MUSIC NOTES FIFTH SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY – FEBRUARY 5, 2023
FIFTH SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY – FEBRUARY 5, 2023
Welcome to Music Notes! Your weekly insight to the music making at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Philadelphia!
Black History month is here! At St. Martin’s we recognize and emphasize the importance of this month in many ways, and will do so in our music making, too. We have the resources, ability, and will to amplify the voices of those who have been oppressed and we will sing for those who could not, or indeed still cannot.
The music you will hear in February will help to give prominence to African American and BIPOC composers and performers. A way of acting in solidarity with the communities around us. Please mark your planners for February 15 at 7pm when we will host our annual Black History Month Celebration Concert featuring our Adult Choir, Choristers, and Section Leaders. Not to be missed!
Many of you undoubtedly know the famous song This Little Light of Mine and could probably hum it to yourself right now. The version you will hear on Sunday is quite different; a slow, contemplative setting of the same text for two voices by composer Robert A. Harris (b. 1938).
Harris served as Director of Choral Organizations and Professor of Conducting at the renowned Northwestern University Bienen School of Music from 1977 to 2012 and has worked throughout the world as a conductor, choir clinician, and adjudicator. Harris has received multiple international awards and recognitions for his contribution to music, particularly within the African American community.
This arrangement of This Little Light of Mine sung by our Soprano and Alto Section Leaders, Gillian Booth and Marisa Miller, is incredibly well written with beautiful harmonies and counterpoint throughout, giving space for the little light’s beauty to shine through the music.
Samuel Sebastian Wesley (1810-1876) - the composer, not the Second World War Liberty ship of the same name - is famed for many hymn tunes, anthems, as well as organ and service music. He is the son of renowned composer Samuel Wesley, and the grandson of Charles Wesley, the leader of the English Methodist movement and composer of some 6,500(!) hymns, including Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.
Sunday’s short anthem is part of a longer work entitled Praise the Lord, O my soul of 1861. A well-known work in his lifetime, S. S. Wesley’s output includes Thou Wilt Keep Him in Perfect Peace and Wash Me Throughly, (the latter piece typically performed on Ash Wednesday (Psalm 51:2-3)).
His composition Lead me, Lord which is our motet on Sunday, is a small example of what is known as a “verse anthem”; the alternation between unison writing and more elaborate homophonic/polyphonic sections. The best of Wesley’s examples of verse anthem is his work Blessed Be the God and Father.
Wesley was famous in his lifetime as one of England’s best organist-composers. It is he, and renowned organ builder “Father Willis” who are responsible for the modern “radiating” pedal board, as opposed to the “straight” pedal boards found in much of Europe.
It is believed that S. S. Wesley’s middle name originates from his father’s love of Johann Sebastian Bach.
Ponder being named after your parent’s favorite artist…
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) grew up in Croydon, London, my hometown, and was a student at the Royal College of music, my alma mater. His composition teacher at the RCM was the renowned Charles Villiers Stanford, with whom I share a birthday. Coleridge-Taylor is also mixed-race. Strange how little life coincidences happen sometimes!
British composer and conductor, Coleridge-Taylor quickly became renown as a musician of note, touring the USA 3 times, and being called the “African Mahler” by white musicians in New York (would you believe as a term of praise!). Indeed, his arrival for his first tour in the USA saw him welcomed by President Theodore Roosevelt at the White House; something almost unheard of for people of colour at the time. Sadly, ill health surrounding pneumonia meant a short life for Coleridge-Taylor. However, his legacy is powerful, and during his lifetime he received awards from the Royal Albert Hall and even King George V.
First published in 1911, as piano pieces, his Three Impromptus, op. 78 are often transcribed by organists and are lighter in character, resembling some of Coleridge-Taylors more theatrical compositions. During the Edwardian era, his light-hearted, yet refined, writing for the organ is in stark contrast to his peers who are more focused on emulating the romantic Germanic traditions such as that of Reger and Rheinberger. The impromptus are a welcome addition to the English organ repertoire and show a fun yet sophisticated side of the composers’ output. The first of this set of three is our postlude for this Sunday.
Director of Music & Arts