Music for the Sunday of All Saints — November 1, 2020

O taste and see – Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)

View video here.

The outstanding figure in English church music during the first half of the 20th century was Ralph Vaughan Williams. Born in Down Ampney, Gloucestershire, in 1872, he went to the Royal College of Music to study with Parratt, Parry, and Stanford. Two years later he enrolled at Trinity College, Cambridge, and graduated with degrees in arts and music, embarking thereafter on a career in composition and teaching.

The text of this motet is drawn from Psalm 34, the psalm for All Saints’ Day this year. Vaughan Williams’ setting of it was written for the for the 1953 Coronation service of Elizabeth II, and in its simplicity it was intended as a foil for the pomp of the royal occasion. The consoling words of the text and Vaughan Williams’ flowing soaring vocal line make this short motet one of his best loved works.

O taste and see how gracious the Lord is:

blest is the man that trusteth in him.


Variations sur “Sine nominee” – Denis Bédard (b. 1950) 

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In 1904 Percy Dearmer asked Ralph Vaughan Williams to work on The English Hymnal, the forerunner of our The New English Hymnal. The English Hymnal set a new standard in music and exerted an enormous influence in the 20th century. The tune SINE NOMINE, which we know primarily as the setting for the hymn “For all the saints”, was written by Vaughan Williams for that hymn and the 1906 publication of The English Hymnal. One of three original tunes he contributed to that hymnal, it has become one of the greatest tunes of our time. Vaughan Williams had no name for the tune, and, and so he christened it Sine nomine – “without a name.” The first four notes of the tune were used by the composer about fifty years later for the opening of his motet “O taste and see”.

Denis Bédard has been organist and music director at Vancouver’s Holy Rosary Cathedral since 2001. His compositions include more than twenty chamber music works as well as orchestral and vocal music and many organ works. His music, essentially tonal and melodic, is characterized by a concern for formal clarity and immediate communication with as vast a public as possible. Bédard’s work for organ on the hymn tune SINE NOMINE is presented in five variations, played here by the composer on the Karn Warren / Casavant organ in Holy Rosary Cathedral, restored and rebuilt on its 100th anniversary in 2000. As it forms part of the organ repertoire of PJ Janson, our assistant organist, there’s a good chance you may hear it live at St. James’ in the future.

Gerald Harder