Second Sunday of Christmas (Epiphany Observed) 05 Jan 14


Opening Voluntary: Prelude on “We three kings of orient are” – Carlos Staszeski (b. 1935)

Today’s opening voluntary is based on the American Christmas / Epiphany carol, “We three kings of orient are” found in our Hymnal 1982 as # 128.  Both text and tune of this carol are the work of John Henry Hopkins, Jr. (1820-1891).  Hopkins was born in Pittsburg, PA in 1820 as the son of the Right Reverend John Henry Hopkins, an Episcopal bishop.  He was initially educated at the University of Vermont, where he took both a bachelor’s and master’s degree.  He worked for a time as a journalist and then entered and was graduated from General Theological Seminary, the oldest seminary in the Episcopal Church, in the year 1850.  He served as the seminary’s first teacher of music in the years 1855-1857, and it was during this period that he wrote and composed the carol, “We three kings of orient are,” for a Christmas pageant for his nieces and nephews.  It was not published until six  years later in 1863 in his work, Carols, Hymns and Songs. Hopkins subsequently served as rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Williamsport, PA.  He died in Hudson,  York and was buried next to his father at Bishop’s House, Rock Point, Burlington, Vermont.

The text of “We three kings” recounts the Epiphany story from the Gospel of Matthew of the coming of the Magi.  There is, of course, no mention in the Gospel as to the actual number of the Magi, but from the three-fold gifts that they presented to the Christ child, they have been traditionally pictured as having been three.  This numeration in Western Christianity dates at least as early as the time of the church father, Origen (185-254), although in the Syrian Church there are traditions that suggest that there were was many as twelve.  By the Middle ages, the “three” Magi had even acquired names, and their place in popular piety was enlarged by episodes in mystery plays and a whole genre of what are known as “three kings plays.” Their supposed relics were transferred in 1162 by Frederick Barbarossa from Milan to Cologne Cathedral where they are enshrined to this day in a magnificent silver and bronze gilded and jewel-covered reliquary created by Nicholas of Verdun in 1190.  The shrine was opened in 1864 and found to contain bones and clothing.

The opening voluntary, presenting several variations in harmony and registration on the carol tune, is the work of Carlos Staszeski, born 1935 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He studied in New York City at the Guilmant Organ School and the Manhattan School of Music.  He currently serves as organist and director of music at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Waretown, New Jersey.


1st Sunday of Advent – 1 Dec 13

Philipp Nicolai

Philipp Nicolai

Opening Voluntary: Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (BWV 645) – J. S. Bach (1685-1750)

Choral Introit: “Unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul” – H. Alexander Matthews (1879-1973)

Today’s organ voluntary is based on the great German hymn, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, which we sing in English translation as our entrance hymn today (“Sleepers wake! A voice astounds us,” # 61, The Hymnal 1982). This classic hymn, sometimes known as “King of Chorales,” was both written and composed by 16th century Lutheran pastor, Philipp Nicolai (1556-1608). The hymn was written during the time of a deadly epidemic that raged in his town of Unna, Westphalia from July of 1597 to January of 1598.  Claiming some 1300 victims in total, the pestilence resulted in as many as 30 burials per day, most of which Nicolai could observe from his home that overlooked the churchyard. In such dark times, it was not surprising that Nicolai’s thoughts turned to death and the contemplation of the “last things.”  Nicolai reported that he was, at this time, most concerned with “the contemplation of the noble, sublime, doctrine of Eternal Life, obtained through the Blood of Christ. This I allowed to dwell in my heart day and night, and searched the Scriptures for what they revealed on this matter.” It is hardly surprising that the full German original is, thus, filled with scriptural illusions (from Isaiah, Ezekiel, The Revelation to John, 1st Corinthians and the Gospel of Matthew). It is most obviously related to the parable of the wise virgins from the Gospel of Matthew as evidenced by Nicolai’s subtitle “Of the Voice at Midnight, and the Wise Virgins who meet their Heavenly Bridegroom.” The text and tune were first published in an appendix to his meditations in the year 1599.  It first appeared in English in the Lyra Davidica of 1708, a hymnal published in London of translations from German and Latin.  It was made popular to English listeners as part of Felix Mendelssohn’s (1809-1847) “St. Paul” oratorio which premiered in English translation in Liverpool in the year 1836.  Although most often sung to the translation by the famous Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878), the editors of The Hymnal 1982, commissioned a new translation by Carl Daw which they felt conveyed more of the vigor of the German original.

Our opening voluntary is the famous “Schübler” chorale version (BWV 645) of Wachet auf, Bach’s own transcription of his setting from his Cantata 140, composed originally for the 27th Sunday after Trinity. The name “Schübler” is that of the engraver and publisher of the 1748 collection of organ transcriptions. Originally for solo voice and orchestral accompaniment, Bach sets the chorale tune in the solo tenor line accompanied by the main orchestral motive in the soprano line and a correlating base in the pedal.  Our entrance hymn, #61,“Sleepers wake! A voice astounds us,” is the chorale harmonization from the same cantata, an isorhythmic ( in even rhythm) form of the original unevenly rhythmic composition (found as #62 in The Hymna 1982) by Nicolai.

Sunday in the Octave of All Saints’ Day – 03 Nov 13

Heavenly Jerusalem

Organ Voluntary: Chorale Prelude on Cælestis Urbs Jerusalem – Flor Peeters (1913-1986)

Cælestis urbs Jerusalem,
Beata pacis visio,
Quæ celsa de viventibus
Saxis ad astra toleris,
Sponsæque ritu cingeris
Mille angelorum milibus
Thou heavenly, new Jerusalem,
Vision of peace in prophet’s dream!
With living stones built up on high,
And rising to yon starry sky;
In bridal pomp thy form is crowned,
Yea, with thousand, thousand angels round! 
 Urbs beata Jerusalem
dicta pacis visio
Quæ construir in cælis
vivis ex lapidibus
Et angelis coronata
ut sponsata comite.
Blessed city of Jerusalem,
called “vision of peace,”
Built in heaven
out of living stone
And crowned by the angels
like a bride for her consort. 

Today’s organ voluntary is a chorale prelude based on the melody of the Gregorian hymn, “Cælestis Urbs Jerusalem.”  The original text is anonymous and may date from as early as the 6th century of the Christian era. Originally, the text (see above) was “Urbs beata Jerusalem,” but was altered under Pope Urban VIII (1568-1644) by a group of correctors.  In its original form (see above), it was later translated and adapted by hymn writer and Anglican priest, John Mason Neale (1818-1866) and appears in The Hymnal 1982 as #519, “Blessed city, heavenly Salem.” The composer of the voluntary was Flor Peeters (1913-1986), a renowned Belgian composer and teacher of organ music.

23rd Sunday after Pentecost – 27 Oct 13

Georg Friedrich Händel

Georg Friedrich Händel

Opening Voluntary: Fugue in C Major á 3 – Georg Friederic Händel (1685-1759)

Choral Introit: Lætetur cor – Simple English Propers

The Opening Voluntary, the “Fugue in c Major á 3,” comes from a set of six pieces published as a collection attributed to the famous German-English Composer George Friederic Händel, usually known as his “Six Little Fugues.”  As to whether these fugues actually were the genuine works of Händel himself or another composer working in a similar style remains a musicological question to this day. All six of these works are fugal and typically English in style, and all are in 3 voices or “á 3.”

Georg Friederic Händel was born in 1685 in Halle, Duchy of Magdeburg into a family indifferent to music.  Händel’s father, 63 at the age of his birth, was a barber-surgeon.  His father, who intended that his son should study law, when he discovered his son’s strong propensity to music, was so alarmed by this that he strictly forbade him to play any musical instrument.  Flouting his father’s orders, Händel obtained a small clavichord, a stringed keyboard instrument popular for practice in the Baroque era and known for its soft tones, and secreted it in a room at the top of the house.  His first biographer writes that “to this room he constantly stole when his family was asleep.” While still a child, Händel traveled with his father to visit a relative who was serving as a valet in a ducal court.  It is said that Händel was sat down on an organ bench and surprised everyone with his playing abilities. This event was said to have helped the duke and Händel to convince his father to allow him to study music. At that time, he became the student of Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow, organist of the Marienkirche of Halle.

In 1702, Händel commenced study of the law at the University of Halle at his father’s wishes but continued to work as a musician, being first organist for a year at the Cathedral of Halle and then becoming violinist with an opera orchestra in Hamburg.  He produced his first two operas in Hamburg in 1705. He relocated to Italy the following year of 1706 where he composed both operas and sacred music. In 1710, Händel became Kapellmeister to the German prince Georg, the Elector of Hanover who, in 1714, became King George I of Great Britain and Ireland.  Händel settled then in England where he remained for the rest of his life.  Within 15 years, Händel had established three opera companies and over his later career completed more than 40 operas.  In 1737, after a crisis of health, he turned progressively to the composition of English choral works, particularly grand oratorios, the most famous today being “The Messiah” of 1742.  At the time of his death in 1759, Händel was both wealthy and  widely respected. He was given a state funeral with full honors and buried in Westminster Abbey.


22nd Sunday after Pentecost – 20 Oct 13

William Cornish

William Cornish

Choral Music Prelude:Pleasure it is to hear iwis” – Cecil Cope (1909-2003)

Pleasure it is to hear, iwis,* the birdés sing.
The deer in the dale,
The sheep in the vale,
The corn springing.
God’s purveyance** for sustenance it is for man.
Then we always Him give praise;
And thank him than***.
* ‘in truth’
** ‘provision’ 
*** ‘then’

 -William Cornish (1465-1523)

Today’s choral music prelude is based on a 16th century poem/song by William Cornish (1465-1523) who was Master of the Chapel Royal under Henry VII and Henry VIII.  He was also responsible for musical and dramatic entertainments at court for important diplomatic events such as the Field of the Cloth of Gold (1520) as well as visits to the court of France and the Holy Roman Empire.  The original song melody is lost, the sole surviving copy being of the text and the bass line printed in Wynkyn de Worde’s, Twenty Songs (Bassus), published in 1530.  The text has been set to music several times in the last century, notably by Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) in his Ceremony of Carols of 1942 as well as John Ireland (1879-1962) in 1938 in his Five XVIth Century Poems. The musical setting offered today by our Schola Cantorum Choir is by Cecil Cope,  a British composer, born in 1909 in Lichfield and died in Forest Row, East Sussex in 2003.

21st Sunday after Pentecost – 13 Oct 13

Percy Dearmer

Percy Dearmer

Choral Music Prelude: “Draw us in the Spirit’s tether” – Harold Friedell (1905-1958)

Draw us in the Spirit’s tether,
For when humbly in thy name,
Two or three are met together,
Thou art in the midst of them;
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Touch we now thy garment’s hem.
As the brethren used to gather
In the Name of Christ to sup,
Then with thanks to God the Father
Break the bread and bless the cup,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
So knit thou our friendship up.
All our meals and all our living
Make as sacraments of thee,
That by caring, helping, giving,
We may true disciples be.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
We will serve thee faithfully – 

Percy Dearmer, 1867-1936

In place of an organ voluntary today, our Schola Cantorum Choir sings an arrangement of Percy Dearmer’s beautiful poem, “Draw us in the Spirit’s tether.”  Dearmer was an English priest and liturgist and is known in Anglican circles for his work, The Parson’s Handbook as well as his collaboration with Ralph Vaughan Williams in the production of The English Hymnal. Harold Friedell was organist of Calvary and St. Bartholemew’s Episcopal churches in New York City and taught at Union Seminary, the Julliard Shool and the Guilmant Organ School.  The tune for this song, UNION SEMINARY, is one of his best known and beloved works.

St. Francis of Assisi (observed) – 6 Oct 13


Opening Voluntary: Prelude on Lasst uns erfreuen – George A. Lynn (1915-1989)

Choral IntroitMihi autem absit – Simple English Propers

Today’s opening voluntary is based on the tune (Lasst uns erfreuen) of our offertory hymn today, “All creatures of our God and King” (#400, The Hymnal, 1982), an English translation and adaptation of the original text attributed to St. Francis of Assisi.  St. Francis’ Cantico di fratre sole, laude della creatur, (Canticle of Brother Sun and of All Creatures), often titled “Canticle of the Sun,”  was originally written in the Umbrian dialect of Italian rather than Latin and is believed to be the first genuine religious poem in the Italian language. Whether or not this is precisely true,  it is most certainly a very early example of Italian vernacular religious song known as the Laude Spirituale, that flourished in the early thirteenth century. It is believed to have been written in about 1225-1226 during the last year of life of St. Francis, a period of intense pain and suffering for him. By tradition, the first time that it was sung in its entirety was by Francis along with his religious brothers, Angelo and Leo, two of his original companions,  while St. Francis was on his deathbed. Pious legend also asserts that the final verse to “Sister Death” was composed only moments before.  Although the hymn version by William H. Draper (1855-1933) has become a classic in its own right, it does omit some very characteristic features of the original, most notably the personifications of the natural world as “Brother/Sister” as in Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brothers Wind and Air, etc.  Draper also makes a particular use of the ambiguity of the Italian word “per” which can mean both “for” and “from” by choosing the latter sense and turning the hymn into a pæan not “for” sun, moon, wind, air, water, death but a song of praise sung “by” these elements of nature.

 The tune, Lasst uns erfreuen, dates to the year 1623 when it was published in a hymnal by Catholic musicians in the city of Cologne.  It was, however, based in part on an even earlier Strassburg melody, first published nearly a century earlier in 1525. Several slight melodic and rhythmic variations are known to exist, and the version we sing today, arguably the most popular one, dates to the English Hymnal  of 1906 and was the work of its musical editor, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958). The short prelude that we hear today as our opening voluntary is a work of George Alfred Lynn (1915-1989).  Lynn taught at Westminster Choir College and the University of Colorado in Boulder. He was also organist of several churches in Denver and Colorado Springs. Musically, the work is in the form of a trio in which the upper two voices present the melody, slightly varied, in the form of a canon  supported by a simpler pedal line that serves to complement the harmonic progressions created by the interweaving of the canonic melodies.

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