Saturday, December 29, 2012

Epiphany Sunday 2013

Casavant organ op. 3738, installed 1995
4 divisions, 60 stops, 42 registers, 59 ranks, 3391 pipes. 

Epiphany Sunday is about travels… the Kings traveling to see the Child, and our travel through the coming year. 
In this vein we travel musically through time a bit, looking back to the Angels’ song and looking forward to the new year.

Vom Himmel kam der Engel Schar............  Johann Heinrich Buttstedt (1666-1727)
With original text by Martin Luther (1483-1546) the chorale text appeared in Geistlicite Lieder, Wittenberg c. 1543  and was subsequently sung to music by Michael Praetorius(1571-1621). This hymn’s title transliterated to English is “From Heaven came the Angels’ Song.”   While popular from Luther’s time on, the German hymn disappeared from hymnals about 1920.   The hymn text reappeared in English translation in the mid 19th Century as “To Shepherds As They Watched by Night”

To shepherds as they watched by night
Appeared a host of angels bright;
Behold the tender Babe, they said,
In yonder lowly manger laid.

At Bethlehem, in David’s town,
As Micah did of old make known;
’Tis Jesus Christ, your Lord and King,
Who doth to all salvation bring.

Oh, then rejoice that through His Son
God is with sinners now at one;
Made like yourselves of flesh and blood,
Your Brother is the eternal God.

What harm can sin and death then do?
The true God now abides with you.
Let hell and Satan rage and chafe,
Christ is your Brother—ye are safe.

Not one He will or can forsake
Who Him his confidence doth make.
Let all his wiles the Tempter try,
You may his utmost powers defy.

Ye shall and must at last prevail;
God’s own ye are, ye cannot fail.
To God forever sing your praise
With joy and patience all your days.

Johann Buttstedt was Johann Pachelbel’s most important pupil. He was organist at Predigerkirche in Erfurt.  Although he composed over a thousand works in manuscript, only a few keyboard works and chorale preludes survive.  This particular work was first published in 1907 and exists in only one edition. The registration, reflecting the sound of the famous Gabler organ at the Weingarten Abby (begun in 1737 and completed in 1750),  is full organ with 16’ reeds in the manual, the full principal chorus, capped with high mixtures. The pedal has everything on that the instrument can muster, in order to set forth the chorale tune and capture the magnificence of the angelic song. The piece opens in G Dorian mode with an extended section in free style as in the “prelude” of a “prelude and fugue.”  First we hear an ascending figure as the shepherds look to the sky, and then a descending figure as the angel’s song descends to their ears.  Following this is an extended section of 4-part counterpoint expressing the splendor of the angelic song, all played by the hands.  The pedal comes in fortissimo with the chorale melody as the hands continue the angelic song.  Phrases of the chorale melody are interspersed with fanfare-like passages as the story unfolds.  The piece ends happily on a G Major chord. 

Arise and Shine in Splendor.......................   Johann Gottfried Walther (1684-1748)
Arise and Shine in Splendor refers to Christ as the Morning Star, the thematic basis of much of Epiphany Sunday.  The first verse of the text first written in 1628 by Martin Obitz, in English translation by Gerhard Geischen is:

Arise and shine in splendor,
Let night to day surrender;
The light is drawing near,
Above thee day is beaming
In matchless beauty gleaming;
The glory of the Lord is here. 

The text is set to a tune written in 1490 by Heinrich Isaac which supports a number of other texts, and is heard here with melody in the bass, played on the pedals, with counterpoint above.  Johann Gottfried Walther was Johann Sebastian Bach’s cousin. Besides being a composer and performer, he wrote the first dictionary of musical terms and composers in the German Language.  The registration for this piece is “Organo Pleno” but in a more restrained fashion more like Bach’s organ at Arnstadt.  

(January 6th, besides being Epiphany Sunday, is the first Sunday in the new year.) 
Chorale and Prelude "The Old Year Has Passed Away"   Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
The anonymous text of 1568 was translated by Catherine Winkworth thusly:
The old year now hath passed away;
We thank Thee, O our God, today
That Thou hast kept us through the year
When danger and distress were near.

We pray Thee, O eternal Son,
Who with the Father reign’st as One,
To guard and rule Thy Christendom
Through all the ages yet to come.

Take not Thy saving Word away,
Our souls’ true comfort, staff, and stay.
Abide with us and keep us free
From errors, following only Thee.

Oh, help us to forsake all sin,
A new and holier course begin!
Mark not what once was done amiss;
A happier, better year be this,

Wherein as Christians we may live
Or die in peace that Thou canst give,
To rise again when Thou shalt come
And enter Thine eternal home.

There shall we thank Thee and adore
With all the angels evermore.
Lord Jesus Christ, increase our faith
To praise Thy name through life and death.

Winkworth switched the last two lines of the first verse from the German version to her English version.  So the original first verse text ends on a happier thought than the translation. 

The chorale as harmonized by Bach is written with no key signature but begins with an A major chord.  It moves from major to minor as the text gets to “passed away” and back to major as the text gets to happier thoughts.  This major-minor alternation continues throughout, ending happily on an  E major chord.  It is played on a single stop--the 8’ Rohrflote on the Grand-Orgue. 

The prelude, follows the general harmonic structure of the chorale, and has the melody, greatly ornamented, in the soprano, played on a Cornet of 8’ Bourdon, 2 Nasard, and 1 Tierce, with Tremulant on the Positif.  The left hand accompanies with counterpoint on an 8’ Rohrflote on the Grand-Orgue, and the pedal supplies the bass with a 16’ Subbas and the 8’ Viola da Gamba coupled from the Recit manual. If one counts the notes, and judiciously includes some of the suggested ornaments, the note count of the prelude is 365.  

"Let us all with gladsome voice praise the God of Heaven"............ Healey Willan (1880-1968)
First published in 1632, the hymn was translated by Catherine Winkworth in 1863:

1. Let us all with gladsome voice
Praise the God of heaven,
Who, to bid our hearts rejoice,
His own Son hath given.

2. To this vale of tears He comes,
Here to serve in sadness,
That with Him in heaven's fair homes
We may reign in gladness.

3. We are rich, for He was poor;
Is not this a wonder?
Therefore praise God evermore
Here on earth and yonder.

4. 0 Lord Christ, our Savior dear,
Be Thou ever near us.
Grant us now a glad new year.
Amen, Jesus, hear us!

The hymn tune precedes the prelude by Willan. The prelude on the hymn is played in “French Canadian” registration, native to the Casavant organ, to capture the sounds which would have been heard as the composer played on the Casavant at the Church of St. Mary Magdeline, Anglican,  in Toronto, where he was Precentor from 1921-1968.  The counterpoint of incessant eighth notes in the hands is constructed from fragments of the hymn melody while the pedal thunders forth the hymn melody.  Willan was the most famous of Canadian composers of the 20th century and in addition to his position at the Church he was Professor of Music and head of the theory department at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto from 1937-1950.  Willan composed some 800 musical pieces, the majority of which were sacred works.   His non-sacred opus includes some 50 choral works, 100 song arrangements for voice with piano accompaniment, many works for piano solo, for voice with instrumental accompaniment, two symphonies, a piano concerto, a suite for concert band, chamber works, incidental music for stage works, ballad operas, and at least one important opera.

Next week--- The Wedding at Cana and the works of the Holy Spirit.