Inside take on a Folger, Bodleian, and Ransom Center exhibition on the creation and afterlife of the King James Bible on the 400th anniversary of its publication.

Posts tagged “early modern music

Sing unto him a new song

Cathedra, the chamber vocal ensemble of Washington National Cathedral

The Folger Shakespeare Library’s resident early music ensemble, the Folger Consort, presents A New Song: Music Inspired by the King James Bible this week from Friday, September 30, through Sunday, October 2, with period strings, organ, and Washington National Cathedral’s chamber vocal ensemble Cathedra, Michael McCarthy, director.

An early music seminar will be held this evening, September 28, to discuss the program, and there is an audience discussion period prior to the Friday concert.

The following text is excerpted from notes by one of the Folger Consort’s artistic directors, Robert Eisenstein.

 

“Sing unto him a new song; play skillfully with a loud noise.”
Psalms 33:3, King James Bible

The Folger Consort’s A New Song is part of a worldwide—and, with the current exhibition, Folger-wide—celebration of the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. We have decided to center our musical offering on settings of biblical texts from the reigns of King James I and King James II. In the case of the former, we will mostly be presenting anthems based on English translations that preceded the King James Version, many of which were important sources for the committees of scholars who translated the King James Bible.

It is difficult to find 17th-century musical settings of the King James Bible version of the Psalms because Coverdale’s beautiful prose from his 1535 Bible made its way into the Book of Common Prayer, which was still in use throughout our chosen period. By the time of the Restoration, however, most English settings of biblical texts other than the Psalms were taken, sometimes with a bit of variation for musical reasons, from the King James Version, and this will be apparent in our selections of anthems by Henry Purcell, Pelham Humfrey, and John Blow. All of this music will be performed with the forces most commonly used for anthems in the 17th century—a small choir supported by organ and often by strings that accompany the verses and provide an opening symphony and instrumental interludes. We have also included some wonderful representative instrumental music from the time.

(L-R) Folger Consort artistic directors Robert Eisenstein and Christopher Kendall. Credit: Mig Dooley

We begin with an anthem by Thomas Tomkins written for the coronation of James I. Other composers represented in the program include Giovanni Coprario (tradition has it that he taught music to James I’s children); Orlando Gibbons, who was, with Coprario, a member of the household of James I’s son, Prince Charles; Henry Purcell, one of the greatest composers of the Baroque and certainly one of the greatest English composers of any era; and two other wonderful English Restoration composers, Pelham Humfrey and John Blow.

We conclude with an anthem for the next rulers of England after James II. Purcell’s Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem was composed for the coronation festivities for William and Mary at Westminster Abbey in 1689.

 

Robert Eisenstein is, with Christopher Kendall, one of two artistic directors of the Folger Consort, the resident early music ensemble of the Folger Shakespeare Library.


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