Music Notes for May 14, 2023

Hymn of the Day: “We Know That Christ Is Raised” ELW 449
Text: John B. Geyer (1932)
Tune: ENGLEBERG Charles V. Stanford (1852-1924)

The author, John B. Geyer, writes:

“We Know That Christ Is Raised" was written in 1967, when I was tutor at Cheshunt College, Cambridge, U.K At that time a good deal of work was going on 'round the corner (involving a number of American research students) producing living cells ("the baby in the test tube"). The hymn attempted to illustrate the Christian doctrine of baptism in relation to those experiments.

The text was first published in the British Methodist supplementary hymnal Hymns and Songs (1969) but has since been altered in various other hymnals, including the Psalter Hymnal. The controlling thought comes from Romans 6:3-5, in which Paul teaches that in baptism we are united with Christ in his resurrection–that is the basis for our new life. Like 269, this song ends each stanza with a note of praise–in this case with an "alleluia" refrain line.

John B. Geyer is an Old Testament scholar who has written widely in his field. He wrote a commentary on The Wisdom of Solomon (1973) as well as a number of hymns that were first published in various British supplementary hymnals. Educated at Queen's College, Cambridge, and Mansfield College, Oxford, he also studied Old Testament under Gerhard von Rad in Heidelberg. In 1959 Geyer was ordained in the Congregational Union of Scotland. He served as a chaplain at the University of St. Andrews, pastor of Drumchapel Congregational Church in Glasgow, Scotland, and a college tutor. In 1969 Geyer became minister in the (now) United Reformed Church in Little Baddow. Since 1980 he has served as pastor at Weoley Hill, Birmingham, and as chaplain at the University of Birmingham, England.

Charles V. Stanford composed ENGELBERG as a setting for William W. How's "For All the Saints." The tune was published in the 1904 edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern with no less than six different musical settings. It is clearly a fine congregational hymn.

A distinguished composer and teacher of composition, Stanford began his musical career at an early age. Before the age of ten he had composed several pieces and given piano recitals of works by Handel and Bach. He studied at Queen's College, Cambridge, England, as well as in Leipzig and Berlin. At the age of twenty-one he was asked to become organist at the famous Trinity College, Cambridge. At that time he also began a prestigious career in conducting, which included appearances with the London Bach Choir from 1885 to 1902, and he traveled widely in England, Europe, and the United States. His teaching career was equally impressive. Stanford taught composition at both the Royal College of Music and Cambridge University; among his students were Ralph Vaughan Williams and Gustav Holst. He was knighted in 1902. Stanford wrote over two hundred compositions in nearly all musical genres, including symphonies, operas, chamber music, and songs. Most notable in his church music are several complete services, anthems, and unison hymn tunes.

Offertory Anthem: “Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands,” JS Bach

CHRIST LAG IN TODESBANDEN is an adaptation of a medieval chant used for "Victimae Paschali laudes" (the same chant is the source for CHRIST IST ERSTANDEN). The tune's arrangement is credited to Johann Walther (1496-1570), in whose 1524 Geystliche Gesangk Buchleyn it was first published. But it is possible that Luther also had a hand in its arrangement.

Walther was one of the great early influences in Lutheran church music. At first he seemed destined to be primarily a court musician. A singer in the choir of the Elector of Saxony in the Torgau court in 1521, he became the court's music director in 1525. After the court orchestra was disbanded in 1530 and reconstituted by the town, Walther became cantor at the local school in 1534 and directed the music in several churches. He served the Elector of Saxony at the Dresden court from 1548 to 1554 and then retired in Torgau.

Walther met Martin Luther in 1525 and lived with him for three weeks to help in the preparation of Luther's German Mass. In 1524 Walther published the first edition of a collection of German hymns, Geystliche gesangk Buchleyn. This collection and several later hymnals compiled by Walther went through many later editions and made a permanent impact on Lutheran hymnody.

One of the earliest and best-known Lutheran chorales, CHRIST LAG IN TODESBANDEN is a magnificent tune in rounded bar form (AABA) with vigor and lightness characteristic of Easter carols. Many organ compositions are based on this tune; Johann S. Bach incorporated it extensively in his cantatas 4 and 158. The chorale is introduced by Bach’s organ chorale prelude.

Christ Jesus lay in death’s strong bands
for our offenses given;
but now at God’s right hand he stands
and brings us life from heaven.
Therefore let us joyful be
and sing to God right thankfully
loud songs of alleluia! Alleluia!

Opening Voluntary: Noël Nouvelle, Michael Bedford (1949)

Most often found paired with the text “Now the green blade rises,” NOEL NOUVELLE is also sung to “Sing we now of Christmas.” If you are familiar with this tune as a French Christmas carol, you are not alone as this tune has been associated with this carol text since the 17th century. In1928 it was repurposed with the Easter text written by John Macleod Cambell Crum.

Michael Bedford, a full-time church musician since 1973, currently serves as organist/choirmaster of St. John's Episcopal Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he plays the organ and supervises a full graded choir program including three singing choirs, one handbell choir and a chamber ensemble. He has held similar positions in Texas and Colorado.

Closing Voluntary: “Good Christian Friends, Rejoice and Sing”, Healey Willan (1880–1968)

It is always a pleasure to play a piece by Healey Willan. His harmonies are full and resonant and the settings, whether quiet and introspective or sonorous and vibrant, are always moving.

James Healey Willan was born on October 12, 1880, in Balham, Surrey, England. He had a wide experience as a composer of a full-length opera, a symphonic work, countless organ and choral works, as a music educator, a choral director, and a church musician. He played his first service at the age of eleven in 1891 and his last service on Christmas Eve, 1967, just two months before he died on February 16, 1968.

Having served churches in England, Willan left for Canada in 1913 to serve as organist and choirmaster at St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Toronto as well as head of the Theory Department at the Toronto Conservatory of Music. In 1921, he accepted the position of organist-choirmaster at St. Mary Magdalene Church, an Anglo-Catholic parish in Toronto, where he was to remain for the rest of his life. During his tenure there, Willan also accepted in 1938 the position of Professor in the Music Faculty at the University of Toronto.

Most of his hymn-based motets and organ preludes came into existence after his retirement from the University of Toronto in 1950, the most prolific compositional period of his life. Willan is probably best known for his sacred and liturgical music, especially that written for St. Mary Magdalene Church. His anthems, hymns, motets, mass settings, and carol settings contributed to his reputation as the “dean of Canadian composers.”

This organ piece is based on the well-known hymn “Good Christian Friends, Rejoice and Sing,” tune name Gelobt sei Gott, by Melchior Vulpius (1570-1615). Full and festive, the basic structure is that of a short introduction followed by the phrases of the tune alternating with interludes and offering a richness of harmonic beauty typical of Willan’s compositions.