Easter Splendor

Easter Day was on the first of April this year, and with the Compline choir roster at its greatest number ever (about 23), and the acoustics at St. Mark’s Cathedral restored to new splendor, I must say that the anthems for the season have risen to new heights – so I had to share three of them with you.

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Christ the Savior

Moscow, Cathedral of Christ the Savior, where Chesnokov directed the choir. destroyed by Stalin  in 1931, but rebuilt in the 1990s.

On Easter Day, the choir sang something for the first time in its 60-plus history – an anthem from the Russian repertoire in Church Slavonic – the famous “Salvation is Created” written in 1912 by Pavel Chesnokov (1877-1944), from his Ten Communion Hymns, Op. 25. It was a successful venture for the choir into the rich four-part close harmonic texture that is the hallmark of the Russian style. And we could not have done this piece without some good “Russian” low basses – fortunately, we are blessed with some.

Spaséniye sodélal yesí posredé ziemlí, Bózhe. Allilúiya.
(translation):
Salvation is made in the midst of the earth, O God. Alleluia.

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melk abbey

The Benedictine Abbey of Melk, in Lower Austria

Several weeks later, the choir sang “Christus Surrexit,” by Jacob Handl (1550-1591). This is a lovely 6-part setting of the chorale whose German version is “Christ ist erstanden.” Both this chorale and “Christ lag in Totesbanden” (Christ lay in the bonds of death) are melodic variants of the 11th-century chant Victimae paschali laudes (see the example in my book, Prayer as Night Falls: Experiencing Compline). Jacob Handl worked mainly in Austria, at places like Melk Abbey and the Viennese court chapel. He ended his life working in Prague.

Christ is risen; he has covered our evil
and those whom he loved he has carried up to heaven.
Kyrie eleison.

And if he had not risen, the whole world would have perished.
Kyrie eleison.

Alleluia! Let us praise him, chanting a hymn of joy,
Let us praise him with a song of joy.
Kyrie eleison.

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St Mark's Venice

St. Mark’s Cathedral, Venice

On April 29, the Fifth Sunday of Easter, we celebrated the Feast of St. Mark the Evangelist (April 25), by singing the 10-part motet “Deus, qui beatam Marcam” by Giovanni Gabrieli (c. 1554-1612). It was written for the Cathedral of San Marco in Venice, famous for its lavish polychoral anthems and acoustical splendor. In an early draft for my book, I rhapsodized about singing at St. Mark’s, Seattle, with its many comparisons to Venice – a rich maritime life, a school of glass-blowing – even a train station tower copied after the Campanile in the Piazza – and a cathedral of the same name known for its acoustics and “school” of composers – so I was in seventh heaven to be singing this anthem. Jason Anderson coached us to sing the “Alleluias” at the end with the kind of attack that conjured up the instruments that no doubt were used when this was performed in early 17th century Venice.

O God, who graced your evangelist Mark with the gift of proclaiming the Gospel, grant, we pray, that our ears be opened to his words, and our minds transformed by his teaching, and that we may be defended by his prayer. Alleluia.

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