Music Notes for July 7, 2024

HYMN OF THE DAY: O Christ, Our Light, O Radiance True  ELW 675
Text: Johann Heermann, 1585-1647; tr. composite
Tune: O JESU CHRISTE, WAHRES LICHTENSTEIN,  Gesangbuch, Nürnberg, 1676

Johann Heermann's own suffering and family tragedy led him to meditate on Christ's undeserved suffering. The only surviving child of a poor furrier and his wife, Heermann fulfilled his mother's vow at his birth that, if he lived, he would become a pastor. Initially a teacher, Heermann became a minister in the Lutheran Church in Koben in 1611 but had to stop preaching in 1634 due to a severe throat infection. He retired in 1638. Much of his ministry took place during the Thirty Years' War. At times he had to flee for his life and on several occasions lost all his possessions. Although Heermann wrote many of his hymns and poems during these devastating times, his personal faith and trust in God continued to be reflected in his lyrics. He had begun writing Latin poems about 1605, and was crowned as a poet at Brieg in 1608. He ranks with the beat of his century and is judged to be the finest hymn writer in the era between Martin Luther and Paul Gerhardt. Some indeed regard him as second only to Gerhardt. He marks the transition from the objective standpoint of the hymnwriters of the Reformation period to the more subjective and experimental school that followed him. His hymn texts are distinguished by depth and tenderness of feeling; by firm faith and confidence in face of trial; by deep love to Christ, and humble submission to the will of God. Many of his texts became at once popular, passed into the hymnbooks, and still hold their place among the classics of German hymnody.

OFFERTORY:  Charity: Berceuse (Homage to Louis Vierne) David Bednall (1979)

Celebrating French music through the channels of an English hymn tune, Charity: Berceuse reimagines Vierne’s classic with Stainer’s tune at its heart. Here we have a fine example of Bednall’s rich, romantically-infused harmonic vocabulary, leisurely unfolding.

And here, a fine example of some of David Bednall’s thoughts on the art of composing.

“One of the challenges for any contemporary composer is to discover a compositional style and language which has a distinct nature. The radical and far-reaching changes in 20th century music have brought us to a point where one might question what remains to be done. This, perhaps, has particular relevance to the continued use of tonality as a compositional force. My belief, which has been demonstrated by many composers since the advent of atonality, is that the tonal, or at least the poly-tonal world, is far from exhausted. What I admire most in the work of other composers, and have used as the main ingredients for my own compositions, are colour and texture. I believe these to be essential elements in establishing mood and atmosphere, and crucial in any successful and reflective setting of a text.”

OPENING VOLUNTARY: “Berceuse” from 24 Pièces en Style libre pour Orgue, Op. 31 Louis Vierne, (1870-1937)

This is Vierne’s classic gem which inspired today’s Offertory music. The most charming lullaby ever written for the organ?  Perhaps, but either way Louis Vierne's "Berceuse" from his 24 Pieces Written in Free Style (24 Pièces en Style libre pour Orgue) is a very soothing and calm lullaby.

Louis Vierne dedicated Berceuse to his daughter, Colette. The term “berceuse” is French for “lullaby” so perhaps when he played it he thought of tucking in his little girl. The lullaby has a warm and kind tonal language and is one of the highlights of this collection of 24 organ pieces.

Vierne is one of the most important French romantic composers for the organ, using the instrument as a means to perform ‘symphonic’ music, inspired by the new possibilities of the new organs built at the time.

The blend of styles in his organ music is unique with aspects of Romanticism combined with an impressionistic ‘pastel-like’ quality. Like many of his contemporary colleagues, Vierne felt a strong fascination with Wagnerian chromaticism.

There is a very sad story about this piece. It is dedicated. When the dedication to "à ma fille Colette" was published, Vierne had divorced from his wife who had quickly, while still married, preferred Charles Mutin. And, seeing the dedication, his former wife wrote to Vierne : "A ta fille ? Elle n'est même pas de toi !" (to your daughter ? But it's not YOUR daughter"). And still more cruel when one reads the dedication of Vierne's 2nd symphony: "A mon ami Charles Mutin" (To my friend Charles Mutin).

CLOSING VOLUNTARY: Toccata: Grosser Gott. Matthew H. Corl (1965)

Matthew H. Corl is a graduate of Westminster Choir College, where he received the Bachelor of Music degree in Church Music in 1987. He also studied organ at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, MD, and  served as director of music and organist at St. Paul United Methodist Church in Trenton, NJ.

Since 1987 Matthew has been organist and associate director of music at First United Methodist in Lakeland, FL, where he directs vocal and handbell ensembles for children and youth. Matthew has been a clinician for workshops and a published composer of works for organ, choir, handbells and instrumental ensembles.

GROSSER GOTT was set to the German versification in the Katholisches Gesangbuch. The German text is a paraphrase of the "Te Deum. ” Variants of the tune abound; the version found in the Psalter Hymnal came from Johann Schicht's Allgemeines Choralbuch (1819), and the harmonization came from Conrad Kocher's setting in his Zions Harfe (1855).