Music for the Last Sunday of Epiphany — February 19 2023

Jesu, the very thought of thee – Edward Bairstow (1874-1946)

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The music of Sir Edward Bairstow is an essential part of the British cathedral music tradition. He set his texts ‘with a beauty which makes one never able to think of the words without recalling the music’, as the Dean of York wrote on the occasion of his seventieth birthday.

Born in Huddersfield, Bairstow showed a keen interest in music as a very young child. After some disjointed early music lessons, he was taught more formally by John Farmer, and later by Sir Frederick Bridge, organist of Westminster Abbey. In July 1913 he succeeded T. Tertius Noble as organist and Master of the Music at York Minster. He was a highly respected teacher, with several of his students making their names in the musical world. Among the most distinguished are Elsie Suddaby, Dr Francis Jackson, his successor at York Minster, Sir Ernest Bullock and Gerald Finzi.

Jesu, the very thought of thee, the communion motet in church this Sunday, is one of three unaccompanied anthems Bairstow wrote in 1925. There are some telling tenutos at the word ‘thought’ and some warm harmonies as the work progresses. The strongest moment, using the chord of a seventh, comes at ‘thy face to see’, after which there is a gradual diminuendo towards peace and repose. There is copious use of rests.

Jesu, the very thought of thee with sweetness fills my breast;

but sweeter far thy face to see, and in thy presence rest.

Gerald Harder