The service begins with Rimembranza, and organ piece by Pietro A. Yon (1896-1943), and Italian-born organist-composer who is perhaps most famous for his piece, Gesù Bambino, for Christmas. Second to this, Yon is primarily remembered for his 15 year (1928-1943) tenure as organist of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. Prior to his, however, Yon as organist of the Vatican and was awarded the title of “Titular Organist of the Vatican” in 1922, even though he had been living in the United States since 1907. In 1914, he opened a music conservatory called the Yon Music Studios, based in the Carnegie Hall building. Interestingly, this conservatory was for budding church musicians with Yon instructing organists and his brother teaching vocalists. Yon made the acquaintance of many musical visionaries and leaders of his day including Charles Courboin (renowned as an organ virtuoso in his day), Leopold Stokowski, and Arturo Toscanini. Much more could be written about Pietro Yon’s musical accomplishments, but suffice to say that he enjoyed fame in his day that few attain (especially organist-composers). His piece I will play this Sunday, Rimembranza, provides a lush sound-scape for a solo oboe stop with string and flute accompaniment. Yon’s sound is not a sound heard often today – many have rejected his style of composition as overly sentimental, but it is important to remember that this sound was the all-pervasive style of church music around the turn of the 20th century. It was only later that the organ was seen primarily as an instrument suited to early music and polyphony (multiple voices in counterpoint – think “fugue”). Listen the primary theme of the piece at the beginning and then listen as he introduces a secondary theme, goes into an improvisatory section, and returns to the original theme.
The choir anthem for Sunday will be, Praise the Name of the Lord, by Pavel Iosifovich Ivanov-Radkevich (1878-1942). Interestingly, many of his early works were printed under a pseudonym, P. Ivanoff. Whether this was due to a lack of confidence or other reasons is anyone’s guess. Regardless, Ivanov-Radkevich’s music is representative of Russian choral music of his era. After studying with such respected composers as Rimsky-Korsakov and Liadov as a young man, Ivanov-Radkevich did not follow the usual path of Russian composers of his time. Rather, he went off to Siberia to teach music and eventually establish a conservatory! Sunday’s offertory anthem is appropriate for the Ascension because of its praise of Christ coupled with vivacious choruses of “alleluia.” Russian choral music of this time period was rich and diverse, but it was somewhat outside of the standard European musical tradition – something which fascinated European audiences. As you listen on Sunday and perhaps think of Christ’s Ascension, you may notice the solemn, yet dance-like nature of this piece.
The hymns can all be applied to the theme of the Ascension, but one in particular stands out. During Communion, we will sing, See the Conqueror mounts in triumph, with lyrics by Christopher Wordsworth (1807-1885) paired with the familiar tune, In Babilone (also used for Hail, thou once-despised Jesus). These lyrics, while unfamiliar to some, are perfect for this Sunday, and I find the final verse to be especially interesting due to its connection to each of us.
Thou hast raised our human nature on the clouds to God’s right hand:
there we sit in heavenly places, there with thee in glory stand.
Jesus reigns, adored by angels; Man with God is on the throne;
mighty Lord, in thine ascension, we by faith behold our own.