When choosing the music for this Sunday, I was searching for a specific type of communion piece. As usual, when I am unable to locate the kind of piece I want, I try to write it myself. Each composer strives to achieve what I call a “native style.” This style would ideally be unique among the pantheon of musical voices, although it would be impossible to be free from influences – you are what you eat; a composer is, in a way, a pastiche of the music they have experienced. However, most composers are able to imitate a certain style to achieve a specific sound, usually for a functional or didactic purpose. Sunday’s communion anthem, sung by the tenors and basses only, is written in a style popular in the Baroque period and specifically modeled after a cantata movement by Bach. The hymn tune is sung slowly and accompanied by a complementary melody and supportive bass line. Personally, this is one of my favorite ways to treat a hymn tune. There were many ways Baroque composers would work the hymns into their church music. In fact, much of the music from this period is all about combining multiple melodies (counterpoint) in canons, inventions, and fugues, to name only a few. I had a good time using some of these old techniques to write Sunday’s communion anthem, and I hope you enjoy hearing it.
Congregational Music: Singing songs of expectation – Ton-y-Botel
Sunday’s processional hymn pairs an interesting text with an interesting tune – something sure to be a winner! Ton-y-Botel was composed by Welsh composer Thomas John Williams (1869-1944). The title translates to “tune in a bottle,” and it was long thought to have been discovered in a bottle on the coast of Wales. This notion came during a time, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when people were enthralled with the “exotic” hymn tunes coming from Wales. In actuality, the tune is simply part of the second movement of an anthem by Williams. Even today, Welsh hymn singing is some of the most vivacious and even primal that can be heard. Listen for the energy imparted by the triplets and dotted rhythms. The text, by Bernard Severin Ingemann (1789-1862), draws parallels between the journey of the Israelites and the church. The lyrics are filled with delightful images such as, “stepping fearless through the night.” This reflects on our lessons from Hebrew Scripture which have followed the progress of Moses and Israel for the past several weeks. As an aside, Ton-y-Botel has been used in several video game sound tracks.
Instrumental Music: Pæan – Oliphant Chuckerbutty (1884-1960)
I must confess that part of my motivation for buying this piece at the Sewanee Church Music Conference in 2016 was simply the composer’s name. Soorjo Alexander William Langobard Oliphant Chuckerbutty was an Anglo-Indian organist and composer who had a career both in the church and the theatre. Although Sunday’s postlude, Pæan, is the only piece for which he is generally remembered, he was known to be something of an inventor – devising ways to improve the organ’s mechanical function. There is not much to say about Chuckerbutty other than what has been written above. During the postlude, listen to the antiphonal fanfares between the trumpets and the rest of the organ – this style of writing is rather theatrical but filled with all the optimistic pomp of a good Victorian march. All things considered, it is a fun-loving postlude for a Sunday after Pentecost.