… and then woke up late and headachey moving in slow motion this morning. Since part of this project has involved trolling through ten years of online journal posts, and I did turn up one or two amusing posts about music during my travels, and since I’m still feeling a bit under the weather today, I’m departing from my usual interpretation of the Friday theme, and posting something I wrote about six years ago about a piece of music we sang in choir which, shall we say, did not entirely meet with my approval.  I hope you find it amusing.

…So, we are singing an anthem that we like to call The Mathias. Its actual name is “Let all the people praise you, O God”, and it was written for the wedding of Charles and Diana, back in 1981.

Frankly, I think this piece of alleged music explains a lot about what went wrong in that marriage.   Don’t let the harmonious part at the beginning fool you. It’s all downhill from there.

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Easter Sunday: Now the Green Blade Riseth

I thought I should finish my Easter sequence of music with my favourite Easter Carol.  There’s something about this one that has always spoken to me, even in my pagan / agnostic days.  The harmonies are beautiful and haunting, the melody has a lovely simplicity to it, and the words are just gorgeous.  And maybe a trifle pagan in a Corn God sort of way (looking at you, James Fraser), though I rather think that’s a deliberate subversion of the pagan imagery on the part of the poet.

(Much like the way the early Church subverted large chunks of existing pagan festivals into their holy day celebrations.  There’s this fabulous letter from one of the early Popes that basically tells missionaries that if the people are used to having a feast on this day, you should let them have the feast, and dedicate it to a saint, and if they are used to worshiping in this place, you should dedicate the place, and call it a church.  He doesn’t *quite* say that they’ll never notice the difference, but there is definitely the implication that if you let them keep all their other habits, you’ll be able to quietly slip in the Christianity without anyone getting upset…)

But I digress…

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Maundy Thursday: Ubi Caritas et Amor (Mariano Garau)

We had the Maundy Thursday service this evening at Christ Church Brunswick.  It’s a truly stunning piece of liturgy, particularly when the priests and servers stripped the altar and its surrounds of all decoration – first putting out the candles, then removing the candles and candlesticks themselves, then removing the altar cloths and all other accoutrements, and changing their decorated golden vestments for plain ones, while we spoke Psalm 22 (O God, my God – why have you forsaken me).

Priests and choir then exited silently through the side door, rather than processing, leaving the alter bare and empty, and the congregation were invited to hold silent vigil at the side chapel for a few minutes or until midnight if they chose.  Next year, I may do the full vigil.

Anyway, after all that, I really couldn’t go and write up a post for Friday Fun this week.  So instead, you get one of the pieces we sang this evening during the foot-washing part of proceedings.

I love how archaic this sounds.  I don’t think it is a medieval arrangement, but it does have that sort of feel to it.  All those parallel 5ths and octaves. We sang it more slowly and softly, which I think suited it better for this occasion.

The lyrics are in Latin and are traditional for Maundy Thursday.  The English translation is:

Where charity and love are, God is there.
Christ’s love has gathered us into one.
Let us rejoice and be pleased in Him.
Let us fear, and let us love the living God.
And may we love each other with a sincere heart.

Where charity and love are, God is there.
As we are gathered into one body,
Beware, lest we be divided in mind.
Let evil impulses stop, let controversy cease,
And may Christ our God be in our midst.

Where charity and love are, God is there.
And may we with the saints also,
See Thy face in glory, O Christ our God:
The joy that is immense and good,
Unto the ages through infinite ages. Amen.


I’ll be singing these lyrics again tomorrow, as a Taizé chant for the Way of the Cross.  Not such beautiful music, but still a good sentiment, and perhaps one that holds more meaning when sung by a large, ecumenical congregation rather than a small choir.  Trying to fund the Garau version on YouTube, I realised I’ve also sung the Duruflé version at some point.  It’s much lusher, and very gorgeous, but I think the simplicity of the Garau suits this service better.

And, while we’re on Maundy Thursday music, here’s the final hymn for today, Pange Lingua Gloriosi, or Of the Glorious Body Telling (we sang it in English, but the lyrics I know kicked in at about verse 5, and start Therefore We Before him Bending) (also this recording claims to be by Benedictine Nuns, but I have my doubts.  Most nuns I’ve met don’t have those bass notes…).  This is another text that keeps getting set in beautiful arrangements (some texts just seem to consistently inspire magnificent music), but the Gregorian chant – which we sang – is still, to my mind, the most beautiful.