Festival Te Deum, Op. 32 – Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)

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The Te Deum laudamus (“Thee, O God, we praise”) is an ancient hymn dating from around the 4th century. It is often attributed to Saint Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, but it is unlikely that he wrote it. In the traditional office, the Te Deum is sung at the end of Matins on all days when the Gloria is said at Mass. In our tradition it is sung together with the standard canticles in Morning Prayer as prescribed by the Book of Common Prayer.

The Festival Te Deum heard here is Britten’s second setting of the Te Deum. It was composed for the 1945 centenary Festival of St. Mark’s Church in Swindon – an Anglo-Catholic parish with a strong choral tradition which continues to this day. Britten wrote this setting for the abilities of a parish church choir, but the organ part is significantly demanding.

The work begins with the choir singing in unison, imitating the freedom of Gregorian chant. The chant sounds as if it is in free time, but is carefully notated in a variety of time signatures. The organ provides a contrast with chords in regular ¾ time, embellished with pseudo-Baroque ornaments. On the text “The glorious company of the Apostles praise Thee”, the voices begin imitation but return to unison. In the middle section the text “Thou art the King of Glory, O Christ” is exclaimed in fanfare-like motifs in the voices, matched by short dramatic outbursts on the organ. The work ends with a reprise of the organ chords and a treble soloist, joined by the choir, bringing it to a gentle conclusion.

We praise thee, O God : we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.
All the earth doth worship thee : the Father everlasting.
To thee all Angels cry aloud : the Heavens, and all the Powers therein.
To thee Cherubim and Seraphim : continually do cry,
Holy, Holy, Holy : Lord God of Sabaoth;
Heaven and earth are full of the Majesty : of thy glory.
The glorious company of the Apostles : praise thee.
The goodly fellowship of the Prophets : praise thee.
The noble army of Martyrs : praise thee.
The holy Church throughout all the world : doth acknowledge thee;
The Father : of an infinite Majesty;
Thine honourable, true : and only Son;
Also the Holy Ghost : the Comforter.
Thou art the King of Glory : O Christ.
Thou art the everlasting Son : of the Father.
When thou tookest upon thee to deliver man : thou didst not abhor the Virgin’s womb.
When thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death :
thou didst open the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers.
Thou sittest at the right hand of God : in the glory of the Father.
We believe that thou shalt come : to be our Judge.
We therefore pray thee, help thy servants :
whom thou hast redeemed with thy precious blood.
Make them to be numbered with thy Saints: in glory everlasting.

O Lord, save thy people : and bless thine heritage.
Govern them : and lift them up for ever.
Day by day : we magnify thee;
And we worship thy Name : ever world without end.
Vouchsafe, O Lord : to keep us this day without sin.
O Lord, have mercy upon us : have mercy upon us.
O Lord, let thy mercy lighten upon us : as our trust is in thee.
O Lord, in thee have I trusted : let me never be confounded.

 

Marche religieuse sur “Lift up your heads” du Messiah de Händel, Op. 15 – Alexandre Guilmant (1837-1911)

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Félix Alexandre Guilmant was one of the first of a line of French organists who became associated with a trend in that country toward large, versatile symphonic pipe organs.

Alexandre was the son of Jean-Baptiste Guilmant (1794 – 1890), organist of St. Nicolas Church in Boulogne. His father gave him his primary instruction in music and organ playing. The boy was so adept that he was able to substitute for his father when he was as young as 12 or 13. By the age of 20, Alexandre was the church choir director and was teaching in the local conservatory, despite his near lack of any formal musical training.

He went to Brussels to polish his technique with the great organ teacher Nicolas Lemmens and after that, he went to Paris. He was chosen to play at the inaugural of the new organ at Saint-Sulpice in Paris in 1862 and wowed the audience. He began touring, creating an international vogue for organ recitals, which took him as far as Russia and the United States. He also frequently played at the organs of Notre Dame and Saint-Sulpice.

In an almost symbiotic relationship, Guilmant’s initial appearances popularizing the organ recital coincided with the period of creation of the greatest Cavaillé-Coll organs, instruments of remarkable range and power and very high quality which became the benchmark of the rich-voiced Romantic organ.

Charles-Marie Widor, organist at Saint-Sulpice, had created the French organ “symphony”, large-scale, academically sonata form works of great power, often containing a toccata-like conclusion. Guilmant continued the development of such works, along with writing a handful of works for orchestra and choir. In his Marche religieuse Guilmant the theme from the well-known chorus from Handel’s Messiah – “Lift up your heads, O ye gates” – and turns it into a grand march for solo organ, drawing on all the possibilities created by the symphonic French organ of the late 19th century.

Gerald Harder