Choral Evensong for St Luke

Feast of St Luke, Evangelist
2018.10.18 · 19.30
St David’s Episcopal Church

     Fantasia IV. Toni   Johann Steffens
office hymn   tune: ‘Exultet caelum laudibus’
    ‘What thanks and praise to thee we owe’
     Organ polyphony   Jehan Titelouze
magnificat   Tone III
     Vocal polyphony   Ludwig Senfl
     Organ polyphony   Jehan Titelouze
nunc dimittis   Tone IV
anthem   tune: ‘Erschienen ist der herrlich Tag’
    ‘Lo, round the throne a glorious band’   Henry Ley
     Magnificat III. Toni: versus ii   Heinrich Scheidemann

The St David’s Singers will sing Evensong for the Feast of St Luke the Evangelist, in whose Gospel the major canticles of the Office are found. The service will be sung to traditional chant tunes and formulae, with polyphonic versets based upon the chant also sung by the choir and organ – historically a common practice for the hymns and canticles of the Office as well as parts of the Mass. The organ versets come from a comprehensive collection of such music by Jehan Titelouze (ca 1562–1633), a priest, poet, and composer active at Rouen. These are firmly rooted in Renaissance techniques of strict imitative counterpoint (sometimes employing themes in inversion, especially in the first two Magnificat verses) and the use of the cantus firmus (tunes in long notes, heard in tonight’s first two hymn verses and the last Magnificat verse). Titelouze also tailored the themes of each Magnificat verset to the prosody of the (Latin) text as though it were being sung. The choral versets (in which the organ also takes part as a ‘member of the choir’) come from the pen of Ludwig Senfl (ca 1486–ca 1542), a prominent composer at the court of the Holy Roman Emperor and frequent correspondent of Martin Luther. These too make use of imitative counterpoint, but in the last verset we also hear, surrounding the cantus firmus of the reciting tone sung by the choir, music broken up into short rhythmic motives tossed back and forth among the voices.

The voluntaries bookending the service come from two representatives of the great flowering of organ music in seventeenth-century North Germany. The Fantasia of Johann Steffens (1560–1616) is based upon a free subject (heard throughout, later in reduced and then expanded note-values), while the Magnificat verset of Heinrich Scheidemann (ca 1595–1663) is really a Fantasia based upon a chant tone; both use imitative and motivic techniques not unlike those heard in the Senfl versets, while incorporating more or less virtuosic embellishment of a kind also heard in instrumental works of the period.

See the Writing page of this site for more on this feast and the translation of the antiphons.