Music for Pentecost — Sunday, May 23, 2021

Holy Spirit, ever dwelling – Text: Timothy Rees (1874-1939) / Music: Herbert Howells (1892-1983)

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Timothy Rees was a monk of the Community of the Resurrection and later Bishop of Llandaff. He wrote a small number of very useful hymns. This one first appeared in 1922, and has been a welcome addition to the repertoire of hymns on the Holy Spirit.

Herbert Howells was for a short time in 1917 the sub-organist of Salisbury Cathedral, and this may be remembered in the name of this tune. Thereafter he turned to composition and to teaching, both at St Paul’s Girls’ School in Hammersmith and at the Royal College of Music. Towards the end of his life he concentrated on church music, in particular writing a remarkable series of settings of the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis for cathedral evensong. In the 1930s he contributed a number of tunes for use initially in public school chapels. This is a distinguished example of such a tune.

Holy Spirit, ever dwelling may not be taken up easily in those situations that do not have the congregational rehearsals which were part of the life of such schools. It is likely for this reason that it is often heard sung in choral arrangements, which is the way it has been sung in the past several years at St. James’. This hymn can nonetheless be found at 141 in The New English Hymnal.

Holy Spirit, ever dwelling
In the holiest realms of light;
Holy Spirit, ever brooding
O’er a world of gloom and night,
Holy Spirit, ever raising
Those on earth to thrones on high;
Living, life-imparting Spirit,
You we praise and magnify.

Holy Spirit, ever living
As the Church’s very life,
Holy Spirit, ever striving
Through us in a ceaseless strife,
Holy Spirit, ever forming
In the Church the mind of Christ;
You we praise with endless worship
For Your gracious gifts unpriced.

Holy Spirit, ever working
Through the Church’s ministry,
Teaching, strength’ning, and absolving,
Setting captive sinners free,
Holy Spirit, ever binding
Age to age and soul to soul,
In communion never ending,
You we worship and extol.

Come, Holy Ghost, Our Souls Inspire – Text: Latin (9th cent.); tr. John Cosin (1594-1672). Music: Mechlin plainsong, Mode 8

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This great hymn, Veni creator spiritus, which “has taken deeper hold of the Western Church than any other hymn, the Te Deum excepted” (Dr Gibson, in Julian Dictionary of Hymnology), appears in manuscript as early as the 10th century. Pentecost has been the occasion for the liturgical use of this hymn since that time; it is also sung at ordination services, the consecration of bishops, and the dedication of churches. It appears in our blue hymn book (Common Praise) at 637, with a translation from the Latin by the 17th-century English bishop John Cosin.

Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire

and lighten with celestial fire;

thou the anointing Spirit art,

who dost thy seven-fold gifts impart.


Thy blessed unction from above is comfort,

life, and fire of love;

enable with perpetual light

the dullness of our mortal sight.

Anoint and cheer our soiled face

with the abundance of thy grace.

Keep far from foes, give peace at home:

where thou art guide, no ill can come.

Teach us to know the Father, Son,

and thee, of both, to be but one,

that through the ages all along

this may be our endless song:

Praise to thine eternal merit,

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.



Choral varié from the Prélude, Adagio et choral varié, Op. 4 – Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986)

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Among the greatest organists of the twentieth century, Maurice Duruflé was also the eminent composer of some of the most sublime repertoire ever composed for organ, orchestra, and choir. He was a teacher, a recitalist, a virtuosic improviser of impeccable pedigree, and a man of the church. Although he has held an important place in the choral and organ repertoire for three-quarters of a century, his opus list is small, primarily because of the extreme degree of his self-criticism and his penchant for constant revision.

Eschewing change, Duruflé was a conservative in a radical world. In 1969, for example, on hearing a jazz mass in one of the chapels at Saint Étienne, he expressed his outrage in a loud voice over what he considered to be a scandalous travesty. Compared with other great composers of his day – Bernstein, Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Britten – he seems strangely out of touch with his times, both in his music and his personality.

Nevertheless, within the very tight personal and musical orbit in which he worked, Duruflé was a phenomenon, with an unparalleled understanding of harmony and Gregorian chant, an ancient form that he helped restore to popularity. And of course, his Requiem and the handful of other choral and organ works, several of them heard at St. James’, are unquestionable masterpieces, brilliantly cut and crafted gems that reach the heart with their purity and grace.

Immersed in Gregorian chant as he was, it is no wonder that a good portion of his works are chant-based. The full title of Opus 4, heard in part here, is Prélude, Adagio et choral varié sur le theme du ‘Veni Creator’. Based on the ancient plainsong hymn (above), it hints at the theme in the Prélude and Adagio, and then finally theChoral, which has only been seen through a glass darkly, as it were, is presented in full by the organ, and followed by the four variations.

The first variation is written in four parts. The theme appears in the pedals while the right hand plays an elaboration of the theme. The second variation is for manuals only, while the third variation is a canon at the interval of the fourth. The final variation is a brilliant toccata, introducing the theme in canon between right hand and pedals. The music winds up to a glorious climax; Duruflé saves his masterstroke for the coda marked ‘tempo poco più vivo’ when he presents the plainsong ‘Amen’ (only hinted at in the organ music until that point) in the pedals on full organ.

Duruflé wrote this piece when he was organist at Saint-Étienne-du-Mont in Paris and presided over an organ still largely the work of legendary French organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, but now controlled by a modern electric console, making the playing of works such as this possible without the aid of registrants. Such is not the case in the performance seen in the video linked here. The organ, one of Cavaillé-Coll’s most magnificent creations, is at Saint-Suplice (Paris), where Charles-Marie Widor was titular organist from 1870 until 1933. As seen in the video, performance of Opus 4 requires the assistance of three registrants, each a fine organist in his own right, to help manipulate the stops, including Daniel Roth, the titular organist of Saint-Sulpice, and one of the finest organists of his generation.

I last played this work at St. James’ on the Day of Pentecost 2018. As I’ve occasionally mentioned previously, this is best heard on a substantial audio system, or a good pair of headphones.

Gerald Harder