2012-11-04 Notes from the Bench

A commentary on this week’s music by Dr. James Gerber, Music Associate

“Justorum animae” (Op.38, No. 1) by Charles Villiers Stanford

Today we celebrate the feast of “All Saints’” – our parish’s patronal feast.  The text for this motet is from the book of Wisdom of Solomon, a portion of our Old Testament Lesson today.  This passage is also one of the options suitable for Memorial services, a beautiful description of we believe we will experience in eternal life.

Justorum animae in manu Dei sunt,
et non tanget illos tormentum mortis.
Visi sunt oculis insipientium mori,
illi autem sunt in pace.

The souls of the just are in the hand of God,
and the torment of death shall not touch them.
In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die;
but they are in peace.

(Wisdom of Solomon, 3:1-2a, 3b)

Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924) was an accomplished composer and teacher, best remembered for his numerous choral works written within the Anglican tradition.  Stanford’s oeuvre includes other genres, including symphonies, operas, concertos, chamber works, secular songs, piano and organ works.  He was appointed the organist of Trinity College in Cambridge, England and was one of the founding professors of the Royal College of Music where he taught composition.  Gustav Holst, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Edward Elgar are among his students whose fame surpassed that of Stanford’s.  Stanford is among a group of composers, Hubert Perry and Alexander Mackenzie for example, that are regarded as bringing about a renaissance of English music in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

“Justorum animae” is the first of a set of three motets Stanford dedicated to his successor at Trinity College, Cambridge, Alan Gray, and to the Choir of Trinity College, as a farewell gift.  Stanford creates a contemplative setting at the beginning and conclusion of this motet while the middle section is a more agitated, which vividly expresses the meaning of the text.

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