A Hymn for St Cecilia (Charles H Giffen, Ursula Vaughan Williams)
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 3,851
    This past September, I composed a new hymn tune GLOUCESTER CRESCENT (10 10. 10 10. D) for Ursula Vaughan Williams's fine text, A Hymn for St Cecilia ("Sing for the morning's joy, Cecilia, sing") and posted it here in another thread. Almost immediately, I made plans to compose, in addition to the straightforward hymn just finished, a more elaborate setting for choir and instruments, suitable for ceremonial or concert use. Most of this expanded setting was finished late this spring and early summer, and by the end of July the orchestration was finished, even as I awaited permission from The Vaughan Williams Charitable Trust to use the text (to which Ursula willed all copyrights upon her death in 2007). That permission was granted yesterday (Friday, August 3rd, coincidentally on my late sister's 83rd birthday) with some kind words by Hugh Cobbe, Director of the VWCT.

    Here, then, is the full score of A Hymn for St Cecilia together with a (Finale generated) audio simulation of a performance. It is scored for SATB choir (with S & T descants/mini-choirs in the last stanza), flute, English horn, bassoon, horn in F, trombone, harp, and strings. Performance time is about 8 to 8.5 minutes. Although the choir in the final stanza is scored in four (SATB) parts, it may be advisable or even preferable for the choir (especially a smallish one) simply to sing the melody only, so as not to have the melody of the tune obscured by the S & T descants.

    The work opens with a brief introduction which draws from the opening two lines of the tune. The first stanza unfolds in unison passages that alternate between men's and women's voices through the first four lines, then in four part unison for the remainder of the stanza, with the winds and strings providing both harmony and some ornamentation of the melody. After a brief instrumental bridge passage, the second stanza opens quietly, and although two descants contribute complexity (and lustre) to the final stanza, it is the second stanza that, with just four voices, has a more layered and lyrically detailed complexity. The very brief bridge passage between the second and final stanzas is for winds alone. The soprano and tenor descants in this final stanza soar above the melody, with the soprano ascending to a high B-flat and the tenor to high A-flat. After the climactic conclusion to the third stanza, the work closes with a quieter coda-like section that draws on music from the interlude after the first stanza as well as the introduction, utilising three lines of the final stanza, followed by a very quiet repeat of the first line of the text "Sing for the morning's joy, Cecilia, sing."

    The attached full score PDF is formatted for legal (8.5in x 14in) paper, suitable for study, although a larger tabloid size (11in x 17in) conductor's score is also available for performance use. Instrumental parts have been extracted; also, a choral score with some sort of keyboard accompaniment/realization is in preparation and will be available soon.
  • MarkS
    Posts: 222
    Really lovely!
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 7,895
    very cool Charles... majestic. Harp strings and vocals... like floating in the clouds... excellent!
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • Schönbergian
    Posts: 154
    Re: orchestration - I've never seen a single horn and trombone used like that before. I don't see why a second horn couldn't take the trombone part and therefore achieve a more homogeneous timbre.

    Otherwise, looks solid.
  • noel jones, aagonoel jones, aago
    Posts: 6,482
    No, the horn and trombone should swap parts after measure 14 and then go back to them on measure 19, but play from them upside down until the last two measures.

    I am sure that that is EXACTLY the timbre the composer intended.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • MarkS
    Posts: 222
    Re: horn/trombone—

    The trombone part would lay rather low in spots for an F horn, taking it out of what is normally considered it's 'melodic' range, if I am remembering correctly—I think we were taught that up to the G below middle C (as written), the F horn is a little unstable, and iffy regarding intonation, and this lower range is used mainly for sustained tones. The trombone, on the other hand, has a lovely melodic quality in this register. I'll have to dig out a textbook.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • Schönbergian
    Posts: 154
    Berlioz does caution against using the trombone in a bass-only context like that in his orchestration manual.

    Alternatively - double ATB with three trombones.

    I just found the use of one of each to be a bit unusual.
  • noel jones, aagonoel jones, aago
    Posts: 6,482
    I ran into Berlioz late this afternoon at McDonalds - they had a senior citizens get free fries special, which he was quite excited about - and I mentioned this to him.

    "I should have never, ever written that. Don't know what I was thinking, 'cause I meant to say Baritone Sax if the player had been playing jazz the night before. All that subtle syncopation in a low reed is way too "renaissance" for me and it just muddys the waters in my opinion when playing serious works. When I want that effect I ALWAYS score for Sackbut, no buts about it."

    And then he cut in line right in front of Bach, saying, "That guy, he shows up here and orders sandwiches and fries for the whole family, and I don' t have time for that.

    He walked away muttering, "Now that CHGiffen, now there's a composer to watch. He's the one with the white hair and glasses. Old guy, right? Does he know about the fries?"


  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 3,851
    "I just found the use of one of each to be a bit unusual."

    I didn't, but then I've played in woodwind and brass quintets, never more than one horn or one trombone in any of them. Yet this is somewhat beside the point. One might also ask why Schönbergian isn't bothered by the combination of flute, English horn, and bassoon ... heaven forbid, a non-reed with two double reeds ... and the composer is an oboist/English hornist (okay, the composer has played, oboe, English horn, flute, piccolo, bass clarinet, tenor sax, and lower brass ... as a budding young oboist, he learned other instruments because oboes were not used in marching band)!!!

    The simplest answer is that I wrote for the specific tonal qualities of the instruments in question. I could have written for oboe, English horn, and bassoon ... and for alto and tenor trombones (or sackbuts) ... but I didn't. The instances where the English horn rises above the flute, or the bassoon above all the winds except the flute, and other instances of "part crossing" are special (to me). Oh, and the trombone part in the present work hardly has a lock on the bass line ... it is frequently in the tenor range, above the bassoon.

    Added historical side note: Years and years and years ago, while a student at the University of Wisconsin, I played fifth flute and piccolo in the Stravinsky Symphony of Psalms, for a choral festival concert (the other work was the Brahms German Requiem, conducted by Robert Shaw. Why didn't I play oboe? ... well there was a surfeit of oboe students in the music department, and I was only studying privately at the time. It was one of the flutists who knew I played flute and piccolo (even though she and I played flute-oboe duets) that got me that opportunity. For the Brahms, I sang with the basses. It was a special occasion that I'll never forget.
    Thanked by 1noel jones, aago
  • Schönbergian
    Posts: 154
    I don't think there's anything wrong with using additional woodwinds of different colours. I just agree with Berlioz that the trombone, moreso than other instruments, benefits greatly from numbers. One trombone is almost not worth it.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 3,851
    IF I were writing something on the scale of Symphonie Fantastique, Les Troyens, Grande Messe des Morts, Vox Populi, or La Damnation de Faust (nor, for that matter, Gurre-Lieder), I might indeed be inclined to (and almost certainly would) score more than 1 trombone.

    BUT, my work is accompanied by a chamber ensemble, as it is definitely NOT a romantic era orchestral tour de force with a huge chorus. Think "chamber music" not "Romantic warhorse" ... please!!!

    Oh, and I do not happen to agree at all with Berlioz about a singular trombone within an ensemble (I've already mentioned brass quintet). A choir of 3 or 4 trombones can be quite lovely in certain circumstances, but so can a single trombone with other instruments (such as a horn and double reeds). When it came to instrumental accompaniment, Berlioz seemed quite incapable of thinking in intimate, chamber orchestral terms, as is well reflected both in his composing and in his opinions.
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 1,582
    Is this about to become a tread on favorite one-trombone works?
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 7,895
    I can compose another single trombone work if that would help feed the rabbit
  • noel jones, aagonoel jones, aago
    Posts: 6,482
    RM:

    A comment on that St4ravinsky link:

    Marco Farese
    1 year ago
    there's a mistake in the first movement,on percussion set , measure number 52..."
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 3,851
    Um, issues of the single trombone aside ... what about the music? I guess I shouldn't have bothered to try to defend my orchestration.
  • Schönbergian
    Posts: 154
    I find the opening vamping on Db-Gb-Db with the strings and harp to be a bit slight and almost overly sweet compared to the tune itself--to me, it evokes unfortunate implications of sacro-pop. Your tune deserves a more sturdy introduction, I think.


    It might just be your style to not put the descant on the last verse--I think, though, that even with your doublings, it's best to set the two descants either on separate verses or together on top of a unison tutti so that both of them and the melody don't get totally lost.

    I like the tune and wonder how it would fare in an overall more weighty arrangement.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 3,851
    I find the opening vamping on Db-Gb-Db with the strings and harp to be a bit slight and almost overly sweet compared to the tune itself--to me, it evokes unfortunate implications of sacro-pop. Your tune deserves a more sturdy introduction, I think.
    The I-IV-I "vamping" is hardly that: It comprises only two measures and is the harmonic underpinning of the the first two measures of the tune (in three of the four couplets). The introduction itself (12 measures) "draws from the opening two lines of the tune." A "more sturdy" texture for the introduction does not seem to be called for, as anything more would detract from the simplicity of the straightforward melodic presentation of the first stanza.

    It might just be your style to not put the descant on the last verse--I think, though, that even with your doublings, it's best to set the two descants either on separate verses or together on top of a unison tutti so that both of them and the melody don't get totally lost.
    The descant is indeed on the last (third) stanza. As for a unison tutti with the double descants, I wrote (above):
    Although the choir in the final stanza is scored in four (SATB) parts, it may be advisable or even preferable for the choir (especially a smallish one) simply to sing the melody only, so as not to have the melody of the tune obscured by the S & T descants.
    I note also that, with only three stanzas and, given the non-homophonic treatment of the second, there is really only the final stanza available for the S & T descants (which were written to complement each other as well as the melody).

    Thanks for your input, Schönbergian, and I'm glad you like the tune (GLOUCESTER CRESCENT). I've no idea how it would fare in a more weighty arrangement, since I was trying to make the music serve Ursula Vaughan Williams's wonderful text in an appealing setting for use outside any liturgical context. I've attached the tune (with UVW's text) and an MP3 sound file (organ and fake voices). Since it is released under a CC-BY-NC-SA license, anyone so inclined should feel free to make an arrangement.
  • Charles, I hope you understand that I'm genuinely not trying to attack you or your work, and I apologize if I have come across that way.

    Re: first few measures - it might just be the harp adding that feeling for me. Regardless, I maintain that it's a bit too "sweet" for the arrangement.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 3,851
    "A Hymn for St Cecilia" has finally been published, complete with instrumental parts, at CPDL. It bears the dedication "To the Choral Public Domain Library, in praise of singing" — which is due to my long association with CPDL and its ideals and goals.

    There are a few changes from the last posted version here, mostly in the treatment of the final stanza (melody in the altos & basses, with "descants" in the sopranos & tenors) and in the coda-like conclusion which is (to me) more satisfying than before. The published letter-size full score and MP3 simulated performance are included here.
    Thanked by 1Incardination
  • MarkS
    Posts: 222
    I think it is a lovely work. There is a lot to learn from here!
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 3,851
    Here is a Dropbox link to the score and instrumental parts for "A Hymn for St Cecilia" - as an alternative to CPDL publication of the same. If you are planning to perform it or know of a performance being planned, please let me know. So far, I know of one performance being planned, as well as another couple of possibilities.

    Dropbox link: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/wamawxxxougdv31/AACg3wFl-z_lxS2nDj032yKga?dl=0
    Thanked by 1Incardination
  • Howells' Hymn for St Cecilia was sung at evensong at Walsingham last night (the 21st).
    (Orlando Gibbons' Second Service was the source for Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis.)
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen