Into the Autumn: Brahms and Bach

Rehearsal of Brahms Requiem, Seattle, August 30, 2014

Rehearsal of Brahms Requiem, Seattle, August 30, 2014, conducted by Hartwig Eichberg.

One of the themes of Compline is remembering our mortality — and several experiences have kept this subject on my mind over the last three weeks.

On August 30, I sang in a performance of the Requiem by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897). It was not given in a church or concert hall, but at an intimate gathering at the home of friends Al and Janet Berg. Thirty singers rehearsed the piano-four-hands version, had dinner, then performed the work from beginning to end without pause. Since then, one section of the Requiem has been playing over and over in my head; it’s the beginning of the second movement:

Denn alles Fleisch es ist wie Gras und alle Herrlichkeit des Menschen wie des Grases Blumen. Das Gras ist verdorret und die Blume abgefallen. For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away. (I Peter 1:24)

You may well remember how this goes, but if not, there is a lovely performance of it here by the Radio Symphony Orchestra and Choir of Denmark (click on “SHOW MORE,” then on the “10:07″ link).

I particularly love how Brahms presents the first sentence of the text, sung in unison by the choir in a slow, somber, triple meter. Then comes an orchestral interlude which builds and builds until the choir repeats the text at full volume — powerful and inexorable, as if to say, “No, no — death comes to us all – we can’t escape it!”

A week after singing the Brahms, I attended my 50th high school reunion — a serious reminder of how quickly time passes, as well as a joyous celebration of life and common memories, especially of classmates who have died. I also thought of Carl Crosier, whose Requiem Mass was taking place in Honolulu at the same time. I had written about Carl in my previous post , and the service booklet and music for his Mass (which included the traditional Gregorian Requiem chants, sung by a women’s schola) can be found here.

The following week, at the beginning of Compline, we sang “The duteous day now closeth” (words by Paul Gerhardt, 1648,
translated by Robert Bridges, 1899). Its three verses speak of gratitude at the end of the day, the beauty of the universe, and our “mortal blindness,” in which we lose sight of life’s preciousness and meaning:

The duteous day now closeth,
each flower and tree reposeth,
shade creeps o’er wild and wood:
let us, as night is falling,
on God our Maker calling,
give thanks to him, the Giver good.

Now all the heavenly splendor
breaks forth in starlight tender
from myriad worlds unknown;
and we, this marvel seeing,
forget our selfish being
for joy of beauty not our own.

Though long our mortal blindness
has missed God’s lovingkindness
and plunged us into strife;
yet when life’s day is over,
shall death’s fair night discover
the fields of everlasting life.

The melody of “The duteous day now closeth” was originally a secular song of parting called “Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen,” by Heinrich Isaac (c. 1450–1517), but the version we sang was harmonized by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750). Bach knew it as the Lutheran chorale, “O Welt, ich muss dich lassen” (“O world, I must leave you”). Here is the first verse:

O Welt, ich muß dich lassen,
ich fahr dahin mein Straßen
ins ewig Vaterland.
Mein’ Geist will ich aufgeben,
dazu mein’ Leib und Leben
legen in Gottes gnädig Hand.
O World, I must leave you, I travel from here along my way to the everlasting fatherland. I will give up my spirit so that my body and life lie in God’s merciful hand.

From the Gerhardt text, to the Isaac tune, to the Lutheran chorale text — in so many ways this hymn sums up the thought that we need to be mindful that life passes quickly, and we should live as though this day might be our last. Perhaps Johannes Brahms had this in mind, when in the final year of his life he wrote the Eleven Chorale Preludes for organ, which include two settings of “O Welt, ich muss dich lassen.” It was, as some say, his final goodbye.

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Remembering Carl Crosier (1945-2014)

Carl-largeJust four months after the death of Peter Hallock, founder of the Compline Choir in Seattle, we mourn the passing of Carl Crosier, Peter’s business associate and chief executor of his estate, who died on August 28. Carl heard Compline as a student in Seattle in the 1970s, and, after leaving the mainland to work in Hawaii, formed a choir at the Lutheran Church of Honolulu to sing the service. Carl retired as director of this choir about three years ago, and I did a feature on the Honolulu connection in January of 2012. Since then, the service has been discontinued, but I’m still keeping an opening for Hawaii on this blog’s new tab, “Where to experience Compline” as a reminder that this was the first of many choirs modeled after Seattle’s Compline Choir.

You can read more about Carl, his many accomplishments, and his memorial services in his wife Katherine’s blog. But I would like to tell one story, which comes from my book, Prayer as Night Falls: Experiencing Compline. It is about our experience together during a trip to England in 2000. I’ll quote from the book, along with a few editorial notes in brackets:

* * * * * * *

“In 2000, the Compline Choir made a trip to England; it wasn’t an ordinary choir tour, but rather a pilgrimage to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary since our founder and director, Peter Hallock, had been a student in Canterbury at the Royal School of Church Music. It was in the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral that Hallock and his fellow students would sing Compline, mainly for the benefit of hearing the chants resonate in the wonderful subterranean space.

When we visited Canterbury Cathedral we sang our office of Compline in the choir stalls of the Cathedral for the general public. As the service progressed, I recalled that Canterbury was founded by monks, and that Compline would have been sung every evening in this place, with the same chants, over 900 years before. It seemed as though the same spirit passed from those ancient voices to the students in 1950, and through Peter Hallock to us, and on to many choirs throughout North America.

Having completed Compline, we had arranged in advance to process down to the crypt, where we would sing, just for our own group, one of Peter’s anthems. I was reminded of the medieval custom to process to another chapel after Compline to sing a special anthem, and felt again a connection to those that had gone before. [We processed two by two, with Carl and I leading our respective columns.] We walked silently past the altar, marking the spot where Thomas Becket had been murdered in 1170, then downstairs to the crypt. We gathered in the middle of the chamber, under the low stone arches, in the final resting place of many of the saints. I thought of the columbarium in the crypt of St. Mark’s in Seattle, where the remains of friends and acquaintances lie. We had arrived at our pilgrimage destination.

Canterbury crypt

Crypt, Canterbury Cathedral

The anthem Peter had selected was a composition he had written nine years before, using the words of a prayer fashioned from the ending of a sermon given by John Donne: “Bring us, O Lord God, at our last awakening, into the house and gate of heaven.” This poem and the occasion of our singing in the crypt at Canterbury has always been linked together for me as a meditation on our dying:

[You can listen to the music on this link]

Bring us, O Lord God, at our last awakening
Into the house and gate of heaven.
To enter that gate and dwell in that house,
Where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light;
No noise nor silence, but one equal music;
No fears nor hopes, but one equal possession;
No ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity;
In the habitation of thy glory and dominion,
World without end, Amen.

It was only years later, in writing this book, that I sought out Donne’s sermon<1>, and found out how much it says about life and death.

The sermon that Donne preached that day was on Acts 7:60: “And when he had said this, he fell a sleep.” Lent had just begun, and Donne began his sermon by saying “He that will dy with Christ upon Good-Friday, must hear his own bell toll all Lent.”<2> The verse from Acts comes at the end of the life of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, whose last words, as he was stoned to death, were “Lord, do not hold this sin against them,” and then, having uttered these words, he died – or, in the King James version – “he fell asleep.” Donne seizes on this short verse of Acts to make two points: first that we must be something, answer some calling in our lives, and live out our days following the example of a person of integrity, such as Stephen [and Carl]; and second, that having done our best, we will not die, but sleep the sleep of Stephen, a blessed rest until the Resurrection.

We began by thinking of sleep as a little death, and we end by a vision of death as but a sleep. As darkness is succeeded by light, so sleep is followed by waking. Donne concludes his sermon as follows: ‘ They shall awake as Jacob did, and say as Jacob said, Surely the Lord is in this place, and this is no other but the house of God, and the gate of heaven, And into that gate they shall enter, and in that house they shall dwell, where there shall be no Cloud nor Sun, no darkenesse nor dazling, but one equall light, no noyse nor silence, but one equall musick, no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession, no foes nor friends, but one equall communion and Identity, no ends nor beginnings, but one equall eternity. Keepe us Lord so awake in the duties of our Callings, that we may thus sleepe in thy Peace, and wake in thy glory, and change that infallibility which thou affordest us here, to an Actuall and undeterminable possession of that Kingdome which thy Sonne our Saviour Christ Jesus hath purchased for us, with the inestimable price of his incorruptible Blood. Amen.’

May we experience eternity now, in this life, a foretaste of that “one equal music” and “one equal possession,” when we awake from the great sleep.”

* * * * * * *

And may the souls of Carl and all the faithful departed rest in peace. Amen.

____________
<1> John Donne, “A Sermon Preached at White-hall, February 29, 1627 [1627/8],” in The Sermons of John Donne, vol.8, no. 7, edited by E.M. S. Simpson and G. R. Potter, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1956; digital publisher Brigham Young University, 2004-05).
<2> Ibid., 1.

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Ave Maria

"Cusco-Style" picture of the Virgin, at our home, with flowers

“Cusco-Style” picture of the Virgin, at our home, with flowers

We’ve come to that wonderful time of year when summer continues to run its course — but there are intimations of transition, which I feel in the late evening or early morning hours. There is a certain crispness, a coolness in the air, that presages a change in the weather.

I also love the liturgical markers that come along with the seasons of the year. Last Sunday was the Sunday after August 15, which is a special feast day of the Blessed Virgin Mary. At Compline we have a tradition of singing the “Ave Maria” by Franz Biebl as our anthem. He set to music the words of the prayer called the Angelus, which has been prayed since the Middle Ages.

Before giving you a link to the podcast of last week’s service, I wanted to call your attention to a new page on this site, which you can see by clicking on the tab, “Where to experience Compline.” This is the page of links that used to be on the Seattle Compline Choir website, but is now moved here. I’ve scrubbed all the links since I first posted this blog – adding new entries that I’ve found and deleting groups that are no longer active, and I will continue to update the list.

And now, here is last week’s podcast. If you wish to listen to the “Ave Maria” only, just move the slider over toward the end of the service, at about 25:55.

Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariæ,
Et conceptit de Spiritu Sancto.
The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary,
And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.
Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum.
Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Ecce Ancilla Domini.
Fiat mihi secundum Verbum tuum.
Behold the handmaid of the Lord.
Be it done unto me according to thy Word.
Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum.
Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Et Verbum caro factum est.
Et habitavit in nobis.
And the Word was made flesh.
And dwelt amongst us.
Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus.
Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc et in hora mortis nostræ. Amen.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

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Changing of the Seasons

Niche Ceremony

Beginning of Ceremony in the Compline corner. Jason Anderson, director of the Compline Choir, holds the box containing some of Peter’s ashes, while the choir sings the “Kievan Kontakion.” (Photo: Kevin Johnson)

It’s been a while since my last post to the Underground — part of this is due, I’m sure, to my observing a period of grief since the death of Peter R. Hallock, my friend and mentor for almost fifty years. But now I feel like writing again — I want to give a recap of the events surrounding the celebration of Peter’s life, and observe the turning of the seasons, both in the world and in the liturgical year.

The weekend of May 17-18 was a very special time for all who were colleagues and friends of Peter, or who came to honor him at the burial rite on Sunday afternoon. The events have been excellently chronicled by Katherine Crosier in a number of articles on her blog, and I’ll provide links, so you can read about them in greater depth. They began with a party at Peter’s house in Fall City on Saturday, May 17 – a great time to share memories surrounded by all the familiar objects of his life. We were invited to take any books or CDs. My choice was Peter’s copy of Karen Armstrong’s The Battle for God, to which another friend, Ralph Carskadden (1940-2011) made reference in his sermon at St. Mark’s on the 50th anniversary of the Compline Choir.

The Niche

Peter’s Niche in the pillar facing the Compline Corner of St. Mark’s Cathedral.

The burial service itself was an amazing event, with the Compline Choir and St. Mark’s Cathedral Choir providing the music, which was almost all by Peter Hallock (the event was recorded, and I will likely provide excerpts in future posts). The Dean of St. Mark’s preached an excellent sermon, “God is in the Numinous.” The most meaningful part of the service for me was the placing of a small box containing some of Peter’s ashes and other objects, in a niche in the large column by the Compline Corner. Soon it will be covered by a brass plaque which, after Peter’s name and dates, will read, “Mystic, Composer, Founder of the Compline Choir – ‘God is in the numinous.'” It will be a constant reminder of Peter’s presence from now on as we sing the service. Choir members are taking turns providing flowers each week, next to the niche.

After the burial service and reception, Compline was sung by the current choir, augmented by about 20 former members, some of whom had come from as far as Hawaii and Rhode Island to attend (read about the service here, or listen to the podcast). Peter’s death initiated the formation of the Hallock Institute, which will be dedicated to the propagation and performance of Peter’s music, and will “celebrate and share the Compline ethos” through workshops and other educational channels. I’m sure this will give much more shape and direction to the “Compline Underground” in the months to come.

At the time of this writing, the summer season has begun, and the liturgical year has begun its longest season of Sundays after Pentecost, which stretch all the way to the end of November, when with Advent, the year begins again. Last Sunday was the Feast of the Holy Trinity, and the anthem we sang at Compline was “Great Lord of Lords.” I think the choir has never sounded as good on this piece – maybe the fact that our director had to sing one of the parts, and was leading from the side, and our view was straight toward Peter’s niche – whatever it was, I felt a tremendous sense of unity and purpose in our singing.

Great Lord of Lords [words: Henry Ramsden Bramley (1833-1917), music: Charles Wood (1866-1926)]

Great Lord of Lords, supreme, immortal King,
O give us grace to sing Thy praise,
Which makes earth, air and heaven to ring.

O Word of God, from ages unbegun,
The Father’s only Son,
With Him in power, in substance, Thou art one.

O Holy Ghost, Whose care dost all embrace,
Thy watch is o’er our race,
Thou Source of Life, Thou spring of peace and grace.

One living Trinity, One unseen Light,
All, all is Thine,
Thy light beholds alike the bounds of depth and height. Amen.

 

 

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Services for Peter Hallock

An obituary was published in the Seattle Times, Saturday, May 17, 2014 for Peter R. Hallock (1924-2014), without whom there would probably not be so much talk about Compline.

A burial service will take place on Sunday, May 18, at 5 p.m. at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle. The Cathedral Choir and Compline Choir will be participating, and there will be a Compline Service sung at the usual time, but with many alumni of the choir participating. Most if not all of the music sung at both services will be compositions of Peter. There will be a commemorative concert in the fall, no doubt featuring some of his larger works for choir, organ, and other instruments.

Here is a link to the composition that will be sung at Sunday’s Compline service at the beginning – “Bring us O Lord, at our last awakening.” The words speak for themselves.

May Peter, and all the souls of the faithful departed, rest in peace.

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Peter R. Hallock (1924-2014)

Peter Hallock in KitchenSunday, April 27, 2014, was the Octave Day of Easter, also known as “Quasimodo Sunday,” after the beginning of the introit for the Mass of the day. Here are those opening words, which inspired Victor Hugo to have his character “Quasimodo” born on and named for that day:

Quasi modo géniti infántes, allelúja: rationabiles, sine dolo lac concupíscite, allelúja, allelúja allelúja.
(1 Peter 2: 2)
As newborn babes, alleluia, long for pure spiritual milk, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

A little before 6 p.m. on that day, as my wife and I were preparing to take our dog for a walk, we received the news that Peter Hallock, founder of the Compline Choir, had died, shortly after getting back home from the convalescent center where he had been for several weeks.

Volunteer Park, 1930

Volunteer Park, 1930

We drove as planned to Volunteer Park in Seattle, which is near St. Mark’s Cathedral, where I would go on to sing Compline that night. We walked in the venerable park, one of the many projects of the Olmstead brothers, which was completed in 1912. I was in a kind of daze – or shock – from knowing that my guide, friend, teacher, and mentor for almost fifty years had departed this earth. Many memories of times shared with him came flooding over me. I was happy that he was able to read about some of them in my book, Prayer as Night Falls (2013), which is dedicated to him.

We walked by the spot where in 1969 I had come with a group of parishioners from Christ Church, Tacoma, to join with those of other parishes to picnic in the park, and then process to St. Mark’s for a communion service; it’s an annual event called “Cathedral Day.” As we entered the cathedral in 1969, Peter was there to greet us with a thundering improvisation on the four-year-old Flentrop organ.

It was on a similar Cathedral Day in 1936 when the 12-year-old Peter Hallock first experienced the space of the building,  was mesmerized by the sound of the organ, and knew his destiny was with that space and that place. We have all been blessed beyond measure by that day and that calling.

And from now on, the Second Sunday of Easter will have a new meaning for me – a day to remember the remarkable life of Peter R. Hallock, and especially his contribution to sacred music.

*   *   *   *   *

Here are several links from the last few days:

Jason Anderson’s recounting of Peter’s last few hours, from Katherine Crosier’s blog.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer article.

A wonderful tribute by organist Jonathan Dimmock.

And this is only the beginning….

 

 

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Tenebrae factae sunt

TenebraeThe texts of the offices of Matins and Lauds during Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday have been the source of wonderful musical compositions, and I would like to offer several today.

In monasteries and cathedrals of the Middle Ages, Matins and Lauds were ordinarily sung in the early morning darkness, with Lauds concluding just at sunrise. However, during the three days before Easter these two offices were chanted the previous day, after Compline, and while they were sung, candles were extinguished one by one, as a symbol of the death of Jesus. The last candle was hidden, then a loud noise was made to recall the earthquake, and the candle was extinguished, leaving the church in darkness (in Latin, “tenebrae”).

Below is the traditional structure of Matins and Lauds for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday of Holy Week. Matins consisted of three parts called “Nocturns,” each with three psalms, and three lessons, each followed by a “Great Responsory,” which is an elaborate version of the dialog between soloist and choir that we find in the smaller offices.” The first three lessons of Matins were taken from the book of Lamentations, the second set of three from St. Augustine, and the third set from St. Paul. The following gives the specific psalms and lessons for Holy Thursday:

MATINS –  FIRST NOCTURN
Three psalms with antiphons (Psalms 69, 70, 71)
Three lessons (from Lamentations 1:1-14), each followed by a Great Responsory
MATINS –  SECOND NOCTURN
Three psalms with antiphons (Psalms 72, 73, 74)
Three lessons (from St. Augustine), each followed by a Great Responsory
MATINS –  THIRD NOCTURN
Three psalms with antiphons (Psalms 75, 76, 77)
Three lessons (from St. Paul, I Corinthians 11, 17-34), each followed by a Great Responsory
LAUDS
Five psalms (Psalms 50, 89, 35, Exodus 15:1-19, and Psalm 146)
Benedictus canticle with antiphon
special antiphon Christus factus est pro nobis

 Imagine, if you will, the typical arrangement of fifteen candles on a rack (called a “hearse”), with a candle extinguished after every psalm – nine in Matins and five in Lauds – with the last candle remaining for the ritual at the end of the service.

The Lamentations of Jeremiah have been the subject of many great compositions over the centuries. Listen to the setting by Peter Hallock, which is one of the musical examples in my book, Prayer as Night Falls.

Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) wrote several settings of the texts of responsories from Matins of Good Friday. Listen to his setting of the responsory to the third lesson – “Vinea mea electa:”

Vinea mea electa, ego te plantavi: quomodo conversa es in amaritudinem,
ut me crucifigeres et Barrabam dimitteres.
Sepivi te, et lapides elegi ex te, et ædificavi turrim.

O vineyard, my elect, I planted you: how could you change from sweet to bitter,
to have crucified me and released Barrabas?
I protected you; I took away the stones, and built you a tower.

I wish you a blessed Holy Week, and a Happy Easter!

 

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