Music for the Great Vigil & Easter Day

Like as the hart – Herbert Howells (1892-1983)

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Ten readings from the Old Testament are provided for the Easter Vigil, each with a thematically related response in the form of a psalm or canticle. The response for the reading from Ezekiel 36 (“I will sprinkle clean water upon you”) is from the first several verses of Psalm 42; in some traditions this text is sung during the procession to the font.

Snowed in at Cheltenham while London was under a nearly constant air assault in January 1941, Herbert Howells composed feverishly during the first two weeks of the year. Though he titled the resulting choral works simply Four Anthems, it is clear from his writings that he originally conceived of the set as anthems “in time of war.” Though the set (which also includes O pray for the peace of Jerusalem, We have heard with our Ears, and Let God arise) has been welcomed as a whole into the prestigious canon of the Anglican anthem, it has been the third in the set, Like as the hart desireth the waterbrooks, which has become the most enduring. Written in the span of a single day (January 8, 1941) Like as the hart, for SATB chorus and organ, is a simple but at times mysteriously foreboding setting of the first three verses of Psalm 42.

Like as the hart desireth the water-brooks:

so longeth my soul after thee, O God.
My soul is athirst for God, yea, even for the living God:

when shall I come to appear before the presence of God?
My tears have been my meat day and night:

while they daily say unto me, Where is now thy God?


Haec dies – William Byrd (1543-1623)

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With a text taken from the Psalm for Easter Day, Haec dies (Psalm 118:24) is a riot of energy and with its use of triple metre and close imitation it belongs more to the world of the madrigal than the motet. The setting which Byrd has produced is perfect for the celebration of the Resurrection. It was also widely believed that this text constituted the final words of the Jesuit Father Edmund Campion who was tortured and executed having arrived from the Continent to minister to the Catholic community in England. Byrd’s setting for six voices could stand in direct opposition to his other Campion-inspired piece, Deus venerunt gentes (1589), and represent Campion’s arrival in heaven rather than his painful departure from earth.


There is no YouTube link for this week’s final selections. Instead, be sure to attend the Liturgy at Home on Zoom this Easter Day, Sunday, April 4 at 10:30am to hear St. James’ Assistant Organist PJ Janson play as a prelude his setting of the Genevan Psalm tune Old 124th, while Gerald Harder plays John Cook’s festive Fanfare as a postlude.


Chorale prelude on ‘Old 124th– PJ Janson

The melody, composed by Loys Bourgeois, first appeared in the 1562 edition of the Genevan Psalter.  Together with the Old Hundredth, Old 124th is one of the best-known melodies of the Genevan Psalter.  Indeed, it is so popular that in English hymnals that a shortened and slightly altered version was made of Bourgeois’ original, under the tune name Toulon, and is invariably set to the words ‘Draw near and take the Body of the Lord.’

The full and unabridged Old 124 is, however, set to different hymn texts such as ‘Our Lamb has conquered, let us follow Him,’ ‘God of the prophets, bless the prophets’ sons,’ ‘Now Israel may say, and that in truth,’ ‘Rise, crowned with light, imperial Salem, rise,’ and ‘O praise the Lord, ye servants of the Lord.’


Fanfare – John Cook (1918-1984)

English by birth, John Cook spent the last 30 years of his life in Canada and the United States, where he taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and held an important position as organist and director of music at Boston’s Church of the Advent. A musician of wide interests and experience, he worked with Vaughan Williams and Britten on film scores and wrote son et lumière music for the 1951 Festival of Britain.

It is from one of those scores that Fanfare was transcribed for organ by the composer. The poetry which inspired the piece is from Psalm 81: “Sing aloud unto God our strength: make a joyful noise unto the God of Jacob. Take a psalm, and bring hither the timbrel, the pleasant harp with the psaltery. Blow up the trumpet in the new moon, in the time appointed on our solemn feast day.” This recording by Gerald Harder shows off the colours of our marvelous Casavant organ.


Gerald Harder