Greetings in Christ Our Incarnate Lord! On Sunday, January 7, 2018, the feast of the Epiphany was observed at Holy Nativity. It was observed on Sunday, January 7, instead of on the date it fell, January 6, so that more people would be at church to enjoy and celebrate it. So, I had the joy of providing organ music and hymns for the end of the Christmas season on the Gregorian calendar, on Sunday the 7th. That same day was also Christmas Day for me, as an Eastern Orthodox Christian, on the Julian calendar. It was special to me that I was able to sing and play Christmas carols at Holy Nativity on that particular day.
Usually, I divide the music articles on this blog into two parts, one covering the hymns and psalm setting only, and the other covering the organ and choir music. However, for Epiphany Sunday on January 7, the choir was on a well-deserved break from singing, having sung such beautiful music on Christmas Eve for the midnight Mass. So, the music for Epiphany this year was all hymns with just a bit of organ music here and there. This article will still be in two parts, as previous ones, but divided up differently than in previous articles. Part I here focuses on the prelude, the opening hymn, the psalm chant, and the gradual hymn. Part II will focus on the Offertory, Ablutions, and Final hymns as well as the organ music for Communion and the Postlude. Right now, we will begin with the music for the Prelude.
There were two pieces of music for the prelude, as usual: some chanting from the Benedictine service of Lauds for the Holy Epiphany, and an organ piece. Here are the titles:
Preludes: Benedictine Psalter for the Epiphany Gregorian chant
À la venue de Noël (At the Coming of Christmas) Claude-Bénigne Balbastre (1724-1799)
Everyone is, I think, accustomed by now to the traditional chanting of the Benedictine services, either Lauds or Terce, before each of the morning Masses. I use a very free style of Gregorian chant, sometimes standard Gregorian psalm tones and other times psalm tones based on Gregorian hymn melodies. The purpose of chanting the Psalter from the morning services prior to Mass is threefold: (1) to give congregation members entering the church a sacred, contemplative atmosphere which hopefully encourages individual prayer and devotions before Mass; (2) very simply, to observe some of the Benedictine Office for the benefit of others in the congregation who observe it, not to mention keeping the Rule of St. Benedict for myself; (3) to help the congregation, through the theology contained in the Psalter and hymns from the Benedictine diurnal, in their preparation for Communion.
For the Feast of the Epiphany, there are some quite lovely antiphons for Lauds. I will share them here, along with a reference to the psalms with which each of them are connected. Some Benedictine diurnals use the Greek system of numbering for the psalms. For this article, I am using the King James Version psalter numbering which is used in the Book of Common Prayer, for the sake of clarity. This is the same numbering which is used in most Bibles in the Western tradition. I will also give the Latin title associated with each psalm.
First of all, the antiphon “Alleluia, Alleluia” is always used for the first three psalms of Lauds on a Sunday, which are Psalms 67 (Deus misereatur), 51 (Miserere mei, Deus) and 118 (Confitemini Domino). The next group of psalms and their antiphons for Epiphany are as follows. I used the Epiphany antiphons instead of the regular Sunday antiphons.
Psalm 93 (Dominus regnavit): Before the morning star begotten, + and Lord from everlasting, our Saviour is made manifest unto the world today.
Psalm 100 (Jubilate Deo): Thy light is come, + O Jerusalem, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee: and the Gentiles shall come to thy light, alleluia.
Psalm 63 (Deus, Deus meus): When they had opened their treasures, + the wise men presented unto the Lord gold, frankincense, and myrrh, alleluia.
The Song of the Three Children, Daniel 3:35-66 (Benedicite, omnia opera): O ye seas and floods, + bless ye the Lord: O ye wells, sing a hymn unto the Lord, alleluia.
Psalm 148 (Laudate Dominum), Psalm 149 (Cantate Domino), and Psalm 150 (Laudate Dominum in sanctis ejus): Like a flame of fire, + that star glittereth yonder, revealing God, the King of kings: the wise men, when they beheld it, offered presents unto the mighty Ruler.
These beautiful antiphons were chanted also on January 13, for the Octave of the Epiphany. I actually chanted them one last time on Sunday, January 14, since January 13 fell on a Saturday and there were no church services at Holy Nativity for that day. For online access to Benedictine services, I highly recommend this website, which has all of the psalms and other texts of each service in Latin on the left side of the page, and English on the right: http://divinumofficium.com/cgi-bin/horas/officium.pl. Another really great thing about this website is that there are options for which historical period one may want for usage of Benedictine services. You can click on a link that allows you to have versions of the Benedictine services for all of the following historical periods/liturgical variations: Pre-Tridentine monastic (6th century to 1570), Tridentine 1570, Tridentine 1910, Divino Afflatu (1911), Reduced 1955, Rubrics 1960, and 1960 Newcalendar. I personally like Pre-Tridentine monastic and Rubrics 1960 the best, in terms of liturgical format that is most true to the early Church.
Let us now turn our attention to the organ prelude, an example of one of the 18th-century French Noëls for organ that were composed by several well-known French Baroque composers such as Louis-Nicolas Clérambault (1676–1749), Jean-François Dandrieu (c. 1682–1738), François d’Agincourt (1684–1758), Louis-Claude Daquin (1694–1772) and several others. What is a French Noël? Very simply, it’s a French Christmas carol, and in this context, a carol that has been arranged in a special way for organ. First, the carol is played through, usually in a plein jeu registration (i.e., specified group of organ stops often indicated by the composer in the music). The plein jeu consists of principal and reed stops, and tends to be quite loud and full. After the Christmas carol is played in the plein jeu registration, it is presented by the composer in a series of variations that are played on solo organ stops and often presented as common Baroque dances such as the gigue. The gigue, of which there is always at least one in most French Noëls for organ, is a very lively Baroque dance which features triple metres such as 3/8, 6/8 and sometimes 9/8, with lots of triplets and triple dotted rhythms. Here is a performance on YouTube of a gigue, by two dancers in Baroque costume:
The particular French Noël that I played for Epiphany Sunday was set to variations for the organ by Claude-Bénigne Balbastre (1724-1799). We will talk a little bit about his life in a moment. First, I want to discuss the actual Noël, or Christmas carol, that he used for this setting. In French, it’s called À la venue de Noël, which I translated literally for the church bulletin, “At the Coming of Christmas.” Another name for this carol is “Aici l’estela de Nadal” or “Nadal des Ausèls” (literally, “Christmas Carol of the Birds”). It’s from the Occitan region of France, known as Provence. The Occitan language actually is spoken not only in southern France, but also in the Occitan Valleys of Italy, Monaco, and the Val d’Aran of Spain where it is referred to as the Aranese language.
Nadal des Ausèls, also called Noël des Ausels, is listed by choral arranger Walter Ehret in his book, The International Book of Carols (published 1963 & 1980), as a carol from Bas-Quercy in southwestern France, near the Spanish border. This is the first verse, in Occitan. Next to each Occitan phrase I have placed the corresponding phrases of an anonymous, very inaccurate, but well-known English translation. Here is Verse 1:
Aici l’estelo de Nadal Whence comes this rush of wings afar,
Qu’es aquel brut sur nostre oustal? Following straight the Noël star?
Es une troupe d’auselons Birds from the woods in wondrous flight
A Bethléem ban dous à dons. Bethlehem seek this holy night.
Here is an old choral arrangement of this carol, in English. We’ll probably sing this for next year’s Christmas Eve service. You’ll find the musical arrangement I’m referring to at the bottom of this webpage: https://hymnary.org/tune/basquercy_17122. Here is a copy of the music.
Here is a performance of the English version of the carol, “Whence Comes This Rush of Wings Afar,” by the Vancouver Chamber Choir:
Now there is but one question to puzzle over: How did this Occitan carol, Noël des Ausels, become known in Baroque urban France as “À la venue de Noël”? Well, I have a theory about that. King Louis XIV of France, the Sun King, started a program of standardising all of the French dialects into the dialect of French he spoke, which is called Île-de-France, after the Parisian area of France for which it’s named. Along with that dialect standardisation came a lot of appropriation of folk songs from various areas of France. My theory is that he had an Île-de-France version of the text written, and then this carol was popularised in his court. Here is a French Baroque-style performance of the carol, as Louis XIV would have most preferred it:
The organ setting of this carol, by Claude-Bénigne Balbastre (1724-1799), was not from the period of Louis XIV’s reign at all, of course, but rather from the period of the reign of Louis XVI. Louis XVI was the last French king, who was infamously executed by guillotine during the French Revolution. À la venue de Noël was written in a Baroque style despite being from a later period, and it was one of several wonderful organ Noëls that Balbastre wrote. The biography of Claude-Bénigne Balbastre can be found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claude_Balbastre. Here are the facts I found most interesting about him: (1) The second part of his first name, Bénigne, was the name of his father. (2) He came originally from Dijon, France. That’s in the area of Burgundy. Here’s the Wikipedia article on the town of Dijon: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dijon. Dijon is famous for its mustard, the original recipe of which was created in 1856! (3) Claude Balbastre studied with Claude Rameau, the younger brother of famous Baroque French composer and musician Jean-Philippe Rameau. The Rameau family was also from Dijon. (4) Balbastre moved to Paris in 1750, where he became the organist at St. Roch. St. Roch is pictured here.
St. Roch was the church where the infamous Marquis de Sade (from whom we get the word “sadism”) was married in 1763! Guess who would have played the organ for his wedding? Claude Balbastre! Balbastre himself got married that same year.
Balbastre eventually lost his job during the French revolution. He survived the Reign of Terror by playing revolutionary songs on the organ. He died in 1799, in Paris. Here is a picture of him. He looks rather sweet here, playing his Baroque-era guitar. All I can say is that he was pretty smart to survive the Revolution, when his life would have been endangered by his aristocratic and Church associations. He must have known how to schmooze.
We now will focus on the Processional Hymn for Epiphany Sunday. That hymn was “We Thee Kings of Orient Are.” Here is the title as listed in the church program:
Processional: #128, We Three Kings of Orient Are Three Kings of Orient
“We Three Kings” is also known as “The Quest of the Magi.” It was written in 1857 by John Henry Hopkins, Jr. He wrote it for a Christmas pageant in New York City, although he himself served as the rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
John Henry Hopkins, Jr. (1820-1891) was a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The son of an Episcopal bishop (John Henry Hopkins, Sr., Bishop of the Diocese of Vermont, 1792-1868), he got his Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Vermont in 1839, and his Master’s Degree from that same university in 1845. He started out as a journalist, but went into the Episcopal Church as a deacon, getting his degree from the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church (in Chelsea, Manhattan, New York) in 1850.
The Christmas pageant for which he wrote “We Three Kings” was apparently just a family Christmas pageant for his nieces and nephews, not a pageant held at a major church in New York. Aside from composing the famous Christmas carol so beloved in America today and so commonly associated with the Feast of the Epiphany, his other claim to fame was that he delivered the eulogy at the funeral for U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant in 1885. His nephew, John Henry Hopkins III, wrote the popular children’s hymn in the Episcopal hymnal, “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God.”
John Henry Hopkins, Jr. played a major role in the development of hymnody in the Episcopal Church. Here is the biographical entry about him from the Hymnary website, with a list of some of his other hymns: https://hymnary.org/person/Hopkins_JohnHJr.
Below is a wonderful performance of “We Three Kings” by the Robert Shaw Chorale.
We now turn to the psalm chant, written by William Knyvett (1779-1856). William Knyvett of the late 18th and mid-19th century is not to be confused with Sir William Knyvett, the fourteenth- and early fifteenth-century knight. Before I give some details on William Knyvett the non-knight, however, I will put a copy of the psalm setting here. Underlined text indicates syllables sung on one note. Bold text indicates one syllable sung on two notes. Each dash represents a syllabic division, and on each of those syllables is sung one note. The reciting notes are separated from the moving notes of the phrase by a measure line like so: | . I hope this is clear.
Psalm 72: 1-2, 10-17 Deus, judicium
1 Give the King Your | justice, O God, *
and Your righteousness | to the King’s Son;
2 That he may rule Your | peo-ple righteous-ly *
and the | poor with justice.
10 The kings of Tarshish and of the isles | shall pay tribute, *
and the kings of Arabia and | Sa-ba of-fer gifts.
11 All kings shall bow | down be-fore Him, *
and all the | nat-ions do him service.
12 For he shall deliver the poor who cries out | in dis-tress, *
and the op- | pressed who has no helper.
13 He shall have pity on the | lowly and poor; *
he shall preserve the | lives of the needy.
14 He shall redeem their lives from op- | pression and violence, *
and dear shall their | blood be in His sight.
15 Long may He live! And may there be given to Him
gold | from A – ra – bia; *
may prayer be made for Him always, and
may they | bless Him all the day long.
16 May there be abundance of grain on the earth,
growing thick even | on the hilltops; *
may its fruit flourish like Lebanon, and its
grain like | grass up – on the earth.
17 May His Name remain forever and be established
as long as the | sun en – dures; *
may all the nations bless themselves
in | Him and call Him blessèd.
Glory to the Father and | to the Son; *
and | to the Ho-ly Spirit:
As it was in the be- | ginning, is now, *
and | will be for-ever. A-men.
William Knyvett was known mainly as a singer and composer of the early to mid-nineteenth century. He had his start as a singer when he was just a child. He was born on April 21, 1779, in London. His father, Charles Knyvett (1752-1822), was a musician. William was his third son. William received his early musical training from his father. He also studied with glee choral composer Samuel Webbe, who, interestingly enough, was a Roman Catholic in England during the time when that faith had become rather uncommon. William Knyvett’s other teacher was Giovanni Battista Cimador, an Italian whose original surname was Cimadoro, but was Anglicised to Cimador by the musician himself when he moved to England in 1791. Giovanni Battista Cimador is most famous now for his double bass concerto, because there are not many concerti written for that instrument. Cimador was originally from Venice. When he moved to London, he worked as a singing teacher, composer and pianist. We can surmise that young William Knyvett, who would have only been twelve years old when Cimador first arrived in London, studied voice and composition with the Venetian immigrant.
As mentioned before, Knyvett got his start as a principal alto in a London treble chorus. He is first listed as being in the treble choir for the Concerts of Antient Music (spelling from that time period!), also known as the King’s Concerts, in 1795. By this time, he would have been sixteen. So, by age sixteen, he had changed from soprano to alto. In 1797, at the young age of eighteen, he was already appointed as one of the gentlemen of the Chapel Royal! Even though he was actually a deep bass in his natural vocal range, he had a well-developed falsetto and often took counter-tenor parts in the choir and on solos. He became a concert singer in London and a conductor at various music festivals, such as the Birmingham Triennial Music Festival, for the next forty years or so. The Birmingham Triennial Music Festival, which had become an annual music festival by 1784, raised funds for the Birmingham General Hospital. The festival was held annually until 1912. The start of WWI saw the demise of the festival. Anyway, Knyvett was the conductor at that festival several times during his life.
In addition to all of his work as a singer and conductor, he also wrote some popular songs and quite a few choral works. He wrote a choral work for the coronation of Queen Victoria called “This Is the Day that the Lord Has Made.” Unfortunately, that work was not published.
Although he gained the gracious patronage of the Prince of Wales, William Knyvett was not skilled in business matters. He speculated badly, and ended up as a poor man. His obituary from the Gentleman’s Magazine, Volume 202, states the following: “November 17, 1856. At his residence, Clarges-House, Ryde, in the Isle of Wight, in his 78th year, William Knyvett, Esq., Composer to, and Gentleman of, Her Majesty’s Chapels-Royal, and one of the Lay-Clerks of Westminster Abbey.” A footnote in the obituary states this about his father: “Mr. Knyvett, senior, was one of the Gentlemen of the Chapels-Royal to George III, and became also Organist of the same in 1802. He had three sons, Charles, Henry and William, all of whom left large and well-stationed families.”
You can find the Gentleman’s Magazine, Volume 202, in Google Books. There are many other interesting facts we can find out about William Knyvett by reading his obituary: (1) He was married twice. The name of his first wife is not listed, but it is noted that he had “a large family” with her. (2) His two eldest sons became Lieutenant-Colonels in the East Indian Army. (3) His second wife, Deborah Travis, was a famous musical performer of Handel’s works. She bore him no children. They married in 1826. (4) He had a friendly personality and a good sense of humour, described thus in his obituary: “In private life, Mr. W. Knyvett gained the esteem of all who were acquainted with him, and these were not inconsiderable in number or station. His conversation was marked by a playful humour, sometimes approaching to wit, and never tinged by spleen, that rendered him an agreeable companion in whatever society he mixed.”
So, basically, what we have learned about William Knyvett is that he may not have been gifted with business speculation, but he certainly was a nice fellow who got along with everyone and could make people laugh. Well, he could not very well have been a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal if he had been possessed of a sour disposition and irksome personality! Musicians who wanted to be successful in late 18th- and early 19th-century London had to be charming as well as talented. That’s actually still true of musicians today, in London or elsewhere. Talent is important, but talent must blend with social skills if one wants to amount to anything. That really hasn’t changed in 300 years.
We now move on to the last piece of music to be discussed in this first part of the Epiphany article series: the Gradual Hymn, “What Child Is This?” Here is the title as listed in the church program.
Gradual: #115, What Child Is This Greensleeves
There are a couple of urban legends about the origin of the melody known as Greensleeves. A rather absurd, fanciful book about Druids, which I won’t even bother citing here, claims that Greensleeves was the original Briton hymn sung by the Druids for the summer solstice! Well, everyone who knows anything about Druids knows that they left no written tradition. There’s no written or archaeological evidence that such a claim could even stand as a plausible sniff, let alone a historical fact.
The more popular urban legend is that King Henry VIII of England, Bluff King Hal, was the composer of the song. This story was spread by his daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, as far as we know. It is natural that she would want her renowned father credited with that song. It’s also true that he was a good composer in his own right. However, he did not write Greensleeves; it postdates his death! The earliest published version of the song was 1580, and King Henry VIII died in 1547.
The harmonic structure of the song is a progression of chords known as a romanesca, a popular harmonic formula that dates to the mid-sixteenth century, at the earliest. It was most popular with Italian composers of the Renaissance, but it also was found very prominently in the songs of Spanish composers from that period. (There’s another big ‘poo-poo,’ as Madeline of the Ludwig Bemelmans books would put it, on the whole idea of a Druidic origin of the song!). Here’s a musical example showing the chord progression of a romanesca.
In September of 1580, the first ballad version of Greensleeves was published at the London Stationer’s Company by one Richard Jones, who referred to the tune as a “northern dittye.” More versions of it were published by the year 1581. It was also found in several late sixteenth-century lute books. The bottom line here is that we don’t know who actually wrote the original Greensleeves melody. Here is a thorough article on the mythology and history surrounding the tune: https://earlymusicmuse.com/greensleeves1of3mythology/.
As early as 1686, there were Christmas and New Year’s texts that had been adapted to the tune. The most famous lyrics, however, are those of the Christmas and Epiphany carol we know today. Those lyrics were written in the 19th century by William Chatterton Dix (1837-1898). His biography can be found here, on the Hymnary website: https://hymnary.org/person/Dix_WC.
Dix wrote the lyrics, “What Child Is This,” in response to his recovery from an almost fatal illness that he had contracted while working as an insurance company manager. He managed a maritime insurance company in Glasgow, Scotland. He was struck by the illness at the age of 29. We have no record of what illness it was in his biographical information, but we know that he turned 29 in the year 1866. If we trace the history of illness and epidemics in Glasgow from that period, we find that Glasgow was one of the most unsanitary cities in nineteenth-century Scotland with horrible housing conditions. There was an epidemic of cholera in the late 1840’s during the Christmas season. There were other epidemics throughout the nineteenth century of fevers and rheumatic diseases, specifically Measles, scarlet fever and diphtheria. There were also a large number of children with rickets, and they easily contracted the aforementioned diseases. Tuberculosis was naturally rampant in 19th-century Glasgow as well, and there were problems with pollution of milk in the city which led to a number of sanitary laws being passed about the sale of milk and standards to be observed on the condition of milk products delivered in the city. My guess is that Dix caught one of the many fevers that spread through Glasgow during the 1860’s, or he might have drunk a cup of milk that was polluted with disease bacteria. He was severely depressed by his illness, which he had for a long period. His response to that illness was to become a writer of many hymn texts, of which are included famous hymns such as “As With Gladness Men of Old” and “What Child Is This?.” The Wikipedia article on “What Child Is This?” states that Dix’s poem, The Manger Throne, from which the lyrics of “What Child Is This” were taken, was written in 1865. However, that date does not match up with the claim that Dix had his severe illness at age 29. Again, that would have been in 1866. He had a spiritual renewal after his recovery from illness. That renewal put him on the path of expressing his own Epiphany through the hymn texts he wrote. Below is a picture of William Chatterton Dix, and a picture of his grave. He was only sixty-one years old when he died, though the cause of his death is not listed. By the time he died, he was no longer living in Scotland, but in Cheddar in Somerset, England. He was buried in the churchyard of his parish church, St. Andrew’s. I also have posted a picture of that here as well.
William Chatterton Dix (1837-1898)
The grave of William Chatterton Dix
A memorial plaque to William Chatterton Dix at Bristol Cathedral with names of his most famous hymn texts: he was born in Bristol, hence the honour accorded him here.
The parish church of St. Andrew’s in Cheddar, Somerset: the church dates back to the 14th century. It was restored in 1873.
I hope you have enjoyed this article on the first half of the music from Epiphany Sunday at Holy Nativity on January 7, 2018. The second installment is coming soon, and will cover the rest of the music of the Mass that day, from the Offertory to the Postlude. I hope that all who read this article are experiencing a blessed time during the Sundays after Epiphany, and a spiritually profitable preparation for Lent.
In Christ Jesus Our Lord,
Gabrielle Bronzich, M.M., Organist & Choirmaster of Holy Nativity Episcopal Church, Plano, TX