Sunday’s anthem, Rejoice, the Lord is King, by Malcolm Archer (b. 1952), is a festive piece that fits perfectly with Sunday’s theme. Archer pairs a familiar text with a totally new melody and accompaniment that creates a feeling of barely controlled exuberance. This feeling is created by jagged musical figures and alternating meter (7/8 and 4/4). This creates irregular rhythm patterns: ONE-two ONE-two ONE-two-three, and ONE-two THREE-four. This, combined with a relentless energy creates the kind of music we’ve all come to expect from Archer. As part of our series on living composers, please find a small part of Archer’s extensive biography below, reprinted from malcolmarcher.com.
“Malcolm Archer is one of the world’s leading church musicians, and has enjoyed a distinguished career in cathedral music, which has taken him to posts at Norwich, Bristol, Wells Cathedrals and then Director of Music at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. He is now Director of Chapel Music at Winchester College, where he is responsible for the College’s ancient choral foundation; conducting the Chapel Choir and teaching the organ. During his time at St. Paul’s Cathedral he directed the choir for several State services, including the Tsunami Memorial Service, the London Bombings Service and the 80th Birthday Service for HM The Queen, for which he was invited by Buckingham Palace to compose a special anthem, performed live on BBC.1. His many broadcasts and recordings from Wells and St. Paul’s have received critical acclaim, and his CD of Christmas music from St. Paul’s was voted Editor’s number one choice in The Daily Telegraph. His own setting of ‘Be thou my Vision’ features on the debut album of the girl group ‘Celeste’ for Decca.”
We will also hear music from another English composer during communion. All thy works praise thee, O Lord is an anthem by Maurice Greene (1696-1750), one of England’s most famous composers of the Baroque period. While he doesn’t get as much “air time” as Handel (actually a German composer) or Purcell, Greene wrote some very important church music that continues to enjoy popularity especially in Anglican circles. Greene held several important posts in his day, including that of Organist at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, Master of the King’s Musick, and a professorship at Cambridge University. All thy works is very much in a style for which Greene is known. Compared to last week’s anthem, O Taste and See by Heinrich Isaac (1445-1517), Greene’s music has less independence of individual voices. In a word, it is more homophonic – the voices move more as a unit. In a layman’s sense, this makes the piece more hymn-like.
Finally, we will hear two great works by J. S. Bach (1685-1750) on Sunday. As the prelude, Gosia Leska will play the Presto movement from Bach’s Violin Sonata in g minor. For the postlude, I will play “The Great” Fantasy in g minor for organ. Bach’s genius is on display in both of these pieces, but in different ways. In the Presto, one hears lots of broken chords and virtuosic passages. One special technique that is really clearly discernable here is Bach’s use of compound melody – when two melodies are implied by one line of music. This can be heard especially in the “leaping” back and forth between high and low notes. This is a way to imply counterpoint and polyphony with an instrument that normally only plays a single musical line. If one were to eliminate the notes from either the high or the low part, the other part could stand on its own.
In the organ Fantasy, we can hear the influences of Bach’s predecessors very clearly wedded to his own progressive harmonic leanings. This work is nicknamed, “The Great,” and it is easy to see why. The piece starts with a massive chord that gives rise to extended running sixteenth notes that are meant to be played with great freedom, rather than strictness. This is a hallmark of the Stylus fantasticus – the “fantastic style” of playing that flourished especially among Bach’s predecessors. These fast passages are interrupted by massive, crashing chords that are shocking in their dissonance. We can only imagine how bewildered Bach’s original listeners must have been! These sections are also interrupted by quieter, more rhythmically strict passages in beautiful counterpoint. Finally, the free sixteenth notes combine with the massive chords and push through to the end. This piece and the violin prelude are both in the key of g minor, and both impart a sense of seriousness and gravity. These pieces serve to illustrate the majesty and severe, even frightening grandeur that historically appears in our conception of Christ’s reign (think Revelation or the Book of Daniel). The “otherness” of the Divine Other is on full display. The choir pieces emphasize a brighter, more joyful side of things. With these pieces put together, we hope that a vibrant picture will emerge of what this feast day is all about.