Music for The Presentation of the Lord in the Temple

Of the Father’s heart begotten – Text: Aurelius Clemens Prudentius (348-413); tr. R. F. Davis (1866-1937) / Music: melody from Piae Cantiones 1582; arr. Sir David Willcocks (1919-2015)

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This hymn was taken from the Hymnus omnis horae by the early Spanish writer Auelius Clemens Prudentius. Born to eminent Spanish parents in 348, Prudentius practised as a lawyer and judge, and later in life was made chief bodyguard of the Emperor Honorius. He seems to have had a ‘Damascus moment’ at this point and devoted the remainder of his life to the service of God, spending his time in religious devotion and in the writing of sacred poems and hymns. Parts of this poem were employed in the rites of York and Hereford at Compline. It does not appear to have been adopted into the cycle of Latin hymns until quite late, and there is no trace of it in Anglo-Saxon hymnals before the 11th century. A selection of stanzas is used in modern hymnals.

The tune Divinum Mysterium, one of the most beautiful plainsong melodies in existence, is found in various forms with the Latin hymn Divinum mysterium. Several European manuscripts from the 10th to the 15th century contain it. The melody also appeared in Piae Cantiones 1582. The version sung in this recording by the choir of Ely Cathedral is the metrical one found in the New English Hymnal at number 33, arranged by the editors and further adapted by the late Sir David Willcocks, with a translation by R. F. Davis. In Common Praise at number 132 is the plainsong melody more closely resembling the original, with the translation by John Mason Neale.

Of the Father’s heart begotten,
Ere the world from chaos rose,
He is Alpha: from that Fountain
All that is and hath been flows;
He is Omega, of all things
Yet to come the mystic Close,
Evermore and evermore.

By his word was all created;
He commanded and ’twas done;
Earth and sky and boundless ocean,
Universe of three in one,
All that sees the moon’s soft radiance,
All that breathes beneath the sun,
Evermore and evermore.

He assumed this mortal body,
Frail and feeble, doomed to die,
That the race from dust created
Might not perish utterly,
Which the dreadful Law had sentenced
In the depths of hell to lie,
Evermore and evermore.

O how blest that wondrous birthday,
When the Maid the curse retrieved,
Brought to birth mankind’s salvation,
By the Holy Ghost conceived;
And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer,
In her loving arms received,
Evermore and evermore.

This is he, whom seer and sibyl
Sang in ages long gone by;
This is he of old revealèd
In the page of prophecy;
Lo! he comes, the promised Saviour;
let the world his praises cry!
Evermore and evermore.

Sing, ye heights of heaven, his praises;
Angels and Archangels, sing!
Wheresoe’er ye be, ye faithful,
Let your joyous anthems ring,
Every tongue his name confessing,
Countless voices answering,
Evermore and evermore.


Nunc dimittis (Collegium regale) – Herbert Howells (1892-1983)

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It was fateful that Herbert Howells should have found himself in Cambridge during the Second World War in order to stand in for the recently appointed St John’s College organist Robin Orr, who was on active service in RAF intelligence. Having contributed little of any significance to Anglican liturgical music for two decades, Howells found the renewed experience of choral services – one he had formerly known at the cathedrals of Gloucester and Salisbury – highly amenable and invigorating. Thanks additionally to the stimulus of Dean Milner White, one of the Anglican church’s great liturgical innovators, he was persuaded to write his only full setting of the Morning and Evening Canticles for King’s College, Cambridge (‘Collegium Regale’) in 1944 and, with this, began the outpouring of anthems and service music that effectively established his reputation as a composer of church music and as a worthy successor to his teacher, Stanford.

The Nunc dimittis from the Evening Canticles begins very softly (beware of turning up the volume control too much for the duration!), with a tenor soloist gently imparting Howells’ version of Simeon’s song, full of joy yet shot through with a typically English, and indeed Howellsian introspective melancholy. This is a vibrant work with beautiful voicings and a wonderful effervescence, in which the shadows are dispelled, and the light revealed ever so gradually but inexorably.


LORD, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word.
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;

To be a light to lighten the Gentiles, and to be the glory of thy people Israel.

GLORY be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost;

As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, / world without end. Amen.


Gerald Harder


Petite Suite – Gerald Bales (1919-2002)

There is no YouTube link for this week’s final selection. Instead, be sure to attend the Liturgy at Home on Zoom this Sunday, January 31 at 10:30am to hear St. James’ Assistant Organist PJ Janson’s brilliant rendition of Canadian organist and composer Gerald Bales’ Petite suite for organ, played as the prelude (Intermezzo) and postlude (Introduction & Finale). PJ’s notes follow:

The Composer

Born in Toronto in 1919, Gerald Bales received his early music instruction from his mother who enabled Gerald to give his first piano recital when he was just 7, and his first organ recital when he was 13 years old.  He continued his music education at the Toronto Conservatory of Music where he studied with Herbert Fricker, Albert Procter, Leo Smith, Healey Willan.

Gerald Bales wrote more than 150 compositions for piano, organ, voice, orchestra and chamber orchestra. His compositional style was initially influenced by Willan but later developed into using more colourful harmonies.

The Music

The Petite Suite, so-called because its three movements take just under seven minutes to perform, is a good example of his style as well as his genial and whimsical personality.  The Introduction has a strong rhythmic pulse together with daring harmonies. The Intermezzo has an impressionistic character, with a haunting melody floats over pizzicato bass line. And the Finale has great rhythmic energy throughout and brings the Suite to a terrific conclusion.

The Tempo

Composed in 1963, the Petite Suite was first published in 1965 “Organ Music of Canada,” Volume 2.  Its three movements have descriptive tempo markings, but no metronome markings in the published score.

My initial acquaintance with the music of Gerald Bales was through my organ teacher, who had personally met him in the early 1970s. She had the opportunity to perform the Petite Suite for Gerald Bales at that time, and the ensuing discussion included tempo recommendations by the composer for each of the movements — which she meticulously marked down in her score. The tempi of this performance are based on those metronome markings.

PJ Janson