Monday, July 13, 2009

Kyrie eleison

On Sunday, we were back at our home parish again for Trinity V. As with our first visit to this parish, the liturgy and music captured what was best about the high church Episcopal worship of our childhood — enough to make us forget about the foolishness being promulgated this week by the TEC as it prepares to leave the Anglican Communion to form its own new religion.

It was our first Sunday back since before Pentecost — six weeks gone due to travels, a confirmation, college graduation and a youth sporting event. Apparently the choir was off for Trinity IV (4th of July weekend), so everyone was in good spirits to have the great liturgical music back.

I certainly enjoyed singing the harmony on the closing hymn, #564 (Lyons, as arranged by J. Michael Haydn). With gusto (too much gusto for my wife) I belted out the closing phrase in the closing stanza, sung with ritardando for emphasis: “[The soul that to Jesus has fled for repose] … I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.” However, despite this rousing finish, this was not the most moving aspect of the familiar (yet long-separated) 1928 BCP liturgy.

Actually, the highlight was the plainchant (service music). Our music director likes to rotate the plainchant based on the season. In the Sundays after Trinity — what our rector calls “normal time” — we are using the oldest plainchant in the hymnal, the Latin chant that predates the Reformation and the creation of the Church of England and the vernacular mass (with the 1549 BCP) in the 16th century.

As far as I can tell — and I need further study — Hymnal 1940 may be the first Episcopal (or perhaps Anglican) hymnal to include a choice of service music: I could not find it in my three English hymnals Hymns Ancient & Modern (1861), The English Hymnal (1906) or Songs of Praise Enlarged Edition (1931) — nor in the PECUSA Hymnal 1916.

According to Hymnal 1940 (and the Hymnal 1940 Companion), our hymnal has four settings of the chant for Holy Communion:
  1. by John Merbecke, hymns #701-707, arranged and published in 1549-1550 in Booke of Common Praier Noted;
  2. by Healey Willan, #708-713, composed in 1928 by the Canadian composer and choirmaster;
  3. by George Oldroyd, #714-718, written by the Yorkshireman in 1938; and
  4. by the anonymous "Fourth Communion Service", hymns #719-724, attributed to a variety of ancient or medieval sources.
I’ve never (ever) heard the Oldroyd used in 40+ years of PECUSA/Anglican attendance. I grew up with the Willan, perhaps because the choir director of our high church PECUSA parish wanted to emphasize how hip he was. While the Willan is among the best 20th century music in Hymnal 1940 (or 1982), in my opinion it’s still third to the two settings used by Anglicans for more than 400 years.

The historic Merbecke setting is worth a posting in and of itself. Today I want to concentrate on the anonymous medieval setting we used Sunday, based on the earlier (pre-BCP, pre-COE, pre-Reformation) Latin settings of the Catholic church:
  1. Kyrie
  2. Credo
  3. Sanctus
  4. Pater Noster
  5. Agnus Dei
(On Sunday, we did not sing #724, the 15th century Sarum Rite Gloria. At our Schism I parish — like a LCMS and a TEC parish where I used to attend — the preferred Gloria the “Old Scottish Chant,” hymn #739; the Hymnal Companion calls it a setting that has been popular in America since its publication in 1809.)

Let me quote from the Hymnal Companion and its explanation of the “Fourth Communion Service”:
The Kyrie, which attains, both in mastery of music form and in beauty of conception, the highest level of perfection reached by mediaeval melodic music, is a 12th century development of a setting at least 100 years older in its original form.

720 Credo
This is the ancient and all but universal melody of the Creed…

722 Pater Noster
This traditional music of the Lord's Prayer is uneqionatinably part of our oldest musical inheritance. … It is almost identical with a Hebrew cantillation of Zechariah 2:10 … Thus it may very well be a musical tradition from the primitive Judaeo-Christian communities.

723 Agnus Dei
This setting is a 13th century version of an earlier tenth century melody.
Certainly the Credo and Pater Noster — which appear to be the most commonly used tunes at American Anglo-Catholic parishes — have a unique place in the modern American hymnal. They are shared across time and place — with other centuries, other Christian denominations, a common and timeless bond in our fragmented, schismatic and sinful world.

When I returned to PECUSA (not yet TEC) as a young man, I found the corporate worship of these two chants (plus the spoken Confession) to be the most moving part of the Communion service. These three places are still the points which often pull me back out of my reverie, to remember the whole point of our Sunday worship.

However, I have to agree with the committee that authored the Hymnal 1940 and its Companion. As a plainsong chant, among all the available communion services the Kyrie reflects “the highest level of perfection,” crafted by some unknown composer(s) some 900 years ago during the High Middle Ages.

The Kyrie is even more moving when sung (as written) antiphonally, as is the Agnus Dei. We have a small choir, but at some point I would like to persuade our music director to attempt it, as this simple gesture (reflecting the intentions of some long-lost church musician) increases the impact of this timeless melody.

Update: C.W.S. correctly notes the role of H40 editor Charles Winfred Douglas in reviving plainsong in the hymnal. In fact, this 4th setting in H40 is credited by Hymnal 1982 to Douglas himself, as composing or at least adapting it in his 1915 composition Missa Marialis.


C.W.S. said...

I believe it was Winfred Douglas, the primary editor of the 1940, who championed the return to plainsong; if I recall correctly, he has written about it in other places as well.

The Lohmans said...

Thanks for this post and your blog. Growing up in the Epicopal Church (diocese of Chicago) our music director also alternated sung liturgy service with the church seasons. Fourth Communion Service's Kyrie and Second Communion Service's Agnus Dei are among my favourites and I often play them on the piano to keep their haunting beauty resonating within me. I was hoping to find a sung version of the 4th's Kyrie online which is how I came upon your site. Blessings!

CSA said...

Hello. I'm looking for a recording of the 4th communion service. Anybody? Thanks much.

CSA said...

Me too. Any recordings? Thanks!