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Music Notes

Music Notes for Worship

Notes about the music selected for each service and special event that will help you appreciate its relevance.

  1. Music Notes : Music for September 18

    You’ve heard of Henry Purcell and J. S. Bach, of course, but what about Tarquinio Merula and Giuseppe Pitoni?  Intrigued?  Click on Read More for details.

    Westminster’s music program is nothing if not flexible.  One week, we may highlight music written just a few years ago, and by the next week, we may be deeply engrossed in music from centuries ago. 

    This week’s organ and choral music comes from the Baroque era, written by composers as well known as Bach and as little known as Tarquinio Merula.  Merula (1594 or 1595 – 1665), an organist and violinist, was also one of the most progressive Italian composers of the early 17th century, always busily applying newly developed techniques to sacred music.  His music is highly sophisticated and ornate, as demonstrated in the organ canzona heard this morning.  Giuseppe Pitoni (1657-1743), an Italian organist and composer of the late Baroque, became one of the leading musicians in Rome, where at the age of 20 he received a lifelong appointment as maestro di cappella at the Basilica of San Marco.  Pitoni was extremely prolific, with approximately 3500 compositions to his credit, among them masses, Psalm settings, and motets.  Our Chancel Choir loves singing Pitoni’s famous short motet, Cantate Domino, an exuberantly perfect setting of this joyous text from Psalm 149.  

    Orlando Gibbons’ famous short anthem, O Lord, Increase My Faith, is a true gem of English choral music.  Gibbons (1583-1625) was a leading composer of his day.  His choral music is distinguished by his effortless use of counterpoint, combined with his wonderful melodic gift.  Interestingly, the famous 20th-century pianist Glenn Gould championed Gibbons’ music and named him his favorite composer. 

    Today’s postlude is J. S. Bach’s grand Kyrie, Gott, heiliger Geist (Have mercy on us, God, Holy Ghost) the third piece in a monumental Kyrie series from Part III of his Clavierübung (Keyboard Practice).  The cantus firmus (melody) appears in long notes in the pedal line, but it’s very easy to get sidetracked by the incredible counterpoint above.  And in case you’re keeping track, the final postlude played on September 11th, though not listed in the service bulletin, was Bach’s Christe, aller Welt Trost (Christ, Comfort of all the world), the second piece in the Kyrie series from the Clavierübung, this one featuring the cantus firmus in the tenor–a more internal–line.  It was a last-minute, but purposeful addition.  As my thoughts on that morning’s music evolved, it became clear that the almost unbearable intensity of Jehan Alain’s Litanies needed to be followed by something quietly serene.  Don’t worry if you missed it–I’ll be playing it again soon.   

  2. Music Notes : Music for September 11

    Music today is in memory of 9/11 victims and their families.  For more details, click on Read More (below).

    This morning’s music is dedicated to the memory of those who were lost in the horrific events of September 11, 2001. Great music-hymns, choral anthems, organ music, to name a few examples-speaks to us profoundly, bringing comfort as it challenges us to live joyful and spiritual lives. Let us always seek to be instruments of God’s peace, and let us continue to pray for peace in the world! As you listen to this morning’s music, and as you join God’s people in lifting your voice to the heavens, pay close attention to the many ways in which music lifts us out of the ordinary dimensions of earthly time.

    Notes on today’s organ music:

    French organist/composer Jehan Alain (1911-1940) died a hero in World War II at the tender age of 29, but his genius lives on in his many creative works. His musical output is viewed as some of the most original of the entire 20th century. Alain’s most popular organ work, Litanies, expresses intense raw emotion; just as in a spoken litany, the power is in the repetitive pleading, growing ever more insistent.

    French organist/composer Jean Langlais (1907-1991) became blind at age two, but this tragedy could not dim his extraordinary creative powers. As a beloved teacher and improviser, Langlais influenced an entire generation of organists, including many Americans. His well-known Suite médiévale is in the form of a mass and incorporates numerous ancient Latin chants, captivating listeners with sounds that span centuries of style and tradition. The Asperges me (Cleanse me, O God) is based on the opening verses of Psalm 51. Kyrie fons bonitatis (Lord, fountain of mercy) is one of the oldest plainchants.

    J. S. Bach’s powerful St. Anne Fugue highlights one of the church’s greatest and most timeless of hymn tunes. Bach’s famous sinfonia (God’s Time is Best) is from a funeral cantata of the same title.

    Thomas Tomkins’ beautiful motet, When David Heard. . .speaks powerfully to our sense of loss on this solemn anniversary.  Enjoy the beauty of this timeless lament.