"Peace like a River"  Program Notes, 23 March 2007

Musical Images of Peace in a Turbulent Time

The centrepiece of our program tonight is the work, Proverbs, by our colleague James Schar.  James is a composer, arranger and conductor as well as our highly accomplished pianist and organist.  We are very pleased tonight to be giving the premier of this lovely and personally meaningful work.

Proverbs is dedicated to the late Dr. Jim Howard, a friend and chorister of James’s at the American Community Chapel, Darmstadt, where James was organist and choir director for several years.  Dr. Howard, who was very active in working with homeless people and in other volunteer work, and was held in great affection by his friends and colleagues, died several years ago from a serious illness.  He was especially fond of the text of Proverbs, the 20th book of the Protestant Old Testament Bible (and attributed to King Solomon).  Those of us who knew Jim are very happy tonight to remember him in this beautiful work. The feeling of peace portrayed by the minimalist harmonic movement of the first movement of Proverbs contrasts with the vigour of the 3rd movement fugue. The work then returns to a soothing tranquil minimalism in the fourth movement, “Trust in the Lord”. 

The theme of peace recurs in tonight’s program, in particular the image of still waters as a metaphor for peace.  On the programme are three Victorian works, by Sir George Elvey, S. S. Wesley and Phillip P. Bliss, which describe peace in distinct ways, as in Elvey’s work: peace for Jerusalem (for which we all yearn).  

Tonight’s poem is an extract from a longer poem, Streams, by the poet Wystan Hugh (W. H.) Auden (1907-1973), who was born in Shropshire, England, but was in fact Anglo-American. The centenary of his birth was February 13th of this year.  Auden was one of the brightest stars in a brilliant set of writers that included the poets Louis MacNiece, T. S. Eliot and Stephen Spender, and the novelist Christopher Isherwood.

Tonight’s organ work is a setting of “How fair and how pleasant art thou” from the Song of Solomon, the 22nd Book of the Protestant Old Testament.   This organ work is taken from Marcel Dupré‘s Vêpres des Fêtes du Commun de la Sainte-Vierge (1919),   and is one of the improvisations which alternate with plainchants in this setting of the rite.  The texts from the Song of Solomon are used in the Vêpres to express the union of Christ with the Church. 

The arrangement of the 23rd Psalm sung tonight is by Howard Goodall, a prolific writer of choral and instrumental music, including much music for television and film.  This piece was used as the theme music for a British television comedy series called “The Vicar of Dibley”.  We present it in its complete version, as a beautiful setting in its own right.

We bring the programme to a close with a selection of Traditional American pieces by several arrangers, including our own James Schar.