Choral masterpieces

By singing anthems for Sunday worship each week, our choirs go through a goodly amount of choral literature. And not to toot our own horns, we sing quite a wide variety of styles of anthem literature.

For example, in the month of January, our worshipers heard harmonically bold 20th Century anthems; harmonically tame but lyrical 20th Century anthems; a gospel hymn arrangement; an African-American spiritual setting; a German chorale arrangement by one of my beloved CHC predecessors; and an English cathedral staple.

Add Choral Evensong to the mix, and we heard early English Baroque sung prayers, a 20th Century Roman Catholic canticle setting, a French motet sung in Latin and evening canticles in that mid-20th-Century-splashy-New-York-City-choral sound.

Truly I do not wish to brag here, as our parish choirs feel that we are just doing our job by offering sung music that illumines the rich heritage of our Anglican worship.

Moreover, when an anthem such as at this Sunday’s Offertory comes along, we should all take note.

One of this parish’s absolute favorite choral works is the Fauré Requiem, which we sang again for Remembrance Sunday in November. Its sublime, soaring melodies, people tell me over and over, transport them to a different spiritual place.

This Sunday’s (March 3) anthem is also by Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924), and the piece, Cantique de Jean Racine, is one of his earliest choral works. Scored for mixed choir and piano, strings, harp or organ accompaniment, or some combination thereof, Fauré, at age 19, wrote this piece for a competition in Paris in 1864. And, of course, he won first prize.

Cantique de Jean Racine, or “Chant by Jean Racine,” is a paraphrase of the Latin hymn Consors paterni luminis, which Racine translated as Verbe égal au Trés-Haut (“Word of God, one with the Most High”). Our Parish Choir will be using an English rendition by Harold Heiberg that begins, “O Redeemer divine.”

Musicologists see similarities in Cantique de Jean Racine and Faure’s later Requiem, namely the melodies, choral structures and instrumentation. However, the distinctive feature of the Cantique is is triplet-figures accompaniment, which gently percolates beneath the surface from beginning to end.

Because the original text and the revised English text both have meditative and spiritual merit, I offer both here as we prepare to hear this choral masterpiece on Sunday.

Cantique de Jean Racine
(Verbe égal au Trés-Haut)

Word of God, one with the Most High,
in Whom alone we have our hope,
Eternal Day of heaven and earth,
we break the silence of the peaceful night;
Savior Divine, cast your eyes upon us!

Pour on us the fire of your powerful grace,
that all hell may flee at the sound of your voice;
banish the slumber of a weary soul,
that brings forgetfulness of your laws!

O Christ, look with favor upon your faithful people
Now gathered here to praise you;
Receive their hymns offered to your immortal glory;
May they go forth filled with your gifts.

Cantique de Jean Racine
English text by Harold Heiberg

O Redeemer divine, our sole hope of salvation,
Eternal Light of the earth and the sky,
We kneel in adoration.
O Savior, return on us Thy loving eye!

Send down on us the fire of Thy grace all-consuming,
Whose wondrous might dispersed the powers of hell.
And rouse our slumbering souls with radiance all-illumining,
that they may waken Thy mercy to tell!

O Christ, bestow Thy blessing on us, we implore Thee,
Who here are gathered on penitent knee,
Accept the hymns we chant to Thine eternal glory,
and these Thy gifts we return unto Thee!

Posted by Dr. David Ouzts at 9:42 AM
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