Notes from the Music Desk (January 16)

(Photo: T. Frederick H. Candlyn at St. Pauls)



Organ Voluntaries:

  • Schmücke dich –J. S. Bach
  • Prelude in e minor – Max Reger



  • Venite
  • The Third Song of Isaiah
  • Te Deum



  • Christ, whose glory fills the skies  - C. Frederick H. Candlyn



  • 135 Songs of thankfulness and praise
  • 339 Deck thyself, my soul, with gladness
  • 132 When Christ’s appearing was made known

by Donald Meineke

The 2nd Sunday after The Epiphany recalls the first public miracle of Jesus, when water is turned into wine during the wedding at Cana. Just as the divinity of Jesus is continuously revealed to us each week through the scripture readings of the Epiphany season, so too does the music capture the mystical nature of Christ through ancient hymns, psalms, chants, and spiritual songs.

T. Frederick H. Candlyn, an English-born organist/choirmaster who immigrated to the U.S. and served several Episcopal parishes in the Northeast (most notably St. Thomas Church Fifth Avenue in New York City from 1943-1954), sets the poetic text Christ, whose glory fills the skies by the prolific hymn writer, Charles Wesley, in a stirring anthem for choir and organ. The text continues the Epiphany themes of light, daybreak, and Christ as our Morningstar.

Both the entrance and closing hymns this week, Songs of thankfulness and praise and When Christ’s appearing was made known, work their way textually through the principal events of the season: the visit of the Magi, the baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan by John the Baptist, the wedding at Cana, and the transfiguration of Christ on the mountain peak.

Deck thyself, my soul, with gladness, found in the “Holy Eucharist” section of the hymnal, flourishes with imagery of a great banquet in which Christ nourishes us with heavenly food and drink and, thus, places us as a guest at the very wedding feast we hear about in Sunday’s gospel. Bach’s gentle setting of the hymn for organ from The Leipzig Chorales opens with a delicate dance in the accompaniment on which the beautifully ornamented melody floats. Max Reger, a German composer and organist who lived and worked in Leipzig 200 years after Bach, is well known for his fiery and technically challenging organ compositions. His Prelude in e minor serves as a bold final acclamation to the doxological closing of the hymn Erhalt uns, Herr. 

Plainsong, sometimes referred to as “Gregorian chant”, is the church’s oldest form of sung prayer. Every major world religion utilizes this most primal form of sung speech, each with its own formal structure and flavor. In all cases, there is some form of a “recitation tone” which covers the majority of the individual sentence or phrase, and additionally includes a flex at midpoints or termination at the end.

Both The Third Song of Isaiah and Te Deum are set to plainsong with different treatments to showcase the versatility of this ancient genre. Fauxbourdons originated in the 15th century as music developed from monophony (one voice) to polyphony (many voices). The fauxbourdon offers a stark contrast to the simple plainsong which serves to highlight particular verses of the canticle. If you listen closely, you’ll hear the melody of the chant in the tenor voice while the other voices harmonize around the tone.