Music Notes for February 4, 2024

During February, Black History Month, we are celebrating each week the contribution African Americans have made to our worship either in our hymns, anthems, preludes or postludes, through musical compositions and/or texts rooted in this history and culture.

Today’s Opening Voluntary is an organ work by Florence Price.

Hymn of the Day: “God, Whose Almighty Word” ELW 673
Text: John Marriott (1780-1825)
Tune: ITALIAN HYMN, MOSCOW, Felice Giardini (1716-1796)

John Marriott was educated at Rugby, and Christ Church, Oxford. He was the second of two who obtained honors in the schools in 1802, the first year in which there was a public examination for honors at Oxford. He was also Student of Christ Church, and for about two years a private tutor in the family of the Duke of Buccleuch. The Duke presented him to the Rectory of Church Lawford, Warwickshire. This he retained to his death, although his wife's health compelled him to reside in Devonshire, where he was successively curate of St. Lawrence and other parishes in Exeter, and of Broadclyst, near Exeter, where he died March 31, 1825. His published works include a volume of Sermons which he issued in 1818, and a posthumous volume of Sermons, published by his sons in 1838. His hymns were never published by himself, nor in book form by any one. A few appeared in print during his lifetime, but without his permission.

The hymn, “Thou Whose almighty word”, or "Thou Whose eternal word," was quoted by the Rev. Thomas Mortimer, M.A., Lecturer of St. Olave's, Southwark, and afternoon Lecturer at St. Leonard's, Shoreditch, at the meeting of the London Missionary Society in Great Queen Street Chapel, London, and was printed with a digest of the speech in the Evangelical Magazine in 1825. It was probably copied from the Magazine into the Friendly Visitor of July, 1825, where it bore the title "Missionary Hymn," without signature.

Felice Giardini was born in Italy. When young, he studied singing, harpsichord and violin. By age 12 he was playing in theatre orchestras. In a famous incident about this time, Giardini, who was serving as assistant concertmaster during an opera, decided to show off his skills by improvising several bravura variations that the composer, Nicolò Jommelli, had not written. Although the audience applauded loudly, Jommelli, who happened to be there, went up and slapped Giardini in the face. Giardini, years later, remarked: "It was the most instructive lesson I ever received from a great artist." He became a composer and violin virtuoso. He toured Europe as a violinist, considered one of the greatest musical artists of his time. He served as orchestra leader and director of the Italian Opera in London, giving concerts. He tried to run a theatre in Naples, but encountered adversity. He went to Russia, but had little fortune there, where he died.

Giardini was a prolific composer, writing for virtually every genre which then existed. His two main areas, however, were opera and chamber music. Virtually all of his music is out of print with the exception of a few songs and works of chamber music. Giardini is known among Christian churches for his "Italian Hymn" or "Moscow", which often accompanies the text to the hymn "Come, Thou Almighty King" and also John Marriott's hymn "Thou whose almighty word".

Offertory: “Christ Is the World’s True Light” William Stanton (1891-1978)

The text, Christ is the World’s True Light, was penned in 1931 by George Wallace Briggs, a Canon of Worchester Cathedral. He wrote this text as a "missionary hymn" to emphasize one of the concepts of modern missions: “In Christ all races meet.” It was published in the Advent section of Oxford's Songs of Praise (1931) and in Briggs's Songs of Faith (1945), in which it was entitled "The Light of the World." The text begins by affirming Christ's own saying, "I am the Light of the world" (John 8: 12). Christ is the light and daystar who brings his people salvation from the darkness of sin. Borrowing one of Paul's memorable teachings in Galatians 3:28 and Jesus' prayer for unity in John 17, the text confesses the essential unity of all humanity and especially the oneness of the family of God. Only when the nations and all peoples submit to Christ's reign will our "groaning" world experience true peace and redemption.

Walter Kendall Stanton was educated at Choristers' School, Salisbury before undertaking an Organ Scholarship at Lancing College and was then at Merton College, Oxford, between 1909 and 1913. He was Director of Music at St. Edward's School, Oxford, from 1915-1924, and later at Wellington College, Berkshire from 1924-1937, and Reading University from 1927-1937. He was also Director of Music for the Midlands Region of the BBC from 1937-1945. He was Professor of Music at the University of Bristol from 1947 until 1958.From 1956 to 1958, he served as City Organist for the City of Bristol. From 1958 until 1960, he was Conductor of the Bristol Choral Society. Professor Stanton was active in a number of musical societies, and was President of the Incorporated Society of Musicians in 1953, as well as its treasurer from 1959 until 1971. He also served as President of the Union of Graduates in Music from 1953-1957. Professor Stanton was also examiner in Music for the Universities of Oxford, Durham and Edinburgh and the University of Wales. He was on the Management Board of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, and served as its chairman from 1967-1968. As well as his numerous commitments to musical societies, he was Editor-in-Chief of the BBC Hymn Book.

Christ is the world's true light,
its Captain of salvation,
the Daystar clear and bright
of every land and nation;
new life, new hope awakes,
for all who own its sway:
freedom her bondage breaks,
and night is turned to day.

In Christ all races meet,
their ancient feuds forgetting,
the whole round world complete,
from sunrise to its setting:
when Christ is throned as Lord,
all shall forsake their fear,
to plough-share beat the sword,
to pruning hook the spear.

One Lord, in one great name
unite us all who own thee;
cast out our pride and shame
that hinder to enthrone thee;
the world has waited long,
has travailed long in pain;
to heal its ancient wrong,
come, Prince of Peace, and reign.

Opening Voluntary: “Adoration” Florence B. Price (1887-1953)

In 2009 a dusty treasure was uncovered during the renovation of a dilapidated home in St. Anne, Illinois. Workers discovered boxes containing music by Florence B. Price previously considered lost, including two violin concertos and her fourth symphony. Although the quality of her compositions was recognized during her lifetime, her works were not widely heard. Writing to Serge Koussevitzky, the conductor of the Boston Symphony, she plainly addressed the prejudice that stunted her career, “I have two handicaps – those of sex and race. I am a woman; and I have some Negro blood in my veins.” Now, 70 years later, the labor of activists, scholars, and performers has changed the musical landscape of the United States, and Price’s music is frequently heard in orchestra halls across the nation.

Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, Price studied organ and piano at the New England Conservatory of Music, one of the only music institutions of the time that admitted Black students. She taught music at Black-serving institutions in the South after graduating. In 1912 she married and moved back to Little Rock. However, her hometown was not safe, and threats of racial violence compelled the family to flee to Chicago in 1927. Inspired by the culturally rich Black community in Chicago, Price renewed her study of music at the American Conservatory and the Chicago Musical College.

In 1932, she won the Wanamaker competition with her Symphony in E Minor, thus gaining national recognition. She is best known as a song composer, however, including her arrangement of the spiritual “My Soul’s been Anchored in de Lord” and a setting of Langston Hughes’ poem “Songs to the Dark Virgin.” Marian Anderson frequently sang her works and adopted Price’s arrangement of “My Soul’s been Anchored in de Lord” as a personal signature, often ending recitals with that spiritual. Price’s compositions combine a romantic vocabulary with African and African American musical traditions such as call and response and Juba dance rhythm patterns.

Published in 1951, Adoration was initially written as a short piece for organ in ABA form intended for use in church. It has proven attractive for arrangers, including Jim Gray, who has orchestrated it for solo violin and string orchestra.

Closing Voluntary: St. Denio (Immortal, Invisible) J. Bert. Carlson

“Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise" is a Christian hymn with words by the Free Church of Scotland minister, Walter Chalmers Smith, usually sung to the tune, "St. Denio", originally a Welsh ballad tune, which became a hymn. ST. DENIO is based on "Can mlynedd i nawr" ("A Hundred Years from Now"), a traditional Welsh ballad popular in the early nineteenth century.

Pastor J. Bert Carlson ministered to many congregations for over 50 years in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Indiana. He was also an accomplished musician and published composer.