Tag Archives: Magnificat

Annunciation and Magnificat

annunciationmagnificatp3Annunciation and Magnificat. Brass quintet (with opt. flugelhorns), narrator, 22 minutes

Annunciation and Magnificat is a set of musings on the text of the first chapter of Luke, verses 26 through 55. Beginning with the announcement to Mary from the angel Gabriel that she would become the mother of Jesus the Messiah, and ending with her song of praise, the text explores her questions and trepidations, the angel’s assurances, and Mary’s visit with her cousin Elisabeth who was then pregnant with John the Baptist. A narrator reads the text, which I’ve divided into eight sections. The quintet plays a meditation on the text after each section is read, the Magnificat ending with the non-scriptural but traditional Gloria Patri:

1. The angel Gabriel was sent
2. She was troubled
3. Fear not, Mary
4. How shall this be?
5. Nothing shall be impossible
6. Behold the handmaid of the Lord
7. And Mary arose
8. Magnificat

Elements of the music appear, transformed, as the work progresses. In “Nothing shall be impossible,” the key of D-flat travels quickly to the farthest key away, G, and back again, which journey I tried to make as unnoticed as I could. Normally I take one emotion from each section and attempt to express that musically, but I do, in the Magnificat, follow the text closely. The antiphon recurs as in a sung Magnificat (albeit truncated sometimes), after each two-line thought; the overall feel is of a jubilant dance.

I am thankful to the Gaudete Brass for the opportunity to compose this. Their trumpeters are also excellent flugelhorn players, so I was happy to provide places in the music where those warm-sounding instruments could optionally be used.

Annunciation and Magnificat was premiered 3 December 2016 by the Gaudete Brass Quintet at St. Clement Parish, Chicago.

1. The angel Gabriel was sent
And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, you who are highly favored, the Lord is with you: blessed are you among women.

2. She was troubled
And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.

3. Fear not, Mary
And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for you have found favor with God. And, behold, you shall conceive in your womb, and bring forth a son, and shall call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.

4. How shall this be?
Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?

5. Nothing shall be impossible
And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon you, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of you shall be called the Son of God. And, behold, your cousin Elisabeth, she has also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. For with God nothing shall be impossible.

6. Behold the handmaid of the Lord
And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to your word. And the angel departed from her.

7. And Mary arose
And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda; and entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth. And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: and she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And what is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of your salutation sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.

8. Magnificat
And Mary said,

My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.

For he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden:
for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

For he that is mighty has done to me great things; and holy is his name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.

He has showed strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

He has put down the mighty from their seats,
and exalted them of low degree.

He has filled the hungry with good things;
and the rich he has sent empty away.

He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;
As he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

—Luke 1:26-55, Gloria Patri

Magnificat at St. Mark's Advent Lessons & Carols

StMarksTympanumWhat a service. All thanks to Matt Glandorf and the choir of St. Mark’s Church, Philadelphia, along with organist Tom Sheehan and harpist Madeline Blood, for such a stirring presentation yesterday of the Magnificat, at Advent Lessons & Carols.

Matt had asked if I might wish to re-arrange the accompaniment of this Magnificat, from its origins in Vespers for Renaissance instruments, to modern harp and organ. The choir and solo soprano parts (so well sung yesterday!) remain the same. I was happy to give it a try, and they blessed me with their presenting of it in this version.

Throughout the service the choir sang from all compass points in the sanctuary (and out). They also sang works by Gustav Holst, Richard Marlow, Roxanna Panufnik (a haunting “Come, My Way, my Truth, My Life”), Eric Whitacre, Paul Manz (as gorgeous an “E’en So Lord Jesus Quickly Come” as you’re likely to hear), and a brilliant premiere of “People, Look East” by Daniel Shapiro.

It’s easy to take Matt’s direction for granted, as effortless as it seemed. But this was often challenging music, and the choreography of keeping all the musicians together, often in various parts of the church, had to have tested everyone.

But as I said, it seemed absolutely effortless. What a service, from beginning to end.

At their Christmas Eve Advent Lessons & Carols, also at 4 pm, they will sing, for a second year in a row, the a cappella 16-voice Herr Christ, der eining Gotts Sohn, also from Vespers. If I can at all be there, I will.

Here’s a snippet of the original Magnificat (more information here and more on Vespers here), as the tenors join their chorale to the 3-soprano canon: 

Magnificat, from Vespers, with harp and organ

StMarksTympanumThe premiere of the re-cast Magnificat from Vespers takes place tomorrow, December 1st 2013, in the first Advent Lessons and Carols of the season at St. Mark’s, 16th and Locust, under the direction of Matthew Glandorf, at 4 pm.

Since I composed Vespers for choir with Piffaro, The Renaissance Band, I’ve been re-sculpting parts of it for modern instruments. Already, choirs have sung Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern with two oboes (or two trumpets, I forget now), cello, and organ, and early next year, with strings and harpsichord. (I’ve even underlaid my own English translation into the new keyboard-reduced octavo.)

Psalm 113, originally accompanied by two sackbuts and early harp, has been sung a few times with piano (piano!—the Piffarites were aghast, but we’re still on speaking terms). Herr Christ, der einig Gotts Sohn was and remains a cappella for 16 separate voice parts. It has (surprisingly to me, for its vocal challenge) become the most-performed part of Vespers; St. Mark’s will take it up again at its Christmas Eve Lessons and Carols, December 24th, 4 pm.

And now, Magnificat has been transformed from its original 3-dulcian, 2-sackbut, early harp, and theorbo accompaniment to one of modern harp with organ. The voice parts have not changed, including the 3-soprano canon on the Magnificat antiphon. And as if there weren’t enough Lutheran chorales in Vespers, another one—”O Jesu Christe, wahres Licht”—snuck in, set in tenor counterpoint against the final antiphon of the three sopranos, right before everything breaks loose in the Gloria Patri.

If not for this, then for any other reason do try to hear what Matt Glandorf and the choir offers at St. Mark’s sometime. The music there is thrillingly beautiful.

Powers of Heaven, Advent Vespers

advent3aThank you to Jackie and the choir of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Abington, Pa., for singing my hymn, Powers of Heaven yesterday. The hymn is a setting of an Advent text by the Rev. Dr. Michael Tavella at Holy Trinity.

It was Vespers for this Third Sunday of Advent, preceded by the Vesper Recital in which the hymn was sung. Cellist Elena Smith played the obbligato for a second week in a row, amazing everyone, not least of all, her proud father. She topped that with the Prelude from the Bach Suite No. 2 in D minor. So that’s how you write for cello.

Vespers featured the Praetorius Magnificat super Ecce Maria et Sydus ex claro. Strong, exalted, deceptively simple. So that’s how you write for choir.

Vespers in Condemned to Music, Arts Journal

David Patrick Stearns compares Monteverdi and me. He went to recent performances of a “Vespers” (not 1610), put together from later Monteverdi works by the Green Mountain Project, and my Vespers, and believes that both the master and I resolve dichotomies by bringing “enemies together.”

Monteverdi brought a new kind of music—less contrapuntal, more operatic—into the Church. My piece comes from someone Stearns describes as an “ultra-devout” composer who writes “almost anti- evangelical,” or not preachy, music. It “speaks to him without histrionics.”

“There’s absolutely no guile or strategy behind it…. There’s plenty of joy – though not with anything as superficial or as potentially vulgar as jubilation. Smith’s Magnificat is full of wonderful canonic writing that has a simple, straightforward effect – achieved through a complexity of means that could only be the work of an extremely accomplished composer… De-dramatized, de-politicized spiritually-oriented music is no stranger to admirers of Arvo Pärt. But even at his most secular, Pärt seems to echo, however distantly, the asceticism of the Eastern Orthodox Church. If Smith is writing for a church, it’s one without walls.”

I don’t know what that means, though people of all faiths have told me marvelous things about their experiences listening to it. I see, simply, a Lutheran Vespers, a traditionally formed Christian work with Psalms, hymns, a Lord’s Prayer, and so on. What I tried to put in it was what I have felt from the inside: the power of a chant, of a hymn, that churns and overwhelms. Many, many greater ones than I feel this, the saints from books, the saints who I sit next to. He says it speaks to his “integration-starved soul.” I bow my head at those kind words.

Magnificat 2009

Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Abington crops up in the calendar here and previous years a good bit and that’s because it’s my church, Jackie is the Director of Music, and I volunteer, or am sometimes requested by same Director, to produce music for various services. I am happy when these opportunities arise, as they afford me twin advantages. They provide me with useful labor (one of the grand, unheralded purposes of life), and they provide me with useful education.

There is no school quite like the Thursday night choir rehearsal with 12 or 15 singers who, in spite of having many duties and cares with which to occupy their lives, nevertheless show up week after week to prepare music for the upcoming services. They carry with their various and wide-ranging musical abilities a willingness to perform correctly what is put before them. And they each carry one more item to every rehearsal: an hourglass, through which pour the sands of patience. Some hourglasses are small, some large, and each has a different rate of flow. But they each carry one, and the composer can only hope that if the top empties out, they are in the mood to turn it over.

This is the school that will reveal to you—more quickly and more efficiently than any other—the distance between your actual and your imagined compositional prowess.

We are hosting a brief service Wednesday, January 21st at 7 pm, an ecumenical Vespers in honor of the Year of St. Paul, with a Roman Catholic church from just down the road, Our Lady Help of Christians. After the Vespers will be an airing of the ongoing Lutheran and Catholic dialogue on justification. And after figuring that out, we’ll serve coffee (we are Lutheran, after all) and refreshments.

I’ve written a Magnificat for the Vespers, and again, church music confronts me with the task of composing something that must be grasped, not only in a small portion of one rehearsal by a choir, but immediately, in church, by the congregation. For this to be successful, as much as a composer can calculate success, the effect has to be almost instantaneous and worthwhile, as much as anyone can calculate worth.

Other than the Music Director, the responsibility for bringing this off rests on not one person who performs music for a living. Oh, there are a few singers in the choir who have training (from whence arises the sanguine descant), but everyone has chosen another line of work. The Cantor part will be taken by two girls, 11 and 13. I have been taken to school over and over again in these situations and (usually) enjoy the education. And you might not think so, but I can tell you it’s exciting, watching all those hourglasses.

Here’s a MIDI version, and the score. Took some doing to get it all on one page. Yes, I know about, and am quite fond of, the (double) direct fifths. Mind the repeats!

magniefac81cat2009