2015-11-01 Notes from the Bench

Two settings of the text “Justorum animae” by Charles Stanford & Geraint Lewis

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



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 pain of death shall not touch them.
To the eyes of th foolish They seemed to perish,
but they are in peace.

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


Today is the feast of All Saints’, the day when the Church honors all men and women, known and unknown, whose lives were exemplary models of faithful living. Our first scripture lesson for today is a passage from the book of Wisdom of Solomon ‘ (3:1-9); a beautiful description of what we believe we will experience in eternal life. This pericope is also a suitable option for funerals and memorial services. Wisdom of Solomon, 3:1-2a, 3b is the traditional Offertory text for All Saints’ Day and has inspired numerous choral works. Today, our choirs will sing two settings of this text during our liturgies.





Justorum animae (Op. 38, No. 1) composed by Charles Villiers Stanford is a setting of the traditional Latin text in the late-nineteenth century Anglican style. Stanford, an accomplished composer and teacher, wrote numerous choral works for use during Anglican worship; works that today are among an Anglican choir’s core repertoire. 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. Stanford’s Justorum animae is the first of a set of three motets he 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.

The Souls of the Righteous by Geraint Lewis (b. 1958) is a late twentieth-century setting of “Justorum animae” in English and is subtitled “in memoriam William Mathias.” Lewis was born in Cardiff, a port city in Wales. He received his music education at St. John’s College, Cambridge. Following his graduation, he was appointed to the music staff of the University of Wales at Bangor where he worked with Mathias, who became Lewis’s mentor and friend. Lewis began composing this work in 1991, and shared the portion completed with Mathias during one of their visits. Mathias approved of the results and encouraged Lewis to complete the work. However, Lewis did not immediately do so, setting it aside. When Matthias died the following year, John Scott suggested that Lewis compose a work for the Service of Thanksgiving for the life and works of Mathias celebrated at St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1992. Lewis completed his setting of, “The Souls of the Righteous” as a tribute to Mathias. This slow, tranquil setting alternates rich vocal phrases with interludes for organ alone that weave through each other to create an atmosphere of quiet intensity.

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