Music for the Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost, October 25, 2020

O for a closer walk – Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924)

View video here:

Stanford wrote anthems throughout his career, around two dozen in total. “O for a closer walk” (1909) is one of a set of six short hymn-anthems, each written to follow a sacred solo song with organ (the “Six Bible Songs”). The original hymn with its familiar melody from the “Scottish Psalter” of 1635 appears in both of our pew hymnals – in Common Praise at 556 and The New English Hymnal at 414. In this setting, Stanford imaginatively transformed this melody into triple time, while creating a reflective mood appropriate to the spiritual longing expressed in the text.

O for a closer walk with God,
A calm and heavenly frame;
A light to shine upon the road
That leads me to the Lamb!

Return, O holy dove, return,
Sweet messenger of rest;
I hate the sins that made thee mourn,
And drove thee from my breast.

So shall my walk be close with God,
Calm and serene my frame;
So purer light shall mark the road
That leads me to the Lamb.

Ubi caritas – Ola Gjeilo (b. 1978)

View video here:

Norwegian-born composer and pianist Ola Gjeilo, who now lives in the United States, is most well-known for his choral compositions, but he has also written for piano, string quartet, and orchestra. This setting of the ancient Ubi caritas text began as a piece for unaccompanied choir. The St James Choir last sang that version on Maundy Thursday 2018. Here are the composer’s thoughts on this piece:

The first time I sang in a choir was in high school; I went to a music high school in Norway and choir was obligatory. I loved it from the very first rehearsal, and the first piece we read through was Maurice Duruflé’s Ubi Caritas. It will always be one of my favorite choral works of all time; to me, it’s the perfect a cappella piece. ​

So when I set the same text myself a few years later, it was inevitable that the Duruflé would influence it, and it did. While Duruflé used an existing, traditional chant in his piece, I used chant more as a general inspiration, while also echoing the form and dynamic range of his incomparable setting of the text.

I later started improvising on the piano around choirs singing the piece in performance and recording, one of which Walton published a transcription of – a YouTube video collaboration with the Central Washington University Chamber Choir.


It is the latter version we hear in the linked recording, sung here by Voces8, a brilliant a capella octet from the United Kingdom. Although the text is one of the ancient antiphons for the foot-washing ceremony of Maundy Thursday, it also echoes today’s Gospel lesson from Matthew, Jesus’ distillation of the commandments – love for God, and love for neighbour.

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor.
Exultemus, et in ipso iucundemur.
Timeamus, et amemus Deum vivum.
Et ex corde diligamus nos sincero. Amen.

Where charity and love are, God is there.
Christ’s love has gathered us into one.
Let us rejoice and be pleased in Him.
Let us fear, and let us love the living God.
And may we love each other with a sincere heart. Amen.


Gerald Harder