Music for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost — August 23, 2020

Tu es Petrus á 6 – Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594)


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Published in 1572, this six-part motet was the model for Palestrina’s subsequent “parody” Mass, the Missa Tu es Petrus. The text is from today’s Gospel lesson (Matthew 16:18-19). In the Propers of the church year this text is the Alleluia verse and Communion antiphon for the Mass of St. Peter and St. Paul (June 29), and as such it has been set by many composers, from Tomás Luis de Victoria to Maurice Duruflé, hewing to varying degrees to the ancient plainsong antiphon Tu es Petrus as source material. Palestrina himself wrote two other settings, for five and seven voices. This setting uses antiphonal writing, often between the upper voices and lower voices, to marvelous effect. It is sung superbly here by New York Polyphony.


Tu es Petrus
et super hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam meam
et portae inferi non praevalebunt adversus eam.
Et tibi dabo claves regni caelorum.

You are Peter,
and upon this Rock I will build My Church:
and the gates of hell shall not overcome it.
And I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.



Tu es Petra (Esquisses byzantines No. 10) – Henri Mulet (1878-1967)


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Henri Mulet was Organist at St-Roch, Paris and Professor of Organ at l’École Niedermeyer. This piece, although described by the composer as a carillon, is more accurately thought of as a typical French toccata. Equisses byzantines is a set of ten pieces, of which Tu es Petra is the last. Rather than being dedicated to an individual, the inscription is “En mémoire de la Basilique du Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre 1914-1919”, and the title of each piece refers to either a part of this Parisian basilica, or another religious reference. Organists have puzzled over the spelling of Petra in the title; however, the full title of no. 10 is Tu es petra et portae inferi non praevalebunt adversus te, which – I am told! – is inscribed in exactly that way over the doors to Sacré-Coeur. I couldn’t help but choose this fine performance by a Dutch organist named “Petra.” The lovely mechanical-action organ on which she plays has no combination action (stop pre-set system); the page turner serves also as console assistant, pulling stops.



Eternal God – John Rutter (b. 1945)


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I’ve written here previously about John Rutter’s Christian faith, or self-professed lack thereof. In his words, “”I am friend, fellow traveller, and agnostic supporter of the Christian faith.” He writes elsewhere that as he has grown older, he has found himself repelled by dogmatic certainty. “I have a problem signing on dotted lines”, he says, but “I love the Church of England. When I set a sacred text, I enter it with all my heart.”


Which brings us to the work at hand. Peter Elliott wrote a brilliant and moving article in a recent issue of The Anglican Journal entitled “On not singing the Lord’s song”. In it he summed up the state of our song in the era of COVID-19 and called for a community lament over the loss of singing in community even as he expressed the fervent hope that we will sing together again before too long. This is a loss for all of us, singers in pew and gallery alike, and the grieving continues. Even as we lament, we are reminded in this original hymn by Rutter that our song has just begun, and somehow it’s not difficult to imagine that, in his own way, the composer believes it too.


Eternal God, we give you thanks for music,

Blest gift from heaven to all your servants here on earth:

In time of joy a crown, in sorrow consolation;

Companion through our days of tears and mirth.

We give you thanks for every sound of beauty:

For sweetest harmony that echoes in our hearts,

For melodies that soar on high like birds at morning,

For voice and instrument in all their parts.

As we are blest, so may our gift bless others:

May hearts be touched and spirits lifted up anew.

Let music draw together those who live as strangers,

Bring joy to those we love, in thankfulness true.

And when at last we come into your kingdom,

All discord over and all earthly labour done,

Then sound and silence yield before one equal music,

And with the Giver shall our souls be one.


Gerald Harder