11 September 2016 – Pentecost 17

The Sunday after Labor Day traditionally signals the start of the fall season for most American churches. Sometimes referred to as “Rally Sunday”, it is the day that programming returns to churches that went somewhat “dark” over the summer. Trinity Cathedral is no different, and indeed our liturgy is back in full swing with the return of the Cathedral Choir, the arrival of our new Organ Scholar, and an enhanced 10 AM liturgy.

Music of Johannes Brahms features prominently in the programming for today’s Eucharist. Brahms (like Schubert and Mendelssohn before him) learned to play the organ early in his career. He wrote rather sporadically for the instrument and his most well known compositions are the chorale preludes written (or revised) during the last year of his life. This morning’s opening voluntary, Fugue in Ab minor, is one of a small corpus of Brahms’ non-chorale based works. The Fugue in Ab Minor was written in 1856, the year that his friend and mentor Robert Schumann died after a long period of mental instability. Its extremely somber key and methodical, detailed counterpoint may well be a memorial to their friendship.

The German Requiem is perhaps Brahms’ best-known work and certainly “How Lovely is Thy Dwelling Place” is its most famous movement. The Requiem was composed over a three-year period from 1865-68 and may have been precipitated by the death of the composer’s mother in 1865. “How Lovely” is the middle movement of the seven-movement Requiem and is remarkable for its lyricism and noble construction. Often excerpted for funerals and memorial services (it was notably sung at the funeral of Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, in 2002), it also has earned a place on Rally Sundays where notions of returning to one’s spiritual dwelling are often emphasized.

Giovanni Croce (1557-1609) was an Italian composer of the late Renaissance and a member of the Venetian school. He took Holy Orders in 1585 and sang in the choir of St. Mark’s, Venice. In 1603 he was made maestro di cappella, a position he held until his death in 1609. O sacrum convivium is a Latin prose text in honor of the sacrament. Croce’s setting is amazingly pure, with clean points of imitation and some limited text paining, particularly in the Alleluias.

Louis James Alfred Lefébure-Wély was one of the “stars” of the mid-nineteenth century organ world in France. In a period noted for its theatrical excess and lack of religious propriety, Lefébure-Wély ruled from the organ gallery of La Madeleine, France’s most exclusive parish at the time, until 1858. In 1863, he became the organist of St. Sulpice and remained there until his death in 1869 (Widor succeeded him in 1870). The Sortie in Eb is representative not only of his style, but also the prevailing sacred music style in Paris. Opera influences are prominent in the work and more than one person has recognized the carnavalesque atmosphere of the piece.