2015-01-25 Notes from the Bench

“Communion Service in D” by Everett Titcomb

A commentary on this week’s music by Dr. James T. Gerber, Music Associate

 

Everett Titcomb (1884-1968) was a twentieth-century American composer of sacred choral and organ music who contributed a vast amount of works for the Episcopal Church. During his lifetime, he was internationally recognized as a composer of sacred music. Since his death, the various liturgical reforms that took place and changes in musical tastes have resulted in far less interest in performing Titcomb’s music.

Titcomb was born in Amesbury, Massachusetts. He was influenced by many of the well-known composers stationed in the Boston area during the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: Eugene Thayer, Dudley Buck, George Chadwick, and Horatio Parker. For fifty years, Titcomb served the Church of St. John the Evangelist in Boston as their organist and choirmaster. St. John’s was administered by the “Society of St. John the Evangelist;” an Anglican monastic order rooted in Ignatian Spirituality, also known as the “Cowley Fathers” or the “Anglican Jesuits.” The Cowley Fathers were influenced by the Oxford Movement and established the “High Church” Anglo-Catholic worship traditions associated with St. John’s during Titcomb’s tenure.

Titcomb was among a group of pioneers who promoted early music, particularly plainchant and Renaissance polyphony, and traveled to Europe a number of times during his early career to research this repertoire. The Schola Cantorum of St. John’s under the direction of Titcomb sang this music with a level of skill that resembled academic choirs who specialized in the performance of this repertoire; at a time when most Episcopalian church and cathedral choirs were primarily singing the then more popular Victorian-era Anglican music. Many of Titcomb’s finest works for choir and organ are written in a polyphonic style or based on plainchant; his settings of Latin texts and chant-based organ works are equally at home within traditional Roman Catholic and Anglo-Catholic liturgies. Titcomb also wrote many works suitable for volunteer church choirs.

In addition to his work composing sacred music and directing the choir at St. John’s, Titcomb taught sacred music and chant at the New England Conservatory and Boston University. He was awarded an honorary Doctor of Music degree in 1956 from Nashotah House, an Episcopal Seminary in Wisconsin.

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