Music for the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary — Sunday, August 16, 2020

Tell out, my soul – Text: Song of Mary (Luke 1:46-56); para. Timothy Dudley-Smith (b. 1926). Music: Walter Greatorex (1877-1949).

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Timothy Dudley-Smith was born in Manchester on December 26, 1926. A graduate of Pembroke College at Cambridge, he served as a parish priest, Archdeacon of Norwich and then as Bishop of Thetford from 1981 to 1991. He has written about four hundred hymns, including this paraphrase of the Magnificat.


The dramatic character of WOODLANDS makes it a perfect tune for the bold text of the Magnificat and Dudley-Smith’s paraphrase. Walter Greatorex, who composed this tune in 1916, began his musical education as a chorister at King’s College, Cambridge, and received his university music training at St. John’s College, Cambridge.


Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord!
Unnumbered blessings give my spirit voice;
tender to me the promise of his word;
in God my Saviour shall my heart rejoice.

Tell out, my soul, the greatness of his name!
Make known his might, the deeds his arm has done;
his mercy sure, from age to age the same;
his holy name — the Lord, the mighty one.

Tell out, my soul, the greatness of his might!
Powers and dominions lay their glory by;
proud hearts and stubborn wills are put to flight,
the hungry fed, the humble lifted high.

Tell out, my soul, the glories of his word!
Firm is his promise, and his mercy sure.
Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord
to children’s children and forevermore!



I beheld her, beautiful as a dove – Healey Willan (c. 1555-1612)

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Healey Willan’s music is best known here in Canada, his adopted home – though he did write one of the anthems for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. His catalogue includes two symphonies, a piano concerto and an opera, but most of his music was written for the church.


From a composer who claimed he had been born with the ability to read music, and who amused himself as a teenager working out fiendishly difficult double counterpoint exercises, we might have expected music of Bachian complexity; but Willan was, liturgically speaking, a product of the Anglican plainsong revival which had begun in the late 19th century, and was respected especially as an authority on Gregorian plainchant in the English language. The flowing melodic lines of this motet bear witness to Willan’s love of plainsong; though written in regular note values, it has no time signature, and the barlines are printed as dotted or even wiggly lines, to encourage the singers to ignore them.


This motet in praise of the Virgin Mary is part of a set of three, which in turn comes from a set of eleven “Liturgical Motets” written between 1928 and 1937 for the choir of St. Mary Magdalene Church in Toronto, where Willan was organist and choirmaster. All three draw on the Song of Songs, that surprisingly erotic Old Testament dialogue between a bridegroom and a bride which both Jewish and Christian theology have tended to interpret as an allegory of God’s love for his people. The medieval church took this one step further: by identifying Mary as the ideal Christian – the Church personified – it was possible to read the passages rhapsodising about the beauty and purity of the Bride as hymns of praise to the Virgin. The text of I beheld her, beautiful as a dove is from the responsories of an eighth-century office of Our Lady.


I beheld her, beautiful as a dove,
rising above the waterbrooks;
and her raiment was filled with perfume
beyond all price.
Even as the springtime was she girded with rosebuds and lilies of the valley.
Who is this that cometh up from the desert
like a wreath of sweet smoke arising from frankincense and myrrh?
Even as the springtime was she girded with rosebuds and lilies of the valley.


Fuga sopra il Magnificat (BWV 733) – J. S. Bach (1685-1750)

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Martin Luther’s translation of the Magnificat canticle is traditionally sung to a German variant of the tonus peregrinus, a rather exceptional psalm tone in Gregorian chant. Bach used this tone a number of times, including this setting where it is the theme. This organ piece based on the Magnificat is not a fugue in the strict sense; it doesn’t follow fugal conventions more than incidentally. It is partly for this reason that this piece is sometimes attributed to Bach’s student Johann Ludwig Krebs. Nevertheless, the composer cuts the melody of the Magnificat in two and then, for the bulk of the piece, deliberately restricts himself to statements of the first half. Only at the last moment does he end the phrase in the pedal that suddenly springs into action.


Gerald Harder