Opening Voluntary: Praeludium und Hymne in the Phrygian Mode – Flor Peeters (1903-1986)
Offertory: Chorale Prelude on Pange, lingua, gloriosi – Flor Peeters (1903-1986)
Both tonight’s opening voluntary and the offertory are works of composer Florent Peeters (1903-1986). Peeters was born in the village of Telen, east of Antwerp, Belgium in 1903 as the youngest of 11 children, most of whom played musical instruments. By the age of only 8 years, he deputized for his eldest brother at the local church. He studied formally at the Lemmens Institute in Mechelen and was appointed assistant to his teacher, Oscar Depuydt, at the St. Rombouts Cathedral in Mechelen at the age of 20. Peeters later succeeded to his teacher’s position and remained as the principal organist there for 63 years. He taught at several musical institutions and also performed widely as a recitalist, including 10 separate tours through the United States. Peeters wrote many different types of music, but most was for the organ, for which he composed over 550 works.
The Opening Voluntary, Praeludium und Hymne is from Peeters Opus 90 work of 16 pieces on the “Kirchentonarten” or as we might say, the Gregorian modes. Unlike modern Western music, in which we use relatively few scales (most commonly the major and minor scales), Gregorian music employs 8 different scales, numbered 1-8 and in that order known by the names: Dorian, Hypodorian, Phrygian, Hypophrygian, Lydian, Hypolydian, Mixolydian and Hypomixolydian. The voluntary this evening is based on the third or Phyrgian mode. On a modern piano, this scale can be reproduced by playing the ‘white’ notes beginning on “E” and ending at the same note as the octave above. It is most similar to our modern “natural minor” key and differs from that scale by only one half-step in the second degree. Peeters composed two pieces in this collection for each of the modes, one freely conceived Praeludium and one more rigidly homophonic Hymne.
The organ composition at the offertory is based on the Latin hymn, Pange, lingua, gloriosi found in our Hymnal 1982 as #329 in the English translation, “Now, my tongue, the mystery telling.” The text is attributed to Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) and was first notably translated into English by Edward Caswall (1814-1878) and later emended by others. Although originally a married Anglican Cleric, Caswall came under the influence of John Henry Newman (1801-1890) and later converted to Roman Catholicism. The hymn, Pange, lingua, has been used traditionally during the procession to the altar of repose on Maundy Thursday as well as on the Feast of Corpus Christi. The final two stanzas, beginning with “Therefore we before him bending” or in Latin, Tantum ergo sacramentum, are known for their use in the Rite of Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.