Evensong: LANCELOT ANDREWES, Bishop of Winchester
Sunday, September 25 at 5:00 pm
Although little known among laymen today, Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626) is one of the most important figures for English-speaking Christianity, being a chief translator of the Authorized (King James) Version of the Holy Bible. He was appointed to the task by King James the First due to his mastery of Hebrew and Greek. Andrewes was also esteemed by the king for his preaching, which is still revered today for its wisdom and biblical grounding. His teaching and studies shaped Anglicanism through the following centuries, and the King James Version of the Bible remains beloved for its beautiful language and its heritage of opening the scriptures to English-speaking Christendom.
On September 25, we will anticipate his feast (September 26) with a service of Choral Evensong. The Choir Fellows will begin their season with this service, leading music by composers who were active at the same time as Andrewes. Composers of this period, such as William Byrd and Orlando Gibbons, are now considered the original masters of English church music, and the beautiful sounds of the early seventeenth century will make this service a very special beginning of the choral season.
Each year we have an annual Requiem Eucharist on the Sunday closest to All Souls’ Day to remember those gone before us and to celebrate their victory through Christ’s Resurrection. This year, the featured music is the original Requiem Mass, as set in Gregorian chant. Gregorian chant is the music par excellence for worship due to its sobriety and antiquity. Further, it is universally recognized for its serenity and beauty, and is sought after for its relaxing qualities. Join us as the Choirs lead worship with this distinctive music, and find healing in its unique beauty as you remember, with the whole community, the departed faithful.
Since the Birth of Christ, composers and artists have sought to convey the wonder of the Incarnation of Our Lord in imaginative and unique ways. From the iconic paintings of the Dutch masters to the majestic choruses of The Messiah, the story evokes in creative minds a desire to express the significance of God becoming Man in a way that brings a new perspective to the audience and enhances the devotion of the faithful. Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) brought to the familiar story a fresh compositional approach and his talent for cultivating beauty that resulted in his distinctive Oratorio de Noël, op. 12.
The term “Oratorio” is typically applied to works which tell a story, such as Mendelssohn’s Elijah or Handel’s The Messaiah. Saint-Saëns tells the story of the Nativity in a very brief way, only composing a setting of the angels announcing the Birth to the shepherds. The rest of the work essentially is a Christological meditation, setting scriptural texts in the context of the Incarnation. “I waited for the Lord, and he inclined unto me.” “Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, which should come into the world.” These and other texts are offered not to tell the familiar story, but to offer reflection on the mysteries of the Advent and Christmas seasons. This makes it eminently suitable for Advent as for Christmas, quoting more from the Old Testament than from the New Testament. This heavy use of scripture is also a departure from many eighteenth-century oratorios, such as those by Bach, which often feature devotional poetry and extensive narrative.
The work is also scored for a small ensemble, with an emphasis on beauty. Simplicity and universal appeal is a hallmark of the melodic writing in this work. Saint-Saëns was at the vanguard of pushing secular music out of the church in his time, and so, rather than operatic excess, melodies are gentle and plain, only expressing what the text demands. Yet the writing is heavy on vocal solos, and provides the performer many opportunities to emotionally express the text while the listener enjoys the beauty of the moment. In the same way, the instrumentation was carefully chosen to blend beauty with simplicity. Organ, strings, and harp are all the orchestration needed to provide variety of texture and aural interest. Organ and strings primarily contrast each other to provide a soft and reverent atmosphere. At other times, all forces join together in magnificent splendor, and the harp writing demonstrates a grounding in the best of the French style.
This beautiful and distinctive work will be presented by the Choirs of Saint Dunstan’s with orchestra and soloists on December 4th at 5:00 in the Nave, as part of a service of Choral Evensong. The service will include lessons, prayers, and hymns as we reflect on the mystery of Christ’s coming among us and prepare for the feast of His Nativity. A reception will follow, hosted by the Episcopal Church Women of Saint Dunstan’s, as well as activities for young children hosted by the Family Ministries.
Lessons and Carols
Sunday, January 1 at 5:00 pm
Gavin Craig, organist, leads singing of favorite carols with a deep biblical reading of the Christmas narrative.
Ascension Day Choral Eucharist
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Thursday, May 25 at 7:00 pm
The Choirs of St. Dunstan’s and St. Andrew’s lead a Eucharist observing Ascension Day at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in the Heights. Gavin Craig and John Kirk will each both conduct and play selections by Campbell, Praetorius, Messiaen, and Whitlock.
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church
1819 Heights Blvd
Houston, Texas 77008