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Monday, March 09, 2009

Musical Musings: March of Days, Days of March...

We're now seriously into the season of Lent with its promise of the surprise (still!) of resurrection from the dead at the end of 40 days of wilderness wandering, praying and fasting. For this month's music I've chosen orchestral performances and familiar hymns. I have ready access only to the UCC's New Century Hymnal (NCH), the ELCA's Evangelical Lutheran Worship (ELW) and the PC(USA)'s Presbyterian Hymnal (PH), so I've referenced hymn numbers in those books.

I'll start out with a bow to everyone in the southern hemisphere as they anticipate autumn and winter. Frances Wile wrote "All Beautiful the March of Days" in the year 1912 at the request of William Gannett, who wanted a winter hymn. It's usually set to "Forest Green" that you may know as an alternate to St. Louis for "O Little Town of Bethlehem." Ralph Vaughan Williams made a wonderful arrangement of the traditional English tune and I found it on a recording on Cyberhymnal: All Beautiful...
All beautiful the march of days, as seasons come and go;
The Hand that shaped the rose hath wrought the crystal of the snow;
Hath sent the hoary frost of heav'n, the flowing waters sealed,
And laid a silent loveliness on hill and wood and field.
Joshua Bell VivaldiAnd I just had to do it, in order to include autumn for the southern hemisphere and spring for the northern! Joshua Bell along with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields plays Antonio Vivaldi's suite of Concerti Grossi, The Four Seasons.

Schumann SymphoniesRobert Schumann's Spring Symphony No. 1 in B flat major, Op. 38, is another seasonal romantic era classic; the CD I linked to is a fabulous (no surprise there) performance of all four Schumann symphonies by the Cleveland Orchestra conducted by Christoph von Dohnanyi.

Karajan StravinskySome of us very recently sprung forward with our clocks and this is the musical musings for welcoming spring, so how better than with Igor Stravinsky's Sacre du printemps/Rite of Spring that was revolutionary and truly seminal when it debuted? I've opted for this one featuring Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.

I've long loved the John D. Edward's lilting tune Rhosymedre for Samuel Crossman's "My Song is Love Unknown," but surprisingly of the 3 current hymnals I'm referencing, only NCH 222 uses that particular tune for those words.
My song is love unknown,
My Savior's love to me;
Love to the loveless shown,
That they might lovely be.
O who am I, that for my sake
My Lord should take frail flesh and die?
On YouTube I found a fine interpretation of Ralph Vaughn Williams organ setting of Rhosymedre.

"Oh, Love, How Deep" by Thomas à Kempis (ELW 322, NCH 209, PH 83) is often sung to the tune "Agincourt Hymn," also called "Deo Gracias." How incredibly fitting for this liturgical season of Lent is the recurring for us:
For us baptized, for us he bore...For us he prayed, for us he taught...for us he gave his dying breath; For us he rose from earth again...for us he sent his Spirit here...
I love the intense brilliance of the reeds on the Agincourt Hymn played as a solo on the Reuter organ at St. Joseph Cathedral, Baton Rouge, LA.

RVW OrchestralScored for rich, resonant double string orchestra, his Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis is another Vaughn Williams piece related to this season. Amazon listed more than a dozen CDs, and I chose this one because I have a copy and also particularly love The Lark Ascending, the piece in the CD title. The tune is variously called "Third mode melody"" or "Tallis third mode"; as in many past hymnals, ELW 332 uses it for a Lenten perennial, "I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say," while NCH 509 features it in "How Deep the Silence of the Soul" (also apropos of Lent) and under the Season of Epiphany heading, Thomas Troeger's "We Have the Strength to Lift and Bear," NCH 178.

American TapestryOften sung as a round, William Billings' "When Jesus Wept" is NCH 192 and PH 312 and American composer William Schuman made "When Jesus Wept" the basis of the second movement of his New England Triptych. A recording of the entire Triptych and some music by Charles Tomlinson Griffes, Alan Hovhaness, Charles Ives and Walter Piston can be found on the CD An American Tapestry.

Wendell Berry strongly advises us to "practice resurrection" in his Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front, and how better to do it than by singing a couple of still-current songs from what's now a generation ago!

Steve Winwood's Arc of a Diver is the album; "While You See a Chance" is the song...

Winwood Arc of a Diver
Stand up in a clear blue morning until you see what can be
Alone in a cold day dawning, are you still free? Can you be?
When some cold tomorrow finds you, when some sad old dream reminds you
How the endless road unwinds you...

Stand up in a clear blue morning until you see what can be
Alone in a cold day dawning, are you still free? Can you be?
And that old gray wind is blowing and there's nothing left worth knowing
And it's time you should be going...
Christine McVie wrote "Don't Stop" that inaugurated Bill Clinton's first administration and the upbeat, energetic song made it into Fleetwood Mac's Greatest Hits

Fleetwood Mac GH
If you wake up and don't want to smile,
If it takes just a little while,
Open your eyes and look at the day,
You'll see things in a different way.

Don't stop, thinking about tomorrow,
Don't stop, it'll soon be here,
It'll be, better than before,
Yesterday's gone, yesterday's gone.

Why not think about times to come,
And not about the things that you've done,
If your life was bad to you,
Just think what tomorrow will do.

Don't you look back,
Don't you look back...
Keep on practicing resurrection, everyone--and God still will surprise us with Easter!!!


  1. I love the Steve Winwood song. I'm thinking this should be my theme song through this lenten season.

    Peace and love,

  2. What lovely selections! Thank you for putting them together for us!

  3. The music is wonderful...but the statement at the end...I really needed to hear that this week. Thanks Leah Sophia.

  4. Wonderful musical meditations - I'd never thought of my old Winwood cassette as a Lenten devotional!

    I'm experiencing my second snowy winter, so the Hymn of Promise has been especially meaningful for me. "In the cold and snow of winter, lies a spring that waits to be, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see."

  5. You do such a great job! Thanks for these. I love 'em all.


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