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Music for the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost — September 10, 2023

Toccata on ‘Old 100th – Robert Hebble (1934-2020)

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The Old Hundredth, the earliest of the English psalm paraphrases, has won a place in every English hymnal since it was written. A triumph of simplicity, it has exerted unfailing appeal wherever it is sung. Shakespeare refers to it in The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Longfellow introduces Priscilla in The Courtship of Miles Standish, “singing the Hundredth Psalm, that grand old Puritan anthem.” At the coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953 it became the first congregational hymn to be used at an English coronation. William Kethe is widely accepted as the author of this English psalm paraphrase. Born in Scotland c. 1530, Kethe was an exile in Frankfurt and Geneva during the Marian regime in England, 1553-58. From 1561 until his death in 1594 he was rector of Childe Okeford in Dorset.

Old 100th, composed or adapted by Louis Bourgeois, first appeared in the 1551 edition of the French Genevan Psalter, set to Psalm 134. Its first association with Psalm 100 occurred in the Anglo-Genevan Psalter 1561. This pairing, as found in this morning’s final hymn, has become familiar to English-speaking congregations the world over. The tune was also used by Robert Hebble, the composer of the toccata that is this Sunday’s organ postlude in church. A graduate of Yale University and the Juilliard School, Hebble also spent a year in Paris in private study with Nadia Boulanger. Hebble distinguished himself as a colourist—a musician whose conception of beauty finds variety in harmony the way an artist mixes colour. The harmonic shifts and surprises in this Sunday’s ‘Toccata on Old 100thcertainly bear this out.

Gerald Harder