Opening Voluntary: Prelude on DOWN AMPNEY – Chester Alwes (1947-)
Today’s opening voluntary is based on DOWN AMPNEY, tune to the much-loved hymn, “Come Down, O Love Divine” which we sing today as our offertory hymn (#516, The Hymnal 1982). The text of the hymn is a translation of writing by Bianco da Siena (d. 1434). Other than that he was a member of the short-lived Order of Jesuates (an order of unordained men following the Augustininan rule) and the place and year of his death, little else is known of this Italian writer. A collection of his poems, some 92 in all, were published for the first time in 1851 in Italy. Four of these were later translated by Richard Frederick Littledale (1833-1890). Littledale was an Irish-born cleric of the Church of England. with many others of the 19th century, he participated in the revival of catholic ideas and content in the English church and was, in a sense, one of the fathers of Anglo-Catholicism. Musically, he was the creator of The People’s Hymnal (London, 1867), prepared for Anglicans who felt, as he did, that they might benefit from many traditional Catholic teachings and practices without leaving their own church. Unaccountably, The Hymnal, 1982 omitted the third stanza of the hymn, but we include it here for your consideration:Let holy charity Mine outward vesture be, And lowliness become mine inner clothing; True lowliness of heart, Which takes the humbler part, And o’er its own shortcomings weeps with loathing.
The tune DOWN AMPNEY was composed to be used with this text by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) and was published for the first time in The English Hymnal (1906) for which he shared authorship with Percy Dearmer (1867-1936). Although The English Hymnal had this tune anonymously, it is now known as Vaughan Williams’ work and is appropriately named DOWN AMPNEY after the town of the composer’s birth. It is rightly considered a masterpiece of English hymnody. Chester Alwes, composer of the voluntary, was born in 1947 in Louisville, KY and studied at Union Theological Seminary in NY. He later studied and taught at the University of Illinois and is the author of A History of Western Choral Music published by Oxford University Press in 2011.