Five Centuries published

I’m pleased to announce the publication of Five Centuries: The Wends and the Reformation by Concordia University Press and The Wendish Press. It was a great pleasure to design this full-color, large-format title heavily illustrated with not only archival photos and contemporary snapshots, but also images of fine paintings, old books, woodcuts, and the like. I also did a good bit of work to edit and refine the translation from the German text of the original German–Wendish publication.

A note on the type

I have set all previous historically oriented CUP titles in digital interpretations of the types cut by Miklós Kis, usually known as the ‘Janson’ types; the delicious, and very readable, roughness of Kis’s work always seemed appropriate for books often dealing with rural settings and illustrated by archival photos, and the parallels (Central European, Protestant, intellectual trying to bring education and religion to his people) between him and, say, Jan Kilian or other Sorbian leaders always seemed apposite, even if the centuries, countries, and confessions differed. But while some of the digital versions of the middle and large sizes of Kis’s types are fairly faithful to the originals, the available interpretations of the text sizes are not, and I’ve never been entirely happy with Linotype Janson Text, which has none of the qualities that made the metal versions so popular in the middle of the twentieth century. I knew that this face would fail utterly on the coated stock needed to reproduce the paintings and photos in Five Centuries – so it seemed like a good time to  evolve the house style.

Enter Quadraat, Fred Smeijers’s fine and funky modern interpretation of a Dutch Baroque roman paired with a Renaissance italic. The face has, in a different and unmistakably contemporary way, some of the rumpled character of the Kis types, as well as many features and advantages of its own, the narrowness and independence of the italic being one. And without having been overused – certainly not in the US – it has also been around long enough to demonstrate its staying power. Is it too soon to call it a classic? It certainly has the sense of inevitability and self-possession, the grace that transcends simple notions of perfection, and the combination of timeliness and timelessness that mark ‘classics’ in other areas. In any case I’m extremely pleased with its performance in this case and look forward to working with it more.

Please see the Book Design section of this website for photos.

Brahms and Titelouze on the ESD Noack

I’ve discovered and posted three tracks from some old field recordings I made on the magnificent Noack organ in All Saints’ Chapel at the Episcopal School of Dallas: two versets by Jehan Titelouze on the Advent Vespers hymn ‘Conditor alme siderum’ and the prelude on ‘O Welt, ich muß dich lassen’ that closes Brahms’s final set of compositions.

The extant recordings of Noack organs – and there are too few – focus especially on modern, especially what could broadly be termed neoclassical, works. These works deserve to be heard, and the instruments serve them well. Some of these pieces, however, lacking specific directions for characteristic registrations – or perhaps, being so new in some cases, lacking a consensus or context for registrational and other performance practices – don’t quite show what the organs can do.

Noack’s remarkable synthesis of influences, however, really shines in both Baroque (even late- and post-Renaissance) and – some would be surprised – Romantic music. This particular instrument, in fact, is the very one that taught me to appreciate and to play Brahms’s organ works, and I can attest that, say, Franck and Howells sound equally well on this and other later Noack organs. It is to be hoped that more recordings of a wider variety of music will be made on instruments such as this one and those in Lakeside Park, Kentucky, and La Crosse, Wisconsin, and that future generations of organbuilders will study and learn from their legacy.

Johann Crüger article published in Serbska protyka 2018

An article about the great hymn-tune composer and hymnal editor Johann Crüger which I co-authored with David Zersen has been published in the 2018 Serbska protyka (Sorbian Almanac), a general cultural review of and for the Sorbian (Wendish) people, culture, and language. Crüger – whose German name translates as John Taverner (!) – hailed from the historically Sorbian region of Lower Lusatia and may well have been of Sorbian ancestry.

Crüger wrote motets and Magnificats as well as three substantial educational treatises, but he is best known today for his seventy hymn-tunes (many setting beloved hymns of Johann Franck and especially Paul Gerhardt) and the hymn collections he compiled and published, above all Praxis pietatis melica. Both his compositions and compilations drew upon the best of the interrelated sixteenth-century Lutheran, Calvinist, and Bohemian repertories, but the style of some of his tunes, and the formats in which he published (either in four parts with the melody in the highest voice, or with melody and figured bass), demonstrate that he was working at the time when tonal harmony was developing and suggest domestic performance with instruments.

I can’t vouch for the translation, but it’s interesting to see what I wrote look like this:


Distler’s Kleine Adventsmusik

Thursday 7 December
Feast of St Ambrose
St David’s Episcopal Church

It’s a pleasure to be leading the St David’s Singers and instrumentalists in Distler’s Kleine Adventsmusik – all the more so on the Feast of St Ambrose, author of the hymn (‘Veni redemptor gentium’) upon which much of the work is based. Distler was very fond of this hymn, later basing his best-known organ work, the Partita on ‘Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland’, upon it, and borrowing at least one motivic idea from this 1931 work in the organ variations. Distler’s music is often interesting, intricate, magical even, also perhaps a bit intellectual, and cool in more than one sense of the word – but parts of this work remind us that sheer beauty was also part of the composer’s genius.

The work will be presented in English, though it’s worth noting that the American editor exchanged two of the texts Distler set for different stanzas of the hymn, somewhat muddying the connection between the narration and the sung text, and omitting the reference to the chuppah/thalamus (‘chamber’) of Psalm 19, an important and multifaceted image found in the Latin originals of a number of hymns and antiphons relating to the many Advents of Christ. It is to be hoped that a future English edition will rectify this as well as a number of errors in the printing.

Requiem for All Faithful Departed

Thursday 2 November
St David’s Episcopal Church

It’s my privilege to be leading the St David’s Parish Choir and friends in the traditional chants of the Requiem Mass on All Souls’ Day. We’re also singing Gombert’s massive and rich six-voice setting of ‘Media vita in morte sumus’, more or less based upon the traditional chant for that text, and the subtle and sublime ‘I heard a voice from heaven’ from Morley’s Burial Anthems, perhaps the earliest setting of the English Burial service we have.

It was also a joy to sing these chants for a funeral Requiem last week at St Mary’s Cathedral, the Church offering up prayers with all due and all possible solemnity for an elderly lady unknown neither to myself nor to many others anymore. It’s not only for our friends and family, but for people like her and for untold others forgotten and unknown, that we offer prayers at All Souls’. Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine.

New tracks added

I’ve added a number of recordings from my recent recital on the Holbrook-Fisk organ (tuned in quarter-comma meantone for the occasion) at Redeemer Presbyterian Church: works by Cabezón, Correa, Couperin, Gibbons, Merula, Muffat, Scherer, and Steffens. I’ve also fixed the audio on several older recordings by Buxtehude, Kerckhoven, Muffat, Sweelinck, and Vivaldi-Bach. You can find all these on the Recordings page of this website.

Fall recital

Friday 29 September
Redeemer Presbyterian Church

Racquet: Fantasy on ‘Regina coeli’
Cabezón: Tiento I del segundo tono
Fischer: Passacaglia from ‘Urania’
Scherer: Intonationes septimi & octavi toni
Correa de Araujo: Tiento LIII de medio registro de dos tiples de segundo tono
Steffens: Jesus Christus unser Heiland
H. Praetorius/Scheidemann: Benedicam Dominum
Gibbons: A Fancy in Gamutt flat
Merula: Capriccio cromatico
L. Couperin: Four Fantaisies (May 1656)
Muffat: Toccata III

This program of outstanding works mostly of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries – from the brilliant Racquet and Scheidemann pieces to Steffens’s strong choral-fantasia, the introspective Cabezón and Couperin, the charming Scherer, the restless Fischer and Gibbons, the rhapsodic Correa, and mercurial Merula and Muffat – will be enriched by the retuning of the magnificent Holbrook-Fisk organ to quarter-comma meantone: a rare opportunity to hear these works in the temperament they were most likely originally imagined for. I’m indebted as always to George Dupere and the Redeemer congregation for the kind invitation and for their generosity with this instrument.

Fall preview

I’m looking forward to several opportunities this fall.

Choral Evensong for Holy Cross Day
Thursday 14 September
St David’s Episcopal Church

The St David’s Singers will sing Evensong for Holy Cross Day (the Exaltation of the Holy Cross) mostly to plainsong, which I’ll enrich with organ versets by Frescobaldi and from the Visby Tablature (attributed to Hieronymus Praetorius) and Christ Church MS 89.

Fall Recital
Friday 29 September
Redeemer Presbyterian Church

This program of outstanding works by Raquet, Cabezón, Fischer, Scherer, Correa de Arauxo, Steffens, H. Praetorius/Scheidemann, Gibbons, Merula, L. Couperin, and Muffat will be enriched by the retuning of the magnificent Holbrook-Fisk organ to quarter-comma meantone: a rare opportunity to hear these works in the temperament they were most likely originally imagined for.

Requiem for All Faithful Departed
Thursday 2 November
St David’s Episcopal Church

I’ve been asked to lead the St David’s Parish Choir in the traditional plainsong of the Requiem, as well as some polyphony, for this All Souls’ Day service.

500 Years: Sorbs and the Reformation

Meanwhile, I’m pleased to have the opportunity to design the large-format and heavily illustrated new English translation of this originally dual-language (German/Sorbian) book about the effects of the Protestant Reformation upon the Sorbs, a Slavic people of eastern Germany, for the Concordia University Press.

A couple of new tracks added

I’ve removed from the Recordings page several old tracks but have added a couple of new ones: the exuberant Fantasia VIII. Toni by Peeter Cornet, the esteemed early-c17 Flemish organist-composer, and the typically bizarre Toccata XII by Michelangelo Rossi, the Italian violin and organ virtuoso-composer of the same era.

New anthem: ‘The Call’

Yesterday the St David’s Singers premiered a short SAB setting of Herbert’s ‘The Call’ which I wrote for this day when the Gospel and Collect both refer to Our Lord as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. I must recommend the Hymnal 1982 Companion’s admirable explication of this slightly difficult text, the exact sense of some of which had eluded me and the choir!

Two new anthems premiered

The St David’s Singers premiered two new hymn-anthems of mine recently: ‘My Shepherd will supply my need’ and ‘Gabriel’s Message’.

The former is a simple setting of Isaac Watts’s paraphrase of Psalm 23 (the Psalm appointed for the day) to the melody used for it in the Hymnal 1982, ‘Resignation’; it highlights the folk origins of this tune by means of both the fiddle-like ornaments in the piano accompaniment and the harmonies conforming in the first stanza to the pentatonic scale of the melody.

The latter is a setting of John Mason Neale’s Annunciation carol ‘Gabriel’s message does away’ to the tune from Piae Cantiones, ‘Angelus emittitur’, for which he wrote it. The Hymnal 1982 had omitted three of Neale’s stanzas, two of which were both weaker and susceptible of misunderstanding; I rewrote these two stanzas as well as a line that had been subtly altered in the Hymnal, in an attempt to comprehend both Neale’s and the Hymnal’s meanings. I also included the other omitted stanza and retained the altered refrain, a close translation of the refrain of the Latin text associated with this tune. The text not only deals with the Annunciation (which fell the day before we sang it) but looks forward to Holy Week and Easter as it recounts a number of ironic reversals that take place via the Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection of Our Lord, reminding us that all of these, and their material accoutrements, are ‘gates’ and ‘unfoldings’ of salvation.

Lenten recital

Thursday 9 March
St David’s Episcopal Church

Bach: Fantasy & Fugue in c BWV 537
Near: Three Lenten hymn preludes
Scheidt: Christe, qui lux es et dies SWV 133

Bach begins the program striking a somber mood with the Fantasy’s spacious 6/4 meter and deliberate tempo, and its motifs of ‘striving’ (rising minor 6ths) and ‘sighing’ (pairs of notes descending stepwise) – all rather like the Récit de Tierce en Taille standing for the ‘Domine Deus, Agnus Dei, Filius Patris’ of the Gloria in Grigny’s Organ Mass, but also reminiscent in mood of the opening movements of Bach’s two Passions. A half-cadence leads into the fugue, in which the rising half-steps heard throughout the middle contribute a certain relentlessness driving inevitably to the end, which is reached via a repeat essentially da capo (a technique to which Bach would return in more than one later organ fugue).

Gerald Near is one of the best contemporary composers working more or less in the Anglo-American choir-and-organ tradition. Much of his work, like the present three pieces, is based on or at least draws heavily upon the chant, skilfully combining its diatonicity with atmospheric modern-French-influenced chromaticism. (Near is not afraid, however, to pay homage in one of these works to Brahms’s famous hymn-prelude ‘O Welt, ich muß dich lassen’ with its double echoes at the end of each phrase.)

‘Christe qui lux es et dies’, the Lenten Compline hymn in some rites, merited two treatments in Samuel Scheidt’s monumental Tabulatura nova of 1624. In Volume III it is among the hymns, Kyries, and Magnificats given a set of versets for strict alternatim use with sung verses of the chant, but in Volume II it is treated as a set of nine variations, the first six of which are continuous in the manner of Sweelinck (with whom Scheidt studied), Cabezón, and others. The cantus firmus appears in the Soprano (vv.1–3), the Tenor (v.4), the Alto (v.5), and the Soprano again (v.6), before being treated in bicinium style (v.7), returning to the Tenor (v.8), and finally appearing in the Bass (v.9). Scheidt’s music is often felt to be generally workmanlike and occasionally exciting, and is interpreted accordingly; I hope to show that it can also be rather lovely.

Portfolio pages updated

I’ve updated the portfolio pages of this site to showcase some fresh content, freshly presented. Please take a look and see what’s new!

New anthem: Psalm 98

The St David’s Singers will present my new setting of Psalm 98 this Sunday. As many settings of this psalm naturally focus on the musical language that calls upon the singer/listener, instrumentalists, and even the sea, lands, rivers, and hills to ‘sing a new song’, the text is appointed here in the pre-Advent season more particularly for the assertions in the final verse that ‘in righteousness shall he judge the world / and the peoples with equity’, and I have tried to reflect the latter as well as the former ideas (which are in any case not truly separable).

New setting of ‘Vater unser im Himmelreich’

The St David’s Singers will present a new setting I have written of the Lutheran hymn version of the Our Father (in my own three-stanza paraphrase of the prayer, rather than Luther’s considerably longer trope or Coverdale’s translation of Luther) this Sunday, when St Luke’s version of the Our Father is featured in the Gospel. Though this great tune did enter the English-language strophic-syllabic-meter-Psalm tradition, it is not nearly well enough known, and it’s a pleasure to get to present it.

New audio tracks posted

I’ve uploaded some recordings from my recent recital at St Austin Catholic Parish. Go to the Music page to hear music by Bender, Boyvin, Muffat, and Van Noordt.

Spring recital at St Austin

Monday 25 April 2016
St Austin Catholic Parish
2026 Guadalupe St, Austin

I’ll return to St Austin Catholic Parish 25 April not for Organ Vespers, but for a solo recital on the beautiful Baroque-style instrument there. The program will include Byrd’s ‘Ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la’ (hexachord fantasia), a lovely partita on ‘Vater unser im Himmelreich’ by twentieth-century Dutch-German composer Jan Bender, two of the very fine fantasias from Anthoni van Noordt’s Tabulatuur-boeck (Amsterdam, 1659), one of Michelangelo Rossi’s rather mercurial toccatas, the sweet ciacona from Georg Muffat’s Apparatus musico-organisticus (1690), and a suite of pieces on the first tone selected from Jacques Boyvin’s two Livres d’Orgue (1689, 1700). In such an inspiring setting, it’s a pleasure to explore the interaction between music and instrument, composer and interpreter, and easy to feel connected to these musicians and their work.

Chant Concert for the Feast of St Gregory the Great

Schola Aliquando will present its first concert (as opposed to Organ Vespers) as part of the Lenten Concerts at Noon at St David’s Episcopal Church, Austin, Thursday 10 March. The program will feature chant in honor of and associated with Pope Gregory I, who amidst a busy career (before and during his pontificate) in diplomacy, administration, contemplation, writing, and apostolic work, was involved in liturgical reforms at Rome and is traditionally credited with the reorganization, and even the composition, of the chant that now bears his name. His traditional feast day is 12 March. My friend and colleague Barbara Manson, director of the St Augustine Latin Mass Choir at St Mary’s Cathedral and a member of Schola Aliquando, will share the directing responsibilities.

Organ Vespers for the Purification of the BVM

Schola Aliquando and I will present First Vespers of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary (also kept as the feast of the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple) 1 February at 19:30 at St Austin Catholic Parish, 2026 Guadalupe St, Austin. This fully sung Vespers will feature one of the cycles from Heinrich Scheidemann’s collection of versets on all eight tones of the Magnificat, a major contribution to this repertory; a Tiento on ‘Ave maris stella’ (the proper hymn for the feast) by Juan Cabanilles; and versets on the same hymn by Christian Erbach. The proper chants are beautiful, and the feast day is rich with layers of symbolic meaning. Please join us.

End-of-year roundup

I’ve recently finished up some enjoyable projects and experiences, just in time for the inevitable busyness of the year’s end:

· I’ve completed a semester of teaching as Adjunct Lecturer in Organ in the University of Texas at Austin’s Butler School of Music. It’s been a pleasure to work with students from the freshman to the doctoral level and a welcome challenge to try to explain styles and techniques some of which may have been new to them.

· I’ve just turned in the files for the latest title I’ve designed for the Concordia University Press, Exodus of the Eight Hundred. This historical novel by Ingerose Paust treats the voyage of a substantial group of German immigrants who were a major force in the foundation of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, and is translated into English for the first time. Look for images to be posted soon.

· I recently played the first of the ‘Caroling at Noon’ concerts at St David’s Episcopal Church, a series for which I am responsible. For this first recital at my new place of employment, I played an all-Bach program featuring some works less well know to general audiences, such as the Pastorale and the two settings of the German Magnificat, demonstrating some of the lighter chorus work and the more delicate stops of the Pilcher-Hofmann organ.

In the spring I look forward particularly to Organ Vespers for the Eve of Candlemas and a solo recital, both at St Austin Catholic Parish, and to Choral Evensong for Ascension Day with the St David’s Singers, which I direct.