Music for the Dedication of St. James’ Church — Sunday, October 4, 2020
I was glad – Keith Bissell (1912-1992)
View video here: https://youtu.be/8iaBVjmVWjo
Composer, educator and conductor Keith Bissell studied composition at the University of Toronto while teaching 1934-48 in Toronto Schools. After studies in 1960 in Munich with Gunild Keetman and Carl Orff he introduced the Orff-Schulwerk method to the Scarborough school system. His compositions bring to traditional forms a modest but graceful sense of renewal, along with, as one reviewer put it after a 1976 concert of Bissell’s works, “a strong emotional undercurrent – too rare in new Canadian music – as well as a feeling that the music was a personal response to the text.”
This is certainly the case here. Bissell’s setting of select verses of Psalms 122 and 135 hews to the text every bit as much as Hubert Parry’s more famous version. Our choir last sang Bissell’s setting on the Feast of Dedication in 2013; it was on the list for this Feast again in 2020. The link above takes you to the next best thing: our choir’s recording of it from 2006. John Mitchell is at the organ; Erik Oun is the baritone soloist.
I was glad when they said unto me,
“We will go into the house of the Lord.”
Our feet shall stand in thy gates, O Jerusalem.
O pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
they shall prosper that love thee.
Peace be within thy walls,
and plenteousness within thy palaces.
Praise the Lord, laud ye the name of the Lord.
Ye that stand in the house of the Lord our God,
in the courts of the house of God. Amen.
Ein deutsches Requiem – IV. Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen – Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
View video here: https://youtu.be/-K1G8PgDfCI
Born in Hamburg, Johannes Brahms enjoyed early success in Vienna, and spent most of his career there. He was the great master of the symphonic and sonata forms in the second half of the 19th century, and is widely considered one of the greatest composers of the Romantic era. He is often viewed as a defender of the Classical legacies of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, at a time when tastes were turning against them.
In 1868, following the death of his mother, Brahms wrote Ein deutsches Requiem (“A German Requiem”), a composition based on Biblical texts and often cited as one of the most important choral works of the 19thcentury. As the program notes to the recording linked above put it: “Johannes Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiemis not a German-language equivalent of the Roman Catholic requiem mass, but a work for the bereaved, for the living. The texts chosen for Ein deutsches Requiem and their deeply moving musical interpretation in particular certainly justify Brahms’ statement that the work should actually have been called ‘Ein menschliches Requiem’ (a human requiem). Ein deutsches Requiem is imbued with a sense of peace and consolation.”
Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen (How lovely are thy dwellings) is the middle movement of seven. It sets the text of the first several verses of Psalm 84. Some scholars believe that the psalm is written from the viewpoint of pilgrims on their way towards the temple, while others think that it dates from the time of the exile, imbued with a longing to restore the destroyed temple. In the context of Brahms’ work, it expresses the Christian hope of eternal life. In all senses, it is an expression of our desire to be where God is.
Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen, Herr Zebaoth!
Meine Seele verlanget
und sehnet sich nach den Vorhöfen des Herrn;
mein Leib und Seele freuen sich in dem lebendigen Gott.
Wohl denen, die in deinem Hause wohnen,
die loben dich immerdar.
Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen!
How amiable are thy dwellings: thou Lord of hosts!
My soul hath a desire and longing to enter into the courts of the Lord:
my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.
Blessed are they that dwell in thy house:
they will always be praising thee.
How amiable are thy dwellings!