Holy. holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts: Trinity Sunday

June 3, 2012 – 11:00 am

Erin Althoff and Doug Merritt, violins;
Jennifer Klich, viola; Patrick O’Neil, cello;
Timothy Olsen, organ

Wie der Hirsch schreit (Like as the hart desireth)

from Psalm 42, Op. 42 (1837/38)

Listen to the piece here.

This piece is quintessential Mendelssohn, in all its romantic sweetness and lyricism.  It works well as a stand-alone anthem, but it is actually the opening movement of a longer work.

The longer work is one of a handful of Psalms on which Mendelssohn wrote multi-movement cantatas for soloists, chorus and orchestra. (Smell Bach’s influence here? Me too…more on that another day.)  This one, which sets the text of Psalm 42 over 7 movements, is a big one.  It’s about 35 minutes long and requires a solo soprano, a solo male quartet, and a three-part women’s chorus in addition to the full mixed chorus.  The orchestral forces required and just as big as the vocal forces—strings and a full wind section including four horns, trumpets, trombones, and timpani.  Because Mendelssohn’s Psalm 42 is such a big piece, it not performed very often—after all, if you are looking to do a multi-movement work of Mendelssohn with a full orchestra, why not just do Elijah?

For this performance (for lack of a better term) we did my own arrangement of the piece, and I would like to briefly tell the story of how that arrangement came about.  First, a bit of philosophy:

For me personally, I start from the premise that every musical performance is, by definition, a set of compromises.  I say “by definition” because I think that the first and most serious compromise occurs at the very moment of composition: that is, when the composer writes notes on page, they are already an imperfect shorthand representation of the sound that he imagines in his head.  When a performer picks up that page his job to bring his best musical knowledge to bear in rendering the notes (which are just symbols) back into sound (which is the actual thing).  This too is an imperfect and reasonably subjective process.  The context of our performance, the ability of our ensembles, and the resources we have available will necessarily determine the decisions—the compromises—that go into the process.

Now from general to specific: how did all this work out in terms of this particular piece?

The first and most obvious decision was one presented by all choral music in foreign languages.  Singing the original German is obviously closer to the composer’s intent, and one generally finds that the right vowels are in the right ranges, and the right stresses are on the right beats.  But to sing in a foreign language presents an obvious barrier to English-speaking listeners; this is an especially important consideration for music used in worship.  Singing in a foreign language can also pose a challenge to an amateur choir with limited rehearsal time.  Singing an English translation, on the other hand, can make things more accessible to the both the singer and the listener, but it can also be a significant degree of separation from the composer’s intent—especially if the translation isn’t a good one.  In fact, some translations actually create musical difficulties not present in the original.  In the case of this Mendelssohn, we elected to sing in German for a couple of reasons.  In the first place, one verse of psalm text was not that much German to deal with.  Secondly, all the English translations that were readily available were pretty awkward musically.

So we didn’t compromise from Mendelssohn’s original in terms of language, but we did have to make some compromises when it came to the manner accompaniment. Doing the piece as written—with a full orchestra—was out of the question because of the obvious limitations of space, cost, and time.  This is a no-brainer; we are used to the compromise of keyboard accompaniments for orchestral works and we accept them freely, otherwise most church and community choirs would not have access a big chunk of the great music in the world.

As it happens, Mendelssohn himself wrote a piano reduction of the accompaniment for this particular piece.  It is unusual in choral-orchestral repertoire to have a piano reduction by the composer, and this option would have provided a pretty strong claim of musical authenticity. We did not go this route, however—not only because there is no piano in the choir loft, but because we wanted a fuller sound that more closely resembled the orchestral original.  To put it another way, we wanted to choose a level and method of compromise that would best suit our particular situation.

So what we did was to have a string quartet (that’s two violins, viola, and cello) play the string parts exactly as Mendelssohn wrote them.  For the wind parts (flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, and horns) I arranged them for the organ, effectively making a keyboard reduction of just the wind parts.  In fact, it wasn’t even a matter of arranging—I just entered each instrument’s line into a music editing software program (in the case Finale) and then let the software condense them onto two staves to be played by the organist.  I found that the flute parts could be omitted almost entirely because they were usually doubled an octave lower by the oboes (and they were generally in too high a register for the organ anyway).  From there it was a matter of touching up a few things so that they “laid better” for the organist to play.

I also copied the cello/double bass part into the pedal of the organ so that it would sound an octave lower, as it would with the double basses of the orchestra.  We might have achieved a yet fuller sound if we had included an actual double bass with our string quartet, but I was already concerned about balance with our smallish choir.

Download the organ reduction of the wind parts here

This idea of the organ playing a reduction of the wind parts while a quartet (or quartet plus bass) plays the original string parts is one that has been knocking around in my head for a long time, and I don’t know to what degree of success it could be used.  In this instance, my sense is that it worked pretty well.  To those who would say, “Hey you knucklehead—that’s not what Mendelssohn wrote!” I would have to acknowledge that they are of course correct.  But from where I sit, making these kinds of careful and respectful compromises is better than leaving the music on the shelf unperformed.

Listen to other hymns and anthems
from Trinity Sunday
by clicking on the links below
(download the service leaflet here):

Batten: O sing joyfully unto God
Text: Psalm 81:1-4

Kristine Chaney, soprano; Daniele Olsen, alto;
Mark Chaney, tenor; Tim Olsen. bass

Hymn 362, Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty (Nicaea)

Hymn 324, Let all mortal flesh keep silence (Picardy)

stanzas 1 and 4 are harmonizations from Hymns Ancient and Modern transcribed for string quartet; stanzas 2 and 3 are from Gustav Holst’s well-known anthem setting of this hymn.

Hymn 423, Immortal, invisible, God only wise (St. Denio)

Hymn 397, Now thank we all our God (Nun danket alle Gott)

+  +  +

“There is so much talk about music, and yet so little is said. For my part, I believe that words do not suffice for such a purpose, and if I found they did suffice I would finally have nothing more to do with music.  People often complain that music is too ambiguous, that what they should be thinking as they hear it is unclear, whereas everyone understands words.  With me it is exactly the reverse, and not only with regard to an entire speech, but also with individual words.  These too, seem to me so ambiguous, so vague, so easily misunderstood in comparison to genuine music which fills the soul with a thousand things better than words.”

-Mendelssohn in a letter to Marc-André Souchay, 1842



Music from this Past Sunday

Fourth Sunday of Easter  – April 29
‘Good Shepherd’ Sunday

Please click on the links below to hear music from this service.  Download the service leaflet here

Darke: ‘In Green Pastures’
arr. Evans: ‘Resignation’ (Hymn 664)

Moravian traditional, arr Pfohl: Jesus makes my heart rejoice
Janet Inman Haigh, soprano

Hymn 518, Christ is made the sure foundation (Westmeinster Abbey)

Psalm 23 (Simplified Anglican Chant, Robert Knox Kennedy)
Kristine Chaney, solo

Oxley: My Shepherd is Lord
Kristine Chaney, soprano; Karen Kerswell, alto

Billings: I am the Rose of Sharon
Lisa Jennings, soprano; Larry Wilson, bass

Hymn 664, My Shepherd will supply my need (Resignation)

Hymn 348, Lord, we have come at your own invitation (O quanta qualia)

Hymn Festival Awesomeness

Trinity was pleased to host Jamie Bobb, Minister of Music at First Congregational Church in Columbus, Ohio, for a hymn festival on Friday, February 17.  Jamie had rehearsed with the Trinity Choir on that preceding Wednesday, and they very much enjoyed working with him.  The festival itself (which was a fantastic success) was a mixture of old and new hymns from various traditions, all an improvisations and arrangements by Jamie.

Please click on the links below to listen to some of the hymns from the festival; download the concert program here.

‘The Church’s one Foundation’ (Aurelia)

‘Sing of the Lord’s goodness’ (The Lord’s Goodness)
based on the jazz standard ‘Take Five,’ made famous by Dave Brubeck

‘The King of love my Shepherd is’ (St. Columba) and ‘Sing with all the saints in glory’ (Mississippi)

‘Each morning brings us’ (All Morgen ist ganz frisch) and ‘I want Jesus to walk with me’ (Sojurner)
Lisa Jennings, solo

‘Abide with me’ (Eventide)

‘O God beyond all praising’ (Thaxted)

For more information about Jamie and his musical work in Columbus, please visit the First Congregational Church website here.

Music from this Past Sunday

Epiphany 6 – February 12

Please click on the links below to hear music from this service.  Download the service leaflet here.

Pelz: Peace I give to you

Hymn 388, O worship the King, all glorious above (Hanover)

Psalm 42:1-7 (Simplified Anglican Chant, Kennedy)

Hymn 441, In the cross of Christ I glory (Rathbun)

Haydn, Gloria from Heiligemesse

arr. Holst, Let all mortal flesh keep silence
Kristine Chaney and Lisa Jennings, sopranos

Hymn 397, Now thank we all our God (Nun danket alle Gott)

Bach, arr. Fox: Nun danket alle Gott, BWV 79

Yea, Lord, we greet thee, born this happy morning

Music from Christmas Eve

Click on the links below to hear music from our Christmas Eve Services. 

Silent night, holy night; Son of God, love’s pure light

7:30 – Holy Eucharist, Rite II

Christofer Ackerman, trumpet

Corelli: Sonata
i. Andante
ii. Allemande
iii.  Sarabande
iv. Gigue

Hovaness: Prayer of St. Gregory

Hymn 83, O come all ye faithful (Adeste fidelis)

Hymn 107, Good Christian friends, rejoice (In dulci jubilo)

Hymn 105, God rest you merry, gentlemen (God Rest You Merry)

Hymn 87, Hark! the herald angels sing (Mendelssohn)

10:00 – Pre-service Music

Erin Althoff and Kevin Rogers, violins
Doug Merritt, viola; Patrick O’Neil, cello;
Stephen Jones, bass

Buxtehude: In dulci jubilo 

Held: Divinum mysterium 

Bach: Harpsichord Concerto in F minor, BWV 1056
i. Allegro
ii.  Adagio
iii. Presto 

Brahms: Es ist ein Ros entsprungen, Op. 122 

Corelli: Pastorale
from Concerto Grossi in G minor, Op. 6 No. 8

10:30 – Holy Eucharist, Rite I

Hymn 102, Once in royal David’s city (Irby) 

arr. Willcocks: Sussex Carol
Lisa Jennings, soprano 

Hymn 92, On this day earth shall ring (Personent hodie)
Includes the reading of the Christmas story from Luke’s gospel; we sang this hymn at the Gospel Procession and then repeated the first stanza at the conclusion of the lesson. 

Yon: Gesu bambino
Karen Kerswell, alto 

Handel: ‘For unto us a child is born’ from Messiah
This was sung as the Offertory Anthem, and includes the Presentation Hymn, ‘O come, all ye faithful’ (conveniently in the same key) respendent in all its Willcocks-tastic solemnity.  

Hymn 111, Silent night, holy night (Stille Nacht)
Lisa Jennings, descant

And he shall reign forever and ever, King of Kings and Lord of Lords

November 20 – Christ the King

Chris Ackerman and John Crowley, trumpets;
Steve Kirkman, timpani

Please click on the links below to hear music from this service.  Download the service leaflet here.

Introit: Lord enthroned in heavenly splendor

Hymn 494, Crown him with many crowns (Diademata)

Psalm 95:1-7
Anglican Chant: H. Walford Davies

Handel: Hallelujah! Amen
from Judas Maccabaeus

Anerio: Crux fidelis

Crux fidelis, inter omnes arbor una nobilis:
nulla silva talem profert, fronde, flore, germine.
Dulce lignum, dulces clavos,dulce pondus sustinet.

Faithful cross, above all other, One and only noble tree:
None in foliage, none in blossom, None in fruit thy peer may be.
Sweetest wood and sweetest iron, Sweetest weight is hung on thee!

– Venantius Fortunatus (530-609)

Hymn 324, Let all mortal flesh keep silence (Picardy)

Hymn 477, All praise to thee, for thou, O King divine (Engelberg)

Handel: ‘La Rejouaissance’
from Music for the Royal Fireworks

Music from this Past Sunday

Easter III – May 8

All of the music from this service revolves around the story in in Luke’s gospel (24:13-35) of the disciples meet the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus.  They do not recognize him, but their “hearts burn within” them as he opens the Scriptures to them.  When evening comes the disciples don’t want him to go: “Stay with us, Lord, for it is evening, and the day is far spent;” this is the reason for singing the evening hymn ‘Abide with me’ at a morning service.  At the end of the story, the discples finally recognize who Jesus is when he eats with them or, as Luke puts it, “he was make known to us in the breaking of bread.”

Please click on the links below to hear music from this service.

Coleman: ‘Prelude’

Hymn 296: We know that Christ is raised and dies no more (Engelberg)

Psalm 116:10-17 (Anglican Chant, Stanford)

Hymn 662: Abide with me, fast falls the eventide (Eventide)
There is a little bit of static-y feedback on this recording because I asked the sopranos to gather around the organ (too close to the microphone) on the descant in the final stanza.  Despite this imperfection, I am including it in this post because it is such tender congregational singing.

Praetorius: Stay with us, Lord (Bleib bei uns, Herr)

Lovelace: Be known to us in breaking bread

Be known to us in breaking bread
but do not then depart;
Savior, abide with us and spread
thy table in our heart.

There sup with us in love divine.
Thy body and thy blood,
that living bread, that heavenly wine
be our immortal food.  Amen.

-James Montgomery (1771-1854)

Hymn 205: Good Christians all, rejoice and sing (Gelobet sei Gott)