Music for the Third Sunday after Epiphany–January 24, 2021

Almighty and everlasting God – Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625)

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Orlando Gibbons was a leading composer, virginalist and organist in the late Tudor and early Jacobean periods. He sang in the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge between 1596 and 1598 and was granted the degree of Bachelor of Music in 1606 before being appointed a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal by James I, where he served as an organist from at least 1615 and became senior organist in 1623.

Gibbons wrote many keyboard works, fantasias for viols, madrigals, anthems and some Anglican services. His writing demonstrates a superb mastery of melody, development and counterpoint. Gibbons’ motet Almighty and everlasting God is an exquisitely fashioned miniature which takes its text from the Book of Common Prayer’s Collect for the Third Sunday after Epiphany.

Almighty and everlasting God,
mercifully look upon our infirmities,
and in all our dangers and necessities
stretch forth thy right hand to help and defend us,
through Christ our Lord. Amen.


Dextera Domini (5 Hymnen, Op. 140, No. 2) – Josef Rheinberger (1839-1901)

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The organist and composer Josef Gabriel Rheinberger was one of nineteenth-century Germany’s most gifted teachers and composers. Born in Lichtenstein, he nonetheless spent most of his life in Munich, where he studied and later taught at the Munich Conservatorium. Somewhat of a prodigy, he was serving as organist in his parish church by the age of 7, and by age 8 he had composed a Mass for three voices. In 1877 he was appointed court conductor, responsible for music in the royal chapel. Rheinberger was a prolific composer, with works including Masses, operas, symphonies, chamber music, and choral works. Above all, he is remembered for his elaborate and challenging organ compositions, especially his sonatas.

Rheinberger wrote works reminiscent of those of Brahms and Schumann, and yet their attractive lyricism is unique, as evidenced by this setting of Dextera Domini, a passage from Psalm 118 which serves as the ancient Offertory for Maundy Thursday, Easter Vigil and the Third Sunday after Epiphany.

Dextera Domini fecit virtutem, dextera Domini exaltavit me.
Non moriar, sed vivam, et narrabo opera Domini.

The right hand of the Lord hath wrought strength; the right hand of the Lord has exalted me.
I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.

(Psalm 118:16-17)


Organ Sonata No.8 in E Minor (Op. 132: IV. Passacaglia) – Josef Rheinberger

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Rheinberger’s 20 organ sonatas speak most eloquently of his skill at infusing classical forms such as the sonata with the warmth of late Romanticism. The 214-bar passacaglia from his Sonata No. 8 is a most impressive demonstration of Rheinberger’s mastery of Baroque forms, and a superb example of musical architecture. The passacaglia form originated as a dance in early 17th-century Spain and is used by composers to this day. It is a set of continuous variations over a repeating bass, very similar to its contemporary form the chaconne or ciaconne. Perhaps the most well-known organ passacaglia is Bach’s in C minor (BWV 528).

This movement from Rheinberger’s eighth organ sonata is played here by the American organist Frederick Swann, formerly of the Riverside Church in New York City and the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California. In this recording he plays the monumental C. B. Fisk organ (Opus 130, 2008) in the Segerstrom Concert Hall, Costa Mesa, California.

Gerald Harder