Liturgical Shift

'Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:

who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:

But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant,

and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man,

he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

Philippians 2:5-11

This passage from the Letter to the Philippians is the Epistle reading on Palm/Passion Sunday in each of our three-year lectionary cycles. Because of its duality in the crucifixion story, the proper name in our liturgical calendar is the Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday.

A distinct change happens in the middle of this Sunday’s liturgy. The service will begin with a re-enactment of the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem; however, by the time of the Gospel reading, the tone will be focused the crucifixion.

This beautiful Epistle reading, indeed, helps make the liturgical shift.

As it is a popular text for composers, a number of choral settings exist. This Sunday our Parish Choir is singing a 19th Century setting of this text, new to us but certainly known in music history. And it was written by the first female American composer to be recognized for larger-scale compositions.

Mrs. H. H. A. Beach (Amy Cheney Beach, 1867-1944) was a child prodigy, singing, reading, composing and playing the piano at a early age. In 1885, she married Dr. Henry Harris Aubrey Beach, a Boston surgeon 24 years her senior, thus becoming “Mrs. H. H. A. Beach.”

Following her husband’s wishes, she agreed to limit her public performances to two a year and devoted herself to her composition. As a composer, she was basically self-taught, as Dr. Beach did not approve of her studying composition with a teacher. She collected theory, composition and orchestration books, translating some of them from French into English, and taught herself counterpoint, harmony and fugue.

Many women of the day taught piano as a profession, but her husband wanted her to “live according to his status” and “function as a society matron and patron of the arts.”

After his death in 1910, Mrs. Beach traveled to Europe, hoping to recover from her sadness and loss. There she changed her name to “Amy Beach.” After returning to United States, she spent much of her time in New York. A devout Episcopalian, she became composer-in-residence of St. Bartholomew’s Church, Park Avenue.

Composed in 1924, Amy Beach’s setting of “Let this mind be in you” for four-part chorus, soloists and organ, is immediately recognizable in the Victorian compositional style: soaring melodies, thick harmonies and fairly chromatic with numerous diminished chords. The anthem is both accompanied and a cappella in sections.

Quotations are from Adrienne Fried Block's Amy Beach: Passionate Victorian (1988), Oxford University Press, New York.

Photo is from the Bain Collection at the Library of Congress.


Posted by Dr. David Ouzts at 11:31