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Each year, our choir offers an end-of-season concert in June.  This year, we reprised favorite anthems of the past year.  One of my favorites was this canticle setting for choir and organ by Amy Beach.

As a kind of unofficial composer-in-residence for St. Bartholomew’s in New York City, works like this were written for and premiered by the choir.

Deus Misereatur is a setting of psalm 67.  It may be recited as a canticle in the Anglican liturgy of Evening Prayer according to the Book of Common Prayer as an alternative to the Nunc dimittis, when it is referred to by its incipit as the Deus misereatur (also A Song of God’s Blessing).  (Wikipedia)

The motet is deeply expressive in the Romantic idiom.  While it is grand in it’s expression, it is never bombastic.  It manages to elegantly convey feelings of awe, humility, and the quiet strength that comes from faith.  These shifts of mood are beautifully expressed with chromatic harmony.

For me, the most striking music comes in the Doxology.  The meter shifts from four to three, perhaps a symbol of the trinity?  The tempo increases and concludes with an inventive harmonization of an ascending chromatic scale.  The art and craft of this canticle reminds me of Brahms at his best!  Musical technique fully at the service of expression.  Beach never sounds contrived or pedantic, even though the use of this scale is clearly an intellectual choice.  The music sounds fresh and the effect is thrilling.

Translation of Psalm 67

God be merciful unto us, and bless us;

and cause his face to shine upon us;

that thy way may be known upon earth,

thy saving health among all nations.

Let the people praise thee, O God;

let all the people praise thee.

O let the nations be glad and sing for joy:

for thou shalt judge the people righteously,

and govern the nations upon earth.

Let the people praise thee, O God;

let all the people praise thee.

Then shall the earth yield her increase;

and God, even our own God, shall bless us.

God shall bless us;

and all the ends of the earth shall fear him.


A Canticle by Amy Beach

June 29, 2011 , , , ,

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