September 25, 2011 - 5:00 PM
Choral Evensong
Pequot Chapel, New London, CT |Directions|
  • Introit: Loosemore “O Lord, increase our faith”
    Preces: Neary
    Psalm 19, Caeli enarrant chant: S.S. Wesley
    Canticles: Brewer in D
    Anthem: Wood “O Thou the Central Orb"


Today, on the fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, the Anglican Singers are privileged as always to open their new season by singing the evening service at Pequot Chapel. This occasion marks the group’s fifteenth year of performing in this beautiful and historic space.
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The year 2011 marks the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Version of the Bible and anticipates the 350th anniversary of the publication of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Therefore, a brief word on the background associated with tonight’s psalm and scriptural readings is in order.

The history of the English Bible is fraught with centuries of controversy, persecutions, and even warfare. Long before English was English as we now speak it, and biblical texts were in Latin and therefore inaccessible to a largely illiterate populace, a 14th-century itinerant country preacher named John Wycliffe insisted that the Bible should be produced in the vernacular. Though his protest movement, Lollardism, was quashed, the seed of his liberation theology merely lay dormant for two centuries, to come to fruition in the Protestant Reformation of Martin Luther and in the later efforts of such reformers of the English Church as Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and the notable biblical translators William Tyndale and Myles Coverdale.

The Coverdale Bible (1535) is the first complete translation of Old and New Testaments into English. A principal resource for this edition was William Tyndale’s Bible. It is from the Coverdale Bible, however, that we derive the texts used by most arrangers of sung Anglican chant. Its language is lofty yet grounded – imagery and metaphors rich with texture and color.

The “Authorized Version” of the Bible, published in 1611, was the collaboration of 54 independent scholars from Cambridge and Oxford Universities. This translation, having been commissioned by King James I of England, is also known as “The King James Version.” It is impossible to overstate the effect of this magnificent opus – arguably the greatest piece of literature of any language, certainly of the English language – on theology, culture, and political institutions. The KJV has influenced rhetoric and the written word since that time, throughout the United Kingdom and abroad. It has been – and should continue to be – read, not only for its timeless sacred texts, but also for the power and elegance of its poetry.

Following the English Civil War and the Cromwellian interregnum (1649-1660), and with the restoration of the monarchy in the person of King Charles II, the music and liturgy of the Anglican Church, suppressed for a decade, returned in full flower. One of Charles’ first priorities was to commission a revised prayer book. The result was The 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Based on the 1549, 1551, and 1559 editions, the 1662 Prayer Book, which incorporated the psalmody of the Coverdale Bible, continues to be the template for all succeeding prayer books in the Anglican and Episcopal Churches.
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The uncertain provenance of the introit, “O Lord, increase my faith,” suggests the confusion and misattributed authorship that commonly occurred early in the history of Anglican music. For a long time Orlando Gibbons (1583- 1625) was popularly supposed to have composed this simple yet elegant motet. Later scholarship, however, suggests that the true author was Henry Loosemore (1605-ca. 1670), a younger and much more obscure contemporary of the well-known Gibbons.

Born in 1940, Martin Neary’s accomplishments match the exceptional number of his accolades and honors over the course of a distinguished musical career. He is considered one of Great Britain’s premier composers and church musicians, enjoying international acclaim for his own compositions, and for promoting the works of contemporaries like John Tavener.

In 1976, Neary wrote his silvery arrangement of tonight’s Preces and Responses for the installation at Winchester Cathedral of Canon-Precentor Anthony Caesar as Canon Residentiary.

Although Samuel Sebastian Wesley (1810-1876) shares the family tree with the famous Methodist composer and hymn-writer Charles Wesley, the younger Wesley was a lifelong Anglican, as well as a leading organist and choirmaster of his day. In his setting of Psalm 19 (Coeli enarrant), he emphasizes the poem’s vigorous text with robust melody and harmonies.

A. Herbert Brewer’s (1865-1928) Service in D is one of the most popular in the canon of evensong canticles – and with good reason. It was reset in 1927 from an earlier version, for the Three-Choirs Festival at Gloucester Cathedral where he served as organist and choirmaster. The ambience and character of the Magnificat are energetic and triumphant. The opening lines of the Nunc dimittis are introspective and tranquil until the Gloria when choir and organ throw open all the stops (the tenor section having the most fun doing so), as the music swells to a grandly spacious and fortissimo climax.

Charles Wood (1866-1926), a contemporary of Brewer, was, like the former, a prolific writer of church music. In addition, Wood succeeded his teacher, the eminent Charles Villiers Stanford, as organist at Trinity College, Cambridge University.

Wood set the exuberant verses of “O Thou the central orb” in a wonderful anthem that both is a product of its time and continues to be timeless. The paean’s flexible text and Wood’s mood-shifting musical nuances render the piece suitable for almost any occasion: morning or evening prayer, Advent- Christmas, or Easter.

Two obscure controversies have arisen over “O Thou the central orb.” First are questions about the identity of the author, though the poem supposedly was adapted by H.R. Bramley, a contemporary of Charles Wood. The other involves a little-noticed textual issue that nevertheless has been the subject of debate. Was the poem’s penultimate line, “transforming day to souls erewhile unclean,” originally “transforming clay to souls erewhile unclean”? “Transforming clay to souls” seems to make more thematic sense.
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As always, the Singers wish to express gratitude to the communicants of Pequot Chapel for their yearly invitation to sing and for their continuing support.

Anne Carr Bingham