Music for Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost, November 15, 2020

Lord, thou hast been our refuge – Edward Bairstow (1874-1946)

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Sir Edward Cuthbert Bairstow was born in Huddersfield on August 22, 1874. After a spell teaching in Windsor, Sir Edward Bairstow (1874–1946) was articled to Sir Frederick Bridge at Westminster Abbey in 1893. He also held an appointment as Organist and Choirmaster at All Saints’, Norfolk Square, in London until 1899 when he went to Lancashire to take up the post of Organist at Wigan Parish Church. In 1906 he moved to Leeds Parish Church and was appointed Organist of York Minster in 1913, a post he held until his death in 1946.

In his compositions Bairstow was interested in the relation­ship of the organ part to the choral parts, building great climaxes in the music and contrasting them with simple yet dramatic ideas. The technical construction of the work is subservient to the music which often feels as if it is almost continuously unfolding on a vast canvas. His approach is scholarly and meticulous, showing the influence of Bach and Brahms.

The anthem Lord, thou hast been our refuge, with a text from Psalms 90 (the Psalm for this Sunday), 144, and 102, was commissioned for the 263rd Festival of the Sons of the Clergy in 1917, held at St Paul’s Cathedral. Dr Francis Jackson, Bairstow’s successor at York Minster, in his book Blessed City, The Life and Works of Edward C Bairstow, describes the anthem as follows: “It has accompaniment for full orchestra and is one of his biggest anthems, full of melody, colourful harmony and dramatic treatment of the words, especially at ‘Man is like a thing of nought: his time passeth away like a shadow’, the last word uttered in a breathy whisper. Some say it is over-sentimental or too pompous; others, that it is nothing more or less than a very imaginative account of these words from Psalm 90. It is the high point, the apotheosis and summation of an Edwardian composer writing in the darkest days of war-torn Britain.”


Lord, thou hast been our refuge from one generation to another.

Before the mountains were brought forth, or the earth and the world were made,

thou art God from everlasting, and world without end.

Lord, what is man, that thou hast such respect unto him;

or the Son of man, that thou so regardest him?

Man is like a thing of nought: his time passeth away like a shadow.

But thou, O Lord, shalt endure forever,

and thy remembrance throughout all generations.

Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Sion,

yea, the time is come, for it is time that thou have mercy upon her.

Comfort us again, now after the time that thou hast plagued us;

and for the years wherein we have suffered adversity. Amen.


Serve bone et fidelis – Orlando di Lasso (1532-1594)

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Two-part compositions were one of the main means through which music was taught during the Renaissance and Baroque periods; they played an important role in the formation of both professional and amateur musicians. During this period all two-part didactic music served consistent and well-defined functions: the teaching of note-values and a form of solfège; the teaching of modality and composition; and as the basis for practicing both vocal and instrumental music.

The brief motet Serve bone et fidelis is one of these two-part compositions. It is one of twelve motets in a collection by Orlando di Lasso known as Novae aliquot, ad 2 voces cantiones, published in 1577. di Lasso was a composer of the late Renaissance, and is considered to be one of the three most famous and influential musicians in Europe at the end of the 16th century. The text of the motet is taken from Matthew 25, today’s Gospel lesson.

Serve bone et fidelis,
quia in pauca fuisti, supra multa te constituam:
intra in gaudium Domini Dei tui.

Good and faithful servant,
because you have been faithful with a few things, I will set you over many things:
enter into the joy of the Lord your God.

Gerald Harder