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by Christopher Martin Thomas


1. Some English Composers and their Religious Allegiances: 1550-1650

2. Choral masterclesses in Izhevsk

3. Heinrich Schütz 1585 - 1672: a musical giant who still had time for individuals

4. In Spirit and in Truth (reflections on John 4: 1-26)

5. Bach's Bible

6. Sheppard, Tallis, and the Like - a reflection on using Sheppard's 'Libera nos I' and early Tudor polyphony in worship

7. Praetorius and the heavenly vision

8. Returning the cross to the centre

9. Doctrinal balance

10. Drum Cages in Christian Worship

11. Taizé Music - an interview with a singing brother from the community

12. Music and healing: beyond entertainment

13. Program note to my Chorale Partita: Jesu meine Freude 

14. A Saturday Morning Music Centre for young people (To all concerned about the lack of youth activities and the amount of delinquency in Keynsham, North-east Somerset)

15.Legends in Music


1. Some English Composers and their Religious Allegiances: 1550-1650 1


To say that someone has a certain religious allegiance treats of their world-view and their life style. These may touch recorded history as something written or dictated by them, or as recorded activity. The musician has an extra witness—preference for a text, a patron, or a dedicatee.

In the composers Richard Alison, Robert Tailour3 , and Giles Farnaby4 , we find all the above, with the added complexity that they were all secular composers: musicians for whom church accounts record no payment. But they also had this in common: they each chose the Psalms, in metrical form, for a complete work of major importance in their musical output. In addition to this, in each case, we have a written clue as to their theological inclination, showing a degree of familiarity with reformation theology uncommon even among church composers, let alone among those we hold to be 'secular'. One may see in this a certain fulfilment of William Tyndale's much-quoted prophecy addressed to the clergy of his day: 'If God spare my life, ere many years I will cause a boy who drives a plough to know more of the scriptures than you do'.

Unfortunately for us, a further common element is the absence, so far, of a published biography for any of these three composers.



Richard Alison's Psalter, printed in 1599, is the most interesting musically, being set in table-book format for four voices, with intabulations for 'lute or orpharion' and 'cittern'. The psalm paraphrases are what had come to be known, by this time, as the Sternhold and Hopkins Psalms, or 'Metrical Psalter'. This work had already been treated to Thomas Este's edition with four-part harmonisations by such leading composers as Dowland, Farnaby and Alison.

Alison's settings of his own 'Psalms of David' were composed in a manner which was accessible to amateurs. But what, for us, is of greatest interest is the dedication (see below at end Article 14) to the devoutly religious wife of a leading Puritan statesman, Lady Anne Countess of Warwick. In the course of the dedication, Alison describes her late husband, Ambrose Dudley, Earl of Warwick, as 'sometimes my good lord and master', thus already identifying himself over some time with a powerful and influential Puritan circle, which included the Earl's brother and 'the queen's favourite', Robert  Dudley, Earl of Leicester; and Lady Anne's father, the second Earl of Bedford. Moreover, and far more telling than this, Alison's dedication to his patron is full of theological content. We note in it the following features:

  • a preoccupation with right doctrine, including a list of the attributes of God and a theology of repentance drawn from the Psalms.

  • a doctrine of 'heavenly consort', which combines spirituality and earthly pleasure, without Platonic overtones.

  • the assertion, echoed by many Lutheran composers, including J. S. Bach, that God is glorified and man refreshed by such musical activity. 

Now all this might seem to be what was expected of a person engaged on such a 'sacred' task as setting portions of Scripture to music. But what of the use of theology in the introduction to a madrigal collection? I refer to Alison's dedication in his other printed work entitled, 'An Houres Recreation', of 1606. What is most interesting is that he quotes from Martin Luther's letter of 1530 to Austrian composer Ludwig Senfi, as follows:

I will only allege one testimony out of an Epistle, which that ancient Father, Martin Luther did write to Senfelius the musician, which is so ample in commendation of this art that it were superfluous to add any other. 'Music', saith he, 'to devils, we know, is hateful and intolerable and I plainly think, neither am I ashamed to aver it, that next to theology there is no art comparable with music: for it alone next to theology doth affect that which otherwise only theology can perform, that is, a quiet and cheerful mind.' Now if music merits so high a place as this holy man hath given it, can we deny love and honour to them that with grace and bounty raise the professors thereof?


The dedicatee of this collection is Sir John Scudamore, a gentleman usher to Queen Elizabeth I, commissioner for the muster of recusants for the County of Herefordshire, a job he cannot have been too good at because his own daughter married a recusant and his eldest son became a catholic priest! The Dictionary of National Biography is confused when it says that Sir John Scudamore's 'standpoint over religion is not clear.' On the contrary, his Will of 1619 leaves us in no doubt as to his evangelical understanding of the doctrine of Salvation, as the phrase, 'hoping assuredly through the merits of Jesus Christ', would seem to suggest. Whether he sided with the Puritans or with the High Church faction in James l's persecution of the Puritans we do not know; though Alison's choice of him as dedicatee might itself be a clue as to where his sympathies lay.

We are told in the Weimar edition of Luther's correspondence that copies of Luther's letter to Senfi circulated in manuscript; but not long afterwards it appeared in print, notably in the preface to a collection of Motets, written in 1559 by Mathias Gastritz, entitled 'Novae Harmonicae Cantiones'. Alison had an accurate translation of this preface, as we gather from his quotation of it referred to earlier, though it cannot be inferred that he was familiar with that particular edition, or its Latin original.

It would be interesting to speculate that, if the Library of the Earl and Countess of Warwick had survived, there might be found therein a copy of Luther's letter to Senfl, perhaps in English translation, since it was appended to printed editions of other works by Luther. Alison's apparent familiarity with Luther's theology, as exhibited in his 1599 preface, is not surprising, however, when one considers the number of theological works dedicated to Ambrose and Anne Dudley. Among them are several translations of the Reformers, and in particular, a translation of Luther's A Treatise Touching the Liberty of a Christian. Out of forty-nine books dedicated to the Earl and Countess of Warwick, thirty-one are religious works.



Now we come to Robert Tailour; in his Sacred Hymns, published in 1615, there is no dedication or laudatory poem to a patron, from which to gather his theological inclination; but the prose introductions to each of the psalm-paraphrases provide a great deal of evidence as to his religious allegiance. It is necessary first, though, to say a word or two here about the prose introductions to metrical psalms. Ever since the 1562 edition of the Whole Book of Psalms, by Sternhold and Hopkins, the precedent was set to preface each Psalm with a commentary of anything between one and four sentences of exegesis. Also included was a short musical treatise on how to sing in four-part harmony.

What then of Robert Tailour's Psalter? He does indeed provide prose introductions to each of his paraphrases, as we have observed, but his are of sometimes up to eighty lines in length! They are not stereotyped in content and show some independent thinking. This may be exemplified by looking at his introductions to Psalms 8, 22 and 40. It was already established in both Catholic and Protestant traditions, that Christ was prophesied in the Psalms, by for example the use of the term 'Son of Man', in Psalm 8 and the description in some detail of death by crucifixion in Psalm 22, the classic references to Jesus. So Tailour in his prose introductions to these psalms duly declares their reference to Christ. What is more interesting is his introduction to Psalm 40; here his treatment is unique, for he not only endorses the traditional application of it to Christ but further draws from it a point of doctrine touching on the theology of the Eucharist. In. his reasoning he is clearly opposed to the High Church position, and certainly in opposition to the Roman doctrine of the Mass. I quote from Tailour's introduction:


     The prophet David, an Ancestor and Type of Christ, in his thankful meditations of God's former merci [sic] toward him, passeth                    from thence into a profound admiration of the divine Grace, whereby the imperfection of the legal sacrifices being abolished,                      Christ their perfection was to succeed, a true accomplisher and teacher of righteousness.


What Tailour and Alison have in common, then, is that they are both theologically informed 'secular' composers; so also with Giles Farnaby, whom we must turn to now.



Farnaby did hold the honorary position of Churchwarden, with the major task of overseeing the Bishop's visitation to his parish church, St. Peter's Aisthorpe, in Lincolnshire. Both Fellowes,6 and M. C. Boyd refer to his probable Puritan sympathies on the basis of the names he gave to his children. Two daughters were named Philadelphia (the first died before the second was born) and one son was named Joyous, both names popular among Puritan households during this time. His pre-occupation with setting the metrical psalms is also instanced as a Puritan tendency. He supplied harmonisations for Este's Psalter in both its 1592 and its 1635 editions, thus setting the whole of the metrical psalter twice over—a version favoured mostly by the Puritans. They included the Sternhold and Hopkins paraphrases, and many of the metrications were based on Genevan originals. But it is once again to a preface that our attention is drawn in Farnaby's Psalmes of David, c.1635. Only a treble part-book survives of this work, in the Pennsylvania University Library. He dedicated it to Henry King, then the chief Prebend of St. Paul's Cathedral and later Bishop of Chichester. As a Doctor of Divinity and later himself a paraphraser of the Psalms, in a 1651 publication, it is improbable that anyone save a high-ranking ecclesiastic would presume to adopt a pastoral attitude toward Dr. King even in a private letter, let alone in a dedication manifestly being prepared for publication. Yet this is the nature of Giles Farnaby's dedication to the Reverend Doctor King; I quote the beginning and the end:


To the right worshipful Henry King, by Divine Providence of God, Doctor of Divinitie, and chief Prebend of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, the Glorious comforts of Grace here and the blessednesse of immortalitie and eternitie in Glory hereafter . . . I committ you with yours to the safe protection of the Allmightie, allwayes begging before the Throne of His most Glorious Majestie, that He would in this life, infuse His Holy Spiritt with all His Grace into your heart abundantly, and, in the world to come, crowne you with the crowne of immortall Glory, and that for Jesus Christ His sake, our Lord and only Saviour, Amen. Your Worship's, in all duty, Giles Farnaby.


A facsimile is to be found in M. C. Boyd, Elizabethan Music and Music Criticism, though no reference is made to its nature and content. The greeting and valedictory phrases are reminiscent both of the letters of the Apostles in the King James Bible of 1611, and of certain prayers in the 1559 Prayer Book. The format is similar to the prayer for the Monarch, but there the similarity ends, the words being an echo of the originals and not merely a quotation of them. What is remarkable is that Giles Farnaby's words appear to be genuinely his and cannot he found verbatim in either source; though individual phrases like 'our only Lord and Saviour' crop up ubiquitously in the Prayer Book, with variants. Moreover, one cannot help being struck by the boldness of the prayer: ‘that God 'infuse His Holy Spiritt with all His Grace into your heart'. He presumes, as a mere layman, to offer such a priestly prayer for an ecclesiastical dignitary! Surely this gives us some insight into Farnaby's mind, as that of a true Puritan, with his doctrine of the 'priesthood of all believers', as expounded in both Luther and Calvin—where clergy and laity have equal access to God through Christ, and share responsibility for each other’s spiritual well-being.



Here, then, are three composers whose religion came to verbal expression in such it way that we can account for some of their­ output, for the advancement of sound doctrine, in addition to the achievement of artistic excellence. As this is so unusual among English musicians, it might help to compare briefly how the evangelical theology of Martin Luther influenced a contemporary musician in Germany, whose thinking had a major influence on German music. I refer to Michael Praetorius8, a figure who was close enough to Luther's time to have second-hand knowledge of him as a person through his grandfather Johann Walther, the Reformer's own Cantor, and of course to have extensive knowledge of his writings, as may be seen in passages he quotes in Syntagma Musician, Praetorius's musical encyclopedia. Here are his own words:


Now may the dear Lord, in His loving-kindness and faithfulness be with us, as we begin during this transitory life, to blend our voices in different choirs—and sound heavenly songs of prayer and praise of the holy Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, and other saints, filled with God's Spirit. For there awaits us now the life everlasting, the celestial state that will never pass away! Soon we will stand before the Throne of the Lamb, at the joyful feast of our Heavenly Bridegroom Jesus Christ, with the choristers of heaven and those most perfect musicians all the host of the heavenly angels and arch-angels.


The passage quoted above is from the section of the Syntagina Musicum entitled 'De Organographia',9 which is by no means an expressly theological section, but is concerned with the science of musical instruments. We know and we can tell from this passage, and from his extensively published output, that Michael Praetorius was a musician who moved happily in and out of what we call the 'sacred' and the 'secular' and for whom there were no boundaries, no restraints, no injunctions against elaborate church music, and no lack of resources as he worked in the Lutheran court of Braunschweig-Wolfenbuttel.


What Praetorius had in common with Alison, Tailour and Farnaby was a conviction, echoed by Luther resoundingly in many of his writings, that music, as a gift from God, is indeed 'next to theology'. 


1 This paper is based on a lecture given by the author at the Royal Musical Association Research-Students’ Conference held at Halliday Hall, Clapham Common, 16 December 1988.

2 Richard Alison (c.1569 - c.1620) was a lutenist and a teacher who was called upon, like John Dowland, to make his contribution to the burgeoning market for hymn-psalm books. He it was who arranged the tune 'Winchester Old', now sung to the words 'While shepherds watched  their flocks by night'. The tune first appeared in Thomas Este's The Whole Book of Psalms(1592) and Alison's own Psalms of David(1590) set to Psalm 23. The 1592 Psalter was re-issued in facsimile by F. Rimbault in 1844. Copies of the original can be seen in the Cambridge University Library, the Bodleian Library, and the British Library; the library of Kings College London has a facsimile. A facsimile of the 1599 Psalter is held at most major music libraries,

3 Robert Tailour (c.1575 - c.1637) was a musician in the court of King Charles I. The words of the hymn 'The King, O God, his heart to thee upraiseth’ are attributed its Tailour in the  Yattendon Hymnal. They are adapted from Tailour's Psalm 21, 'The King, Lord, t’ward thy glorious face', with due attribution.

4 Giles Farnaby (c.1563 - c.1640) is best known as a keyboard composer. Many of his pieces for virginal or harpsichord were included in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book. Among them are 'London Bridge', 'Farnaby's Knot ' and many Fantasies.

5 A modern edition can he found in the English Madrigalists vol. 33 (ed. P. Brett).

6 E. Fellowes, introduction to Giles Farnaby, ‘Canzonets to Fowre Voyccs' 1598 (English Madrigalists vol. 20).

7 Pennsylvania University Library. MS. in Rare Book Room 48 no. 593.

8 Noted especially for his carol arrangement, A Great and Mighty Wonder (Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen')

9 Michael Praetorius. Sintagma Musicum II: De Organograhia I & II: translated and edited by David Crookes (Oxford 1986).


My trip in April 2014 with the late Dr.Roy Damary to the Udmurt capital, Izhevsk, had two purposes: to 'spy out the land' for our choir trip in August, and to conduct two choral masterclasses and a lecture at the Izhevsk Conservatoire.


My meetings with Lev Nakariakov, the conductor of the Tchaikovsky Chamber Choir and the 'Golden Melody' folk orchestra, were assisted by Nadia Utkina, who acted as interpreter, and resulted in the construction of an attractive programme which we would jointly perform in August at their Philharmonic Hall. It would involve our choir (one third of the Holy Trinity Choir plus guest singers), the chamber choir and the folk orchestra (both conducted by Mr. Nakariakov), with Nadia as soloist.


When told that their folk orchestra does John Rutter arrangements, I must admit that my first reaction was a bit sceptical! However, I was pleasantly surprised, on hearing the chamber choir and orchestra perform their favourite, 'For the beauty of the earth'. It had been very skilfully arranged by the conductor, the balalaikas and accordions making an impressively symphonic sound, with the deft playing of their percussion department adding imaginative moments of sparkle. A second hearing was thwarted, as the entire bass department (two enormous triangular instruments, recognisably bass balalaikas) and most of their percussion, had been commandeered by the municipal authorities for a funeral!


Hearing and conducting the Tchaikovsky Chamber Choir was a delight. They already perform Byrd, Dowland and Britten, so I introduced Stanford to them: Beati quorum via (a favourite of every English-speaking choir). Since the choir consists entirely of professional singers, mostly in opera choruses, I had anticipated the need to encourage them to modify their vibrato. However, they had an impressive smoothness to their sound, as well as a blend and wonderful tone which you might expect from the Russian voice. They responded to me with warmth and generosity (two characteristics also of our hosts!). We talked about the joint concert we are to present with them in the summer, and about the possibility of inviting them to travel to Geneva next year, either for the Fete de la Musique, or for a Christmas Concert in early December (jointly with our choirs).


I reflected on how difficult it had been to obtain a visa to enter Russia; will it be less difficult for them now to leave Russia? They, and especially the Udmurts, are passionately keen to communicate their cultural heritage to us. As far as Udmurtia is concerned, Nadia Utkina is their chief cultural ambassador in all but name. We were amused to note how many people came up to her wherever we went and greeted her like an old friend. This might be explained by her numerous appearances as soloist on Izhevsk television. 

My first event was a visit to Gymnasium no.54 (it's a big city!), a special academy for boys and girls 11 to 18 devoted to fine art and music (not drama, strangely). Here I heard their boys' choir in a rehearsal conducted by Katya Khabibullina, who were just about to leave for an Estonian music festival. They sang in English, Russian and Udmurt - and produced an impressively well-tuned and bold sound for a small choir of only 12 voices.


A television interview pre-empted my main choir workshops with 'Udmurtia', a 40-voice girls' choir. I was told to answer questions as if I had already met them, since it was to be broadcast afterwards (I expect the editors fixed that somehow!) A major plug in my 15-minute interview was for 'concert' choirs to be allowed to present recitals of a capella music in their wonderfully reverberant churches (this requires a special blessing in addition to a letter of permission from a local bishop). I don't think I gave an adequate answer to their question about traditional Udmurt music, based as it is on a three-tone scale, and about how would 'classical' choirs attract a younger audience by singing arrangements of such music. I'd have had to do a PhD on it first, or at least have notice of the question! The TV interview was conducted in the Udmurt language with Nadia interpreting.


There were two masterclasses with the girls' choir Udmurtia - both with an invited audience of school music teachers. Their conductor, a fierce but warm-hearted little lady called Tatyana Sitchkova, introduced me to them at one of their rehearsals with the Izhevsk Philharmonic Orchestra. My heart sank when I heard that they were to accompany a rapper, albeit in a concert in October celebrating their liberation. However, they did their duty, then sang to me one of the canons I had sent to them, which they executed with wonderful tone and very accurate tuning - to the solfa names (leaving me to add the English words).


But what was extraordinary - and unique, in my experience, is that every girl moved their arms and hands as they sang, in chironomic motions, as if they were conducting - but each in an individual way. Was it some sort of Kodaly technique, or their own version of Dalcroze's eurhythmics? Tatyana's explanation of this phenomenon, her own idea, was that it helped them to be expressive, as if their arms and hands were an extension of their voice. It certainly worked. In their workshop with me they continued to do the same, and certainly they were both expressive and responsive. (They refrained from this activity in performance!)


Their English pronunciation was on the whole quite good, the only word they really had trouble with was 'the' (the spirit, the understanding - you get the picture!). They sang Rutter's 'I will sing with the Spirit', the canonic 'We shall glorify' which I co-wrote with my wife, canons by Mozart and Melchior Franck, a gospel piece (Hallelujah my Father) and Rutter's 'For the beauty', which they sang with relish and expressiveness. A large part of each of the two sessions was devoted to warm-ups (physical and musical) and vocal exercises. An exchange of these between me and their conductor showed that we already had many ideas in common.


The debriefing with the twenty or so music teacher observers from local schools, all responsible for two or more choirs covering the whole 5 to 18 age range, gave me a picture of a consistent and methodical system of vocal teaching. Some specialist music schools (every big town has one) produce extra good choirs, but the production of a good vocal technique in state schools seems to be widespread in Russia, from what they told me. This was certainly evident in the singing I experienced over the three days. My lecture to them was suitably peppered with recorded examples of Britten, Tavener, Lauridsen and Whitacre, the subject being Recent Choral Music in Western Europe: Characteristics and Trends.


The week left enough time for some socialising in the form of a sauna, a barbeque, and a concert of Armenian and Udmurt singing and dancing. This was in the context of a wonderfully relaxing weekend as guests of Lena, an ex-colleague of Roy's, her husband and two sons, the elder of which visited Geneva soon afterwards. Their warmth and generosity knew no bounds. They took us on Sunday morning to the church of Norya, a typically Russian church building with gleaming golden onion-domes in the Convent of the Little Diveesky Seraphim. There we witnessed baptism by emersion: eight babies and a young boy; the latter was too big to fit in the baptistry, so he was duly soaked bit by bit! We were struck by the observant and reverent attitude of the families as the full no-holds-barred liturgy of Eastern Orthodox Baptism was read by the priest.


But it is to Nadia Utkina that I owe the greatest debt of gratitude, who afforded us generous hospitality for most of the week, and masterminded my itinerary from event to event - interpreting my masterclasses and my lecture, arranging for my introduction to all musicians, impressarios and municipal authorities involved in the promotion of Udmurt culture. She performed in previous concerts prior to my Russian trip at Holy Trinity Geneva, and later with the Spyom Vmeste choir. It wasn't long before we had the chance to hear her wonderful voice again, as she returned to present a concert in Holy Trinity in June 2015, which included her own setting of Psalm 91.


3. HEINRICH SCHÜTZ 1585 - 1672

A musical giant who still had time for individuals

The immortality of those we consider to be ‘great’ composers has been the preoccupation

of many a biography. In contrast, and in fulfilment of the political theology of the Magnificat 1,

this man heralds a reversal of the world order.

Following a Christmas season, it’s quite likely that some readers will have heard, or participated in,

a performance of Schütz’s 'Weihnachtshistorie' (Christmas Oratorio).  As his most often-performed

work, this was my second experience of this composer, at university. The first was the gem called just

‘Aria’ from his Geistliche Chormusik,which I first heard when my father conducted this with the London

Bible College Choir in 1967, and which I conducted at his memorial service: in 2011 Also hat Gott die

Welt geliebt (a setting of John 3v16). Perhaps you might have come across one of his Latin motets

eg the seven-part ‘O Bone Jesu’, or his gigantic 3-choir setting of Psalm 150, ‘Alleluia! Lobet den Herren’

(one you could easily imagine being performed at Wolfenbüttel’s Marienkirche with its many choir

galleries – see article no.7). All these and many more have been recorded by John Eliot

Gardiner and the Monteverdi Choir. 

It is to Schütz’s Psalm 150 that I wish to draw your attention. I had heard it at the first ’stone-age’ prom

in 1972, when David Munrow and his merrie men of the Early Music Consort filled (almost!) the Albert

Hall with their pristine sound. And fascinated I was as I prommed at quite a distance on the top gallery.

There they were – the galaxy of early music stars: Emma Kirkby, James Bowman, Anthony Rooley,

Simon Standage, Francis Baines, Alan Lumsden, Christopher Hogwood, David Thomas et al. Then they

and the Morley Consort joined forces with the Martindale Sidwell Singers for an all-Schütz second half, of which the crowning glory was this mammoth rendition of Psalm 150, and the equally memorable but very poignant setting, also for 3 choirs, of ‘Saul, was verfölgst du Mich’.

I recommend that you have these playing as you read on! 2

When I was examining the part books for this work (in the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel in 1985), I made a discovery which is never reproduced in modern performing editions – the only facsimiles of this work being available online and in the British Library are of his Dresden print run. What I found so significant for this great man - with his great music for massive forces of singers and instruments - was the dedication in the flyleaf of each part-book in the print run he prepared for the Wolfenbüttel court chapel singers.

Now a short digression into the nature of the part-book. In those days, and still in Bach’s day, performances of pre-1700 music were usually conducted by one of the performers – but not from a score. Because of the smaller forces called on then, as opposed to the many parts needed for, say, a performance of a symphony, it was possible - though it took a lot of dedication - for a person directing the performance, to examine every one of the parts long enough to internalise, or to get an ‘aural picture’, of the whole piece.

So there was no score of Schütz’s Psalm 150 – just the many part-books, one for each singer and instrumentalist. But another point we must realise, is that a choir in those days was very often a group of soloists, whether part of the ‘solo’ group, or ‘ripieno’ (backing group).

Now to the details of my discovery.  What Schütz had written – and had printed, for this was a ‘limited edition’ print run – was an individual dedication to each singer in the court chapel.  As part of this dedication, which took the nature of an exhortation to sing ‘to the greater Glory of God’, he included a set of Bible verses. Now we might expect this to be a general dedication to all his singers, as he naturally would want them to have a unity of purpose (for some of us church music directors, that’s all we could ever wish for!). But Schütz goes the extra mile, and gives a different and individualised set of Bible verses for each named singer in his court chapel. He manifestly knew them individually, it is safe to assume, and therefore had taken the care to address their individual spiritual (and perhaps material) needs. And from the funeral sermon delivered by court preacher Martin Geier, we know much biographical detail about the man, because this sermon was printed and published (Bach had a volume of his sermons in his library). Here is an extract:

“He did not abandon his faithful God in the midst of the misery and sadness so frequently inflicted on him [ie the death of most of his relatives during the time of the Thirty Years War], but ever trusted Him with his whole heart and placed all his actions and purposes under the will of the Most High, not doubting that He who had inflicted the wounds would also heal them and would direct everything for the best. .....He also gained the praiseworthy Christian reputation of always acknowl­edging himself to be a penitent sinner who firmly comforted himself with true faith in the merit of his Saviour and Redeemer, Jesus Christ. .....Moreover, he treated everyone according to the requirements of his status—with respect, discretion, friendliness, and courtesy. He showed much kindness toward his friends and others in need, rendering them assistance so far as was in his power. In return, on account of his upright conduct, his keen understanding, his peculiar skill, and his simple candour, he was greatly beloved and honoured, praised and esteemed by high and low to his old age.”

For the time being, that’s as far as I can go –  as we await a full facsimile of the very specific Wolfenbüttel edition of this great work. 

1.  compare Michael Marissen The Social and Religious Designs of J S Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos (Princeton: 1995) for a discussion of how Bach reflects the Magnificat in his instrumental music by inverting the expected order in instrumental hierarchy (reviewed by me in the periodical Churchman 1991)

 2.  for example:        Psalm 150:

Aria – Also hat Gott:

Saul, Saul, was verfolgst du mich:

Geneva 2012

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4. IN SPIRIT AND IN TRUTH (a reflection on John 4: 1-26)


PART 1: The exercise of charity and love in the context of worship

If we tell the truth without love, people get hurt. They get sacrificed to our agenda, our way of seeing things, however right it may be.


If we engage in worship without love – people get excluded, as our preferred way isn’t their way.


We all recognise that there isn’t only one way to worship, just as there isn’t only one authentic posture. In the Anglican Church we’re used to standing to sing and sitting or kneeling to pray. But what about the custom in the Lutheran Church: stand to pray, sit to sing. ‘Bad posture!’ - we of the English choral tradition might say – and in an absolute sense, we would right. But does it matter – terribly?


Some think the only authentic worship is the ‘truly contemporary’, which relates to ‘most people in Western Civilisation’ – something most people have on their iPod – and so the latest worship song dominated by drumkit is allowed to sweep all before it. We’ve all heard of churches which have ditched their choirs and organs due to a pastorally insensitive leadership who want a quick-fix way to increase numbers.


Others find that a robed choir and organ approach is particularly helpful to the way they like to worship, and that God speaks to them through this idiom. And why change it? – it’s been working for centuries! ...and yet to others it 'smacks of death'!


Two extremes – perhaps. But if we don’t ourselves hold an entrenched position on worship, we know of those who do, or probably we’ve heard in the press how intransigence on either side of the modern versus traditional debate has sadly led to acrimonious disputes and even dismissals. 


'The church before the watching world' – as Francis Schaeffer put it in a most poignant title of a timely and influential book.


But I’m sure God allows us to feel deeply where preferences in worship style are concerned, since it was the Good Samaritan’s different worship style that caused him to be shunned by the religious establishment – and he supremely demonstrated the need for the ‘greatest gift’ – charity. 


A charitable disposition in relation to worship might lead us to think thus:



 ‘this is the way I like and I’m not inclined to have to tolerate your way’


‘This works for me – what works for you?’ 

‘I prefer this kind of music – but I feel for my kids who find it boring’ 

‘This kind of song really gets me going – but I appreciate that Mrs Trellis worships in a quieter sort of way’

Let's leave it to C.S.Lewis to sum up Part 1. He said that you can be more blesed in church by the music you don't like than the music you do, in that you are charitably subordinating your own taste to that of your neighbour in Christ. (quoted from Tom Bell's article in Church Music Quarterly: June 2019)


PART 2: In Spirit and in Truth: transformational worship


So much for what matters to me. Now – what matters to God?

‘Oh but we couldn’t possibly presume to know that! Only fundamentalists claim to know what God thinks – we’re Anglicans!’


Well consider this: how fundamental are we being when we express our views about certain unscrupulous people who have been convicted for banking irregularities? Does God agree with us?

I think you’ll find he does in this instance! – since every Sunday in the Eucharist we ask Him to help us to do what he commanded: ‘do justly and love mercy’. Where does this commonly quoted phrase come from?

Take a look at Micah, Amos, John’s Gospel and the letter of James – and you’ll find that you can’t divorce transforming action in the world – the political and economical day-to-day – from the way we worship on Sunday.


Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old?  Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?  He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? (Micah 6 6-8)


... or is this what James is talking about when he talks about ‘true religion’?

Pure religion and undefiled before God the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep [yourself] unspotted from the worldJames 1:26-27


.... and what do we make of this?

I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell your solemn assemblies. Though ye offer me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them: neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts.  Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols. But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream. (Amos 5: 21-24)


This might be the answer:

The woman saith unto him, Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet. Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.

(John 4: 19-23 – our Lord’s words to another Samaritan!)


Now something more recent: 


' If worship is an engagement in divine mission, mission is an engagement in worship. Precisely because ‘going to church’ is not to be divorced from ‘going to work’ or ‘keeping a household’, as if these were separate and unrelated spheres of being and action, our Christian service outside the liturgy, our striving after justice, our performing acts of practical kindness, could all be called a ‘liturgy after the liturgy’, a way in which we worship. It then becomes an important function of the liturgy to make us more attentive and responsive to those around us, to help us to have what St Paul calls ‘the mind of Christ’, so that we can be sent out to express that mind of Christ in our attentive dealing with the needs of individuals and the pressing issues of our society. What unfolds in the drama of worship is lived out, and becomes the work of those called to be co-workers of Christ in actively promoting peace and human flourishing among the harsh and un-reconciled realities of the world.' ( Transforming Worship: Living the New Creation - A Report by the Liturgical Commission; 2007)


So what is the chief purpose of worship?


I’m sure that by now we’ve struck off ‘to make us feel good’. 


Being uplifted, having our spiritual batteries re-charged, and good feelings - these might be some of the results of an hour in church on a Sunday, or of time spent 'alone with God' in our private devotions. But the words of our Lord, and of Amos, Micah and John the Evangelist, all point to transformation in our day-to-day lives as the main point of worship. 


This could be seen as both the purpose of entering into worship, and the end result. 


Warning: it may not make us feel good – as we might have a part of our lives, our family, our neighbourhood, or a world situation -  highlighted in our consciousness that we’d rather not look at – or even which we came to church to get away from. 


Conversely, if we enter into a time of worship not expecting our lives to be changed, then can we really claim to be ‘worshipping in spirit and in truth’?

5. Bach's Bible

They found Bach’s Bible – so what?

For many of us, the significance of a composer’s religious belief or world view is usually and quite justifiably lost on us as we just ‘let the music flow’ over us.

But for me it was a joyous revelation to learn that the Lego that enriches our children’s world is an outworking of the Danish inventor’s orthodox Lutheran creed, that it was George Cadbury’s Biblical Quakerism that gave us worker shares, worker housing and old age pensions; and J. Arthur Rank’s Evangelical Methodism that spawned the greatest of British cinema!

So it should come as no surprise that it is Christian evangelical orthodoxy that has given us some of the world’s most exuberant, beautiful, re-creative and enduring music.

Intrigued? Read on……

The evidence for Bach’s genuinely Christian faith was given a boost when in 1934 his Bible was discovered – a two-volume Calovius study Bible with most of Luther’s commentary. It had found its way to the USA among a community of nineteenth century German emigrants. In 1985 it was subjected to state-of-the-art ink and handwriting research, and the autograph (“JSBach 1733”), together with the underlinings and marginal notes, were authenticated as indeed Bach’s own. For those of us who can get there, it’s housed in the Concordia Seminary Theological Library, St. Louis, Missouri. For those that can’t, let’s have a look now!

The significance of this treasure is the insight it gives us into some of the composer’s

innermost thoughts on his Christian pilgrimage – on such subjects as personal behaviour,

professional conduct, the theology of music, and on some specific musical works.

And for those who have time, there is a bibliography at the end of this article.

But for now, the juicy bits!

The many arguments Bach had with people of all ranks are well documented; suffice it to

say that he had a short temper! But most revealingly, he highlights a passage which

shows him wrestling with his recognised problem:

“Gird yourself with humility. . . Each other should recognise his own weakness.

He should remember that God has given others also something… that he should gladly

serve and yield to others, remembering that he needs their help.”

(commentary on 1 Peter 5 v. 6-7)

But on the other hand, his representations on behalf of family, choir, and on behalf of his

office as Church Music Director, are also elucidated:

“But where your office requires it, there you must get angry, even though injury has

not been done to you personally. But if your brother has done something against you

and angered you, and begs your pardon and stops doing wrong, your anger should

disappear” (commentary on Matthew 5 v. 25)

Here he is championing his own calling as cantor and Church Music Director.

At various times he had to plead the case for elaborate and dramatic music in the service,

challenging the Pietists (roughly equivalent to some present-day Evangelicals who are of

an anti-liturgical bias), and certain town and school authorities who claimed to represent

popular taste. Small wonder, then, that in the margin beside the temple dedication

Bach penned the following:

“NB Splendid proof that beside other arrangements  of the service,

music too was instituted by the Spirit of God through David”

(commentary to 1 Chron. 28 v. 21)

         Then alongside the great list of King David’s proposed temple singers

and musicians he writes:

“NB This chapter is the true foundation of all God­-pleasing

church music” (1 Chronicles 25)

So what grabs his attention here? The chapter makes it clear that

instrumental music, vocal music, as well as a well-regulated choir

and the overall directorship, are all ordained by God for his glory.

Bach livedmuch of his life among those who would accord this role

solely to congregational singing.




Further confirmation of his conviction comes in his

marginal note to 2 Chron. 5 v. 13:

“NB Where there is devotional music God is always at hand with his

gracious presence.”


With over 80 theological and devotional books and-two complete editions

of Luther’s works listed in his library, Bach was no mere ‘dabbler’ when it

comes to Bible interpretation. In addition to marginal notes and

underlinings, he made many corrections and additions from, it is logical to 

presume, other Bibles which are now lost.

But it would be fascinating to read what he read, and I look forward one  day to reading some of these books, and studying a  complete copy of his Calovius Study Bible – and even, possibly, thinking some of his thoughts  after him!

For your own study, a facsimile of all the Bach additions can be found, with contextual explanations, in J S Bach and Scripture – Glosses from the Calov Bible Commentary (ed. Robin A. Leaver: Concordia Publishing House, St.Louis, Missouri, 1985) – available through Amazon and all booksellers.  For further study, containing interesting and provocative discussion, there’s Jeremy Begbie’s ‘Created Beauty: The Witness of J S Bach’ and ‘Integration of Music and Theology in the Vocal Music of J S Bach’ by Richard J Plantinga – both in Resonant Witness – Conversations Between Music and Theology (ed. Begbie and Guthrie: Cambridge, 2011); and the wonderfully informative and perceptive account contained in John Eliot Gardiner’s Music in the Castle of Heaven (Allen Lane/Penguin: London 2013)

A facsimile of the complete three-volume Calovius Study Bible that Bach owned, has recently come on sale (at over £5,000!). The British Library and major university libraries could soon be in possession of a copy. But if you have the money, here’s the link:


The full version of this article was given in a lecture at the Royal Academy of Music/London Bach Festival in 1989, and at the London School of Theology (then the London Bible College) in 1992.

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6. Sheppard, Tallis, and the like

(a reflection on the more ethereal side of our worship music at Holy Trinity Geneva)

Reactions of bemusement on hearing Sheppard’s ‘Libera nos’ at our Patronal Festival of the Holy Trinity (and at Epiphany, his ‘Reges Tharsis’) have prompted me into a state of reflection, and thence to put virtual pen to virtual paper.

Here are some musings:

  • This kind of worship music is mystical, not expressive (as with most early Renaissance and Tudor music, excluding late Byrd and Gesualdo – but then they are 'late')

  • No descriptive passages – just one over-all effect (or if you like, rather anachronistically, one 'Affekt')

  • No emotion expressed or intended, except if one regards adoration as an emotion, as adoration is, in a significant way, a state of mind that at the same time involves the heart, the spirit and the will

  • Relies on constant beauty of tone, building a sonorous, at the same time rapturous and ethereal, effect

  • In early rehearsals, it can seem baffling and illusive, (I wouldn’t use it as an example of Baroque or even Renaissance harmony), so it requires a step of faith that the final effect will be glorious and uplifting to both listener and performer

  • The over-all effect is an experience that doesn’t rely on any one person’s understanding of what is portrayed, since the approach to worship embodied by this kind of music could be defined as ‘mystical adoration’. The subject is, after all, the Trinity! It just anticipates an unquestioning commitment and self-giving to our Lord God in his most mysterious aspect, just as when we use the words ‘almighty’, ‘ineffable’, ‘Ancient of Days’, the great ‘I Am’, ‘unfathomable’, ‘consubstantial, co-eternal’. This may seem quite a contrast to how we address God at Christmas and Passiontide, identifying with a brought-down-to-earth refugee mother and baby, the God-with-us aspect of the Trinity, the Suffering Servant identifying with us, the Spirit abiding with us forever. It’s more like a foretaste of how we will behold God in eternity: in a state of rapturous awe.


Anyway, don’t listen to me getting carried away! Have a listen to what some other choirs make of this work, for example The Erebus Ensemble, Stile Antico and The Sixteen (here they are recording it in lockdown:

7. Michael Praetorius and the Heavenly Vision

Sacred? Secular? Both?

Michael Praetorius (1571 – 1621) was just one of many influential composers of the Lutheran Church at the turn of the 16th /17th centuries. You might know him as the arranger of the Christmas hymn ‘A Great and Mighty Wonder’ (Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen). Other composers working in Lutheran Germany at the time were Heinrich Schütz, Samuel Scheidt, Johann Hermann Schein, Jakob Praetorius and Hieronymus Praetorius (no relation). 

Though they all had a sincerely-held faith in common, none came to expression in print in the way that Michael Praetorius did. I refer to his 3-volume encyclopedia of 1619, with the intriguing title ‘Syntagma Musicum’ (1). This became the source not only of our main knowledge of renaissance and early baroque musical instruments, in detailed descriptions and scale diagrams, or of musical practice in church and court at the time, but of a widely-held theology of music derived from the writings of Augustine and Luther. It was this orthodox, evangelical theology that was, some one hundred years later, to influence Bach in such a significant way, as detailed in my article above.

I offer you two insights into Praetorius’s world view (by which I mean both a philosophy and a theology, rolled into a holistic view of life the universe and everything).

The first is a wood-cut illustration, which I intend to expound one day at greater length in a lecture illustrated by our choirs and instrumentalists. It forms the title page of at least two of the composer’s works: one a volume of his encyclopedia: Theatrum Instrumentorum (which you might naturally think of as a ‘secular’, scientific work); and the other a volume of his church motets (maybe you’d call this ‘sacred’).

Here we see a vision of music in heaven (‘PLENI SUNT COELI – GLORIA TUA’) in an idealised world being in harmony with music on earth (‘ET TERRA’). You will notice that Christ is the central focus of the worship in heaven and earth, here symbolized as the Lamb of God (Agnus Dei).


























Was his understanding of reality naïve? A discussion of the merits or otherwise of our now much discredited 'Enlightenment' world view, might help us understand how our age, our popular media and our education system, have blinded and deceived us with a materialistic and mechanistic view of reality. In contrast, Preatorius shared his holistic world view with the greatest scientists of his day. (see 'The Theology of Everything' - Keith James Eyeons)

We have the best possible evidence that this fusion of heavenly and earthly music is what he worked towards in his own career just before the thirty years war came along and spoilt it all. The newly-built Marienkirche in Wolfenbüttel, Saxony, which served as the court chapel, had several choir galleries, rivalling those in St.Mark’s Venice. (It has recently been restored, and can be seen exactly as it was in the early seventeenth century.) Many of the motets in ‘Musiae Sioniae’ (2) contain settings for two, three and four choirs, just as in the picture. Furthermore, the instruments depicted were just the same ones he illustrated in Syntagma Musicum, and were in regular use in the court and chapel. Recognisable instruments are viola da gamba, violin, sackbut, cornet, lute, bandora, crumhorn and rauschpfeiffe (a kind of loud oboe with a reed-cap). Many school bands are familiar with dances he wrote using these instruments in a collection he called ‘Terpsichore’ of 1612 (such delicious titles as ‘La Bourée’, ‘Hahnentanz’ and ‘Courante de la Battaglia’)

The other insight is even more direct – his own words:

Now may the dear Lord, in His loving-kindness and faithfulness be with us, as we begin during this transitory life, to blend our voices in different choirs—and sound heavenly songs of prayer and praise of the holy Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, and other saints, filled with God’s Spirit. For there awaits us now the life everlasting, the celestial state that will never pass away! Soon we will stand before the Throne of the Lamb, at the joyful feast of our Heavenly Bridegroom Jesus Christ, with the choristers of heaven and those most perfect musicians: all the host of the heavenly angels and arch-angels.

Sounds like a cleric? No – just a humble musician with a fervent Christian faith. The passage quoted above is from the conclusion of a section of the encyclopedia entitled ‘De Organographia’, which is in no way an expressly theological tome, but is concerned with the science of musical instruments. We know and we can tell from this passage, and from his extensively published output, that Michael Praetorius was a musician who moved happily in and out of what we call the ‘sacred’ and the ‘secular’, and for whom there were no boundaries, no restraints, no injunctions against elaborate church music, and no lack of resources as he worked in the Lutheran court of the dukes of Braunschweig-Luneburg.


Note: This is an extract from an article I wrote to show how the evangelical theology of Martin Luther influenced a contemporary musician in Germany, and in turn whose thinking had a major influence on the development of German music. Michael Praetorius was close enough to Luther’s time to have second-hand knowledge of him as a person through his grandfather Johann Walther, the Reformer’s own Cantor, and of course to have extensive knowledge of his writings, as may be seen in passages he quotes in Syntagma Musician, Praetorius’s musical encyclopedia.


(1) Michael Praetorius. Syntagma Musicum II: De Organograhia I & II: translated and edited by David Crookes (Oxford 1986).

(2) Musiae Sioniae 1605-1610. This woodcut turned up on the title age of an English hymn-book of 1904 edited by G.R.Woodward entitled ‘The Muses of Sion’, which is the source of much Lutheran music from the German, Finnish and Swedish reformation – including the first appearance on these isles of the Piae Cantiones carols (Personent Hodie, Unto us, Good King Wenceslus, Resonemus in Laudibus, Gaudete Christus est Natus, Of the Father’s Heart Begotten)

Preatorius - Theatrum Instrumentorum 162
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More photos of Wolfenbüttel Marienkirche/Hauptkirche:

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From a stained glass window in Canterbury Cathedral


A homily given at Holy Trinity Church Geneva 17.8.14

There it is – (POINTING TO THE EAST STAINED GLASS WIDOW OF THE CRUCIXION SCENE) - the cross is at the centre - it's all that needs saying - we can all go home!

But is the cross really at the centre of our attention - at every service, every Sunday? It's one thing for a symbol, stark and striking as it is, to be at the centre of our vision in every service we attend in this building, but I'm sure you will agree that this, both stark and beautiful as it is, might not be enough to make it the primary motive in our lives, our worship, our work, our families, our relationships.

Put it this way: is the presence of the sign of the cross - even by crossing ourselves at every appropriate liturgical moment - enough to ensure that the work of Jesus on the cross - what he accomplished for us as individuals, for his church, and for the world - is at the very heart of what we are every day as human beings made in the image of God?

Well it obviously isn't - see how empty this church is!  

If we are a people whose emblem is the cross, an instrument of torture that signifies the means through which, we claim, the world is redeemed - then do we fully understand, and own for ourselves, how central this is to our teaching? By this I mean: what we hear from the pulpit, what we teach our children, what we tell our workmates when they ask us why we go to church every Sunday rather than the shopping mall or the sports field.

All this by way of introduction. Are you sitting comfortably?

The question I want us to consider then, is this: how central to our Faith is an understanding of the efficaciousness of our Lord's passion and crucifixion? To put it another way: how central is our understanding of the atonement? if it is central, then how come it is the subject of our lectionary on only one occasion in the church year? (NB MIGHT BE A FEW MORE!) This might be because there are 60 subjects to be got through each year (that's 52 Sundays plus all the holy days) - including all the essential points of doctrine, all the parables and teachings of our Lord Jesus. This is assuming a view of doctrine that regards each point as if it were one of 60 books in a library, each of equal importance.

We might have a picture in mind of the foundation of our faith looking like a row of books all in a straight line; or as roots of the tree that represents our knowledge of our Faith - all 60 of them of equal size.

Instead, picture if you will a circle - a circle that represents both our church and our own faith, a circle that represents our world view, our Faith with a capital F. At the centre of the circle is  - a cross. 

Now consider this - the sign of the cross is not just an ecclesiastical symbol that can be made into an art object, but it is a representation of a real event. And here is what it represents: a single and cataclysmic event in human history, in the history of the universe, which changed the world. This event was God's intervention in time for all time - and although it had to happen at a point in history, it happens metaphysically throughout history. By this I mean that is repeated every time there is scientific advance for the real good of mankind, every time a parent forgives their child, every time a sinner repents (that's you and me by the way, not just a convicted criminal), every time we confess our sins and receive the forgiveness of our Father, every time a life is given to save another, every time the desert blossoms as the rose, every time ecology is put before monetarism, every time we commemorate at communion what Christ did for us on the cross, every time a musician plays a Bach piece on a solo string instrument to commemorate those who died at Auschwitz or the Twin Towers, every time a hand reaches out to the poor and displaced.

So how central is an understanding of the effect of our Lord's crucifixion? Is it more crucial, literally, than an understanding of the Trinity? Of the creation? Of the incarnation? Of the Virgin birth? Of our Lord's parables, signs and miracles? - common grace? - the second coming? - baptism? 

I know what you may be thinking: 'it's of equal importance' - but this attitude, healthy and balanced as it may seem, is why I chose this subject for this sermon. 

We may have become obsessed with 'balance' and 'fairness', to the exclusion of a real understanding of what makes the Christian Faith unique.

Put it this way: to whom would you introduce an enquirer first: the God who created the world - hey wait a minute, was it in 7 days or 7 ages, and hasn't evolution disproved the Bible's creation story anyway? Or maybe you'd introduce him or her to the God who through his Spirit works miracles today - but wait a minute, my mum's church prayed for healing for her sister who had terminal cancer, and it didn't work. Or maybe the God of justice - no, wait a minute, there's so much injustice in the world not being addressed - if God's almighty, why doesn't he intervene?

Now, unless your friend - or I might even be talking to you - has done a course of GCSE religious knowledge and has been fed all those lies about how the New Testament was written down so long after the event that we can't possibly know exactly what Jesus said - then an introduction to a person who claimed that he was to be tortured and executed instead of you and me - just might grab our friend's attention. Questions like this will likely follow: Why did he feel the need to die instead of me? What had I done that was so bad that I was condemned to death by it, to the extent that someone needed to take my place? What kind of a God is he or she anyway, who brings me into this world, only to tell me I need to be 'washed in the blood of the Lamb' before I can enter his presence when I die?

Well, we have an answer to that don't we - an answer of the kind that we don't have when we confront the creation versus evolution problem, or the nature of the Trinity, or what happens when we die! And in case this was never made clear to you in an Anglican cycle of lectionary themes, or more likely, if you were away that Sunday, the answer is this:

                  God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. 

It was God on the cross - He put Himself there - it was Him in the cradle, it was He who was hurried away from Herod's soldiers when it was read in the stars that the King of Kings had been born, it was the Creator of the Universe that gave his life ‘as a spotless lamb led to the slaughter’ - so God laid on Himself the iniquity of us all, if we really are to believe the orthodox Christian doctrine of the Incarnation.

So once again: how central is an understanding of the effect of our Lord's crucifixion?

Our Anglican Faith (so also our Roman Catholic Faith and our Eastern Orthodox Faith - as well as Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, Reformed, Pentecostal, Seventh Day Adventist, Free Evangelical) suggests that it is our key, central, literally CRUCIAL teaching - which is why the communion - the commemoration of our Lord's giving of his body and blood for our forgiveness - is the central activity of our main service, and this service more central than, say, evensong or matins – or Taize Worship – or even All-Age Informal Worship. This is why John Wesley urged new converts as well as older believers to attend communion as often as possible, not just once a month as the then dissenters and noncomformists were wont to do.

Now we come to the reason why I've chosen this subject: THIS CORE BELIEF OF CHRISTIANITY IS UNDER ATTACK

We have all experienced knocks against aspects of the Christian faith - things that for one reason or another have been controversial - miracles, the resurrection, the virgin birth, the' filioque clause', 'was Jesus really the Son of God'.

But we don't really encounter a knock against the purpose of the crucifixion, unless we have been in conversation with Muslims who say that the Koran teaches that Jesus was not really dead when he lay in the tomb, so although he suffered, he could never have actually sacrificed his life 'as an atonement for many'.

But apart from this overt knock, the arguments against have been very covert.

They range from mockery from the outside, to heresy from the inside.

They fall, for the purposes of my argument, under two headings: OWN GOALS and ATTACKS FROM THE OUTSIDE.



OWN GOALS (what we or our Christian brothers and sisters have done to harm the cause):

  • Exclusiveness: Emphasis on the cross to the exclusion of everything else eg neglecting to teach about the life of Jesus; ending every sermon with an altar-call; preaching on conversion so often that there is no space for ensuring that disciples grow in the faith

  • American tele-evangelism, and such cultural associations that tie an emphasis on the cross to evangelical fundamentalism (eg the Morris Cerulo crusade, with 'Your Debt Paid' as the slogan.)

  • Button-holing, Bible-bashing and all that conjures up

  • The invention of repugnant jargon eg penal substitution, which is the way some of our more brash Christian brothers & sisters choose to describe our Lord’s self-giving, 'greater love'; imagine how easily such a phrase can make one run a mile from this core teaching

  • Jargon generally - especially the use of Authorised Version phrases that mean nothing to the un-churched (there's another piece of jargon!) - not bothering to go the extra mile to find contemporary language that really communicates the Gospel to sincere enquirers - preaching to the Eskimos about the Lamb of God

  • Neglect: neglecting to ensure that believers are grounded in an understanding of the core doctrine of the Christian faith; relegating the teaching on the theology of the cross to one week of the year         

  • Teaching that the cross was only an example and not a sacrifice (from followers of Peter Abelard in the 12th century, to Steve Chalke in our century); you may hold this view yourself, for example you might regard talk of sacrifice as being out of date, without thinking through the consequences of this view

  • Over-familiarity with outward forms that masks a low level of understanding - eg it's so easy to make the sign of the cross, but what does it indicate within - not in terms of morality or spirituality, but in terms of understanding? Now, I'm not knocking the act of making the sign of the cross without first taking a degree in theology, but an explanation of the power and efficaciousness of the cross is something our daily Bible reading could inform, as well as frequent sermons; and something which our bookstall could supply in terms of books by such great thinkers and communicators as CSLewis, John Stott and Tom Wright.


Now we come to the other knock against this core teaching in our faith: 

ATTACKS FROM OUTSIDE (with so many own-goals, I hear you say, who needs attacks from outside?)

  • Paul Whitehouses' sketches in ‘The Fast Show’ that encourage the audience to laugh in ridicule at an evangelising couple who mention Christ's sacrifice on the cross at a socially awkward moment

  • Bishop John Shelby Spong, who teaches that we should throw away religion of every kind and start over, because God didn't create man, but rather, man created God - the ultimate conclusion of the so-called enlightenment

  • Islam, with its attack not on the resurrection, but in a devastatingly crafty way, removing the very possibility of Christ's sacrifice, by teaching that he was only in a coma

  • Richard Dawkins, who regards orthodox Christian teaching on the atonement as 'vicious, sado-masochistic and repellent'

  • Films/TV dwelling on the idea of the cross keeping the devil, or dracula, away – making an aspect of the truth into something mythical, unreal and entertaining


Now back to something positive: the power of the cross. 

We often hear of miracles, whether healings or dramatic conversion, as being through the 'power' of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, or the 'power' of the resurrection. But Jesus himself makes it clear that, although it is by his Spirit acting 2000 years later, the power to change is the power of his blood, poured out for us on the cross. Charles Wesley lets us know all about this as we sing his hymn 'And can it be that I should gain an interest in the Saviour's….' power? gifts? resurrection? No: 'an interest in the Saviour's … BLOOD.


We sing John Newton's hymn ‘Amazing Grace’ so often that we forget what it's about - the power to save a wretched slave trader, the power that led to freedom for slaves eventually all round the world. And what exactly was that power? ' 'twas Grace that brought me safely home' - not grace with a small 'g', as in being kind to animals and being polite; but the amazing Grace that Newton gets the world to sing about is the blood of our Saviour poured out as a sacrifice for us - as a free gift for us as individuals and for the whole world, a free gift that changes lives and governments and sets captives free. 

Is that what's in our mind when we sing that hymn? If it isn't, then that's why I'm standing here now delivering this homily!

Here are two contemporary theologians who neatly put it into perspective for us:

‘The Holy Spirit was not given so that we might enjoy the spiritual equivalent of a day at Alton Towers, but in order to take the victory of the cross into the world’ - Tom Wright, theologian, previously Bishop of Durham

‘At every Eucharist we pray that the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world may have mercy and grant us his peace.  It is through his mighty act of redemption, achieved once for all upon the cross and shown in his resurrection, that this happens. ….. the sin which brought about Christ's cross was overturned and made impotent in his resurrection’ - Alex Gordon, then Provost of Inverness Cathedral, thence Chaplain of Holy Trinity Geneva.

Some will be aware that I have omitted two equally important aspects of the church's teaching on the cross: the Victory of the Cross and the Example of the Cross. The reason for this is that for all the attacks mentioned relier, these aspects are not under fire in our socitey, and in the church today. But of course a full and balanced doctrine of the cross must take these equally into account during any church's yearly round of sermons and Bible studies.

Finally, and with this I've nearly finished: In a culture where our faith is under attack on a philosophical and intellectual level, you can see how important it is that we should not allow our understanding of the very core of our faith to be watered down either by outside accusations of being Medieval in our understanding, or by inside hang-ups that associate what we believe with something negative and undesirable.

So what can we take from this? might it be a new awareness of the need to know the core beliefs of our faith better?

I hope we'll be motivated to buy for ourselves some key books I've already mentioned, and to listen to two great pieces of music. Firstly, the books: two short, two long. The short ones are Mere Christianity by C S Lewis and Simply Christian by Tom Wright. The others are Basic Christianity by John Stott, and if we have time on our hands while on holiday, there's always John Stott's The Cross of Christ, which has study questions at the end. Anyway, they all lead us back to the New Testament with a fresh perspective, and through that it is my prayer that our faith will be invigorated and our lives filled in a new way with the power and protection of the blood of Christ. 


Recommended listening: (perhaps more powerful than recommended reading - but that's a whole other article!)

Handel's Messiah, and Bach's St.Matthew Passion. The former was, along with the preaching of John Wesley, influential in the great 18th century religious revival that stemmed the tide of the French Revolution as it tried to spill over into England. Similarly, there is historical evidence* that it was Bach's St.Matthew Passion that was much used by the Holy Spirit as the catalyst in a religious revival in Bremen in the late 19th century, challenging the presuppositions of the so-called 'Enlightnement'. The central teaching of both works is that on the cross Christ took on himself our sins and through that offers us redemption and transformation.

Key phrase in Bach: 'God took the debt from me, who should have paid it.'

Key phrase in Handel: '…the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all'

* see Hans Besch  J S Bach - Frömmigket und Glaube (Kassel 1950) - not translated into English yet.

9. Doctrinal Balance 

Consider watching a film of someone walking, but in slow motion.

More moments are spent on one foot (ie in a state of precarious imbalance) than on two (balanced, stable).

So also with keeping one thought at a time in our heads – eg the claim that we are a Trinitarian church - can never be manifest in any balanced way. It is impossible to keep in our thoughts AT THE SAME TIME God as a unity, and God as 3 persons, the Trinity. While we are focusing in our worship or teaching or prayers on one aspect of the Trinity, it is as impossible for our minds to focus on God as one, as it is to speak out loud the two phrases ‘Three in one’ and ‘one in three ‘ at the same time. God the Trinity has not made us that way.

So we have momentary inbalance in our thinking, as much as we do in our walking.

Another example of necessary imbalance, is the doctrine that Jesus is both 'very God' and 'the Son of Man', to use Matthew's phrase - or indeed being both 100% human and 100% divine. At one time we focus on his human frailty as he wept at the tomb of Lazarus, then we focus on his divinity as he raises the very same Lazarus from the dead. How long was the time span between these 2 events? There was manifestly time enough for some onlookers, perhaps even Mary herself, to doubt that he was divine and admire him for his humanity. Then at the resurrection of Lazarus, having had the elation of witnessing the empty tomb, Mary may well have forgotten his frailty and humanity as she now experienced his divinity with power over life and death.

It’s possible to get paranoid about balance – imagine a visitor from another planet landing here on a Sunday morning, and we’ve just begun a series of 3 sermons on the Trinity. You know where I’m going, don’t you….! Not wishing to labour the point, but this is important, and a better understanding of this aspect of how our minds work, might have prevented the reformer Jean Calvin from taking part in that dreadful episode that led to the execution in Geneva of a theologian who for a short time taught that God was not three but one - Michel Servet -  as we heard in Geneva at the first performance of Shauna Beesley’s opera of 2011, 'Le Procès de Michel Servet’  (The Trial of Miguel Servetus.)

In conclusion, I am not advocating a doctrinal free-for-all, or going along with the popular and very mistaken view that Anglicanism's proudly owned 'diversity' is in any way a diversity of dogma. It is now as important as it has ever been for orthodoxy to be maintained and systematically taught from church pulpit and home group armchair. The gift of discernment is much to be sought by our appointed and anointed leaders. But an understanding of how Christian doctrine is taught and understood, stage by stage, is needed among our clergy and lay ministers, and the use of paradox at every level of Bible teaching needs to be appreciated without watering down, or indeed, dumbing down important precepts. And believing one thing for a day, week, month, year - or even 'during my student days I used to believe......' - then believing its opposite - sometimes two sides of the same coin (a paradox) - might be part of what it is to be a normal, healthy but always growing, Christian human being.


I seem to remember that someone once used the phrases 'now I see through a glass darkly' and 'then I will see Him face to face' - in that order!




Jesus Help Me – AND KEEP ME SANE!

On requiring a high degree of musicianship of our worshipping musicians and singers.

We could argue till the cows come home as to whether this is first or second to being someone who ‘has a heart for worship’ (dreadful cliché, or am I the only one who thinks this?) – or who seeks to worship in Spirit and in truth (cliché? – or divinely ordained maxim?) – not who has ‘arrived’ as a true worshipper (who can be judge of this?) – but who seeks to be.


All singers and players have dynamics, with all its subtleties, as a vital constituent in our musical formation – some by learning the ropes, and some just have it naturally as a musical and ensemble sensibility. We require performers of melodic and chord instruments to do this primarily as part of their solo sensibility, but a close second is part of ‘fitting in’ with an ensemble – tuning wise, tone wise, rhythm wise, and most important of all, not dominating in volume.


We musicians and singers are all required to learn the skill of doing this.  A singer or instrumentalist who only has one dynamic – fff –  soon gets shown the door!


So it is madness to suggest that we tolerate such a member by saying ‘it’s part of who he /she is’, or ‘the instrument is just like that’ – and to compensate by buying them a mute – or a drum cage!


Fortunately, at my previous church, they have a percussionist who plays with wisdom and sensibility - always at an appropriate dynamic level to the overall sound - a true listener and never a dominator. In schools I have taught skillful drummers who appreciate that they must fit the volume level of their fellows, and play with a true ‘ensemble heart’ (have I just 'coined' another cliché?); and I have tolerated those who don’t. But I am not in agreement with those who suggest that we go the way of ‘amplification is the norm’ – as if that’s the contemporary worship culture and we must ‘get with the program’ if we are to win souls. No understanding of the Biblical norm of being counter-cultural here!


Now back to that ‘musicality’ versus ‘heart for worship’ paradox. It has been seen as an irreconsilable opposite, rather than a paradox, at notable times in church history. Among some influential groups in the Christian world, musicality is seen as a stumblingblock to ‘true worship’ – and we can all point to churches of great musical excellence but where there are declining congregation numbers, or where the gospel is not preached or lived out faithfully. 


Where am I going here? In ‘The Theology of Everything’, Keith Eyeons draws our attention to the great, inestimable beauty of God and of all that he created – which we as creators (in any branch of the arts, amateur and professional) seek to portray, reflect or re-create. 

So to create beauty in music is both a natural thing to want to do, as a soloist or as a sympathetic ensemble player/singer, and an instinctive response to God the Creator. In preparing music for worship, as a singer or player, this is the first thing in which we exercise ourselves. In our own practice (incidentally, how many of us PRACTISE singing our part in an anthem each week – at home? ) – we seek the best tone (after the right notes in the right order, that is) – and the best interpretation in dynamics, tuning, phrasing, ornamenting, word-painting.


So beauty is the first thing – if we don’t bother with this, we are not in the right place.


'Oh, but the heart must be right first' – I hear you say.


So let’s look at that – we have humbly submitted our gift to the group or choir. We have joined regularly in the prayer, and owned it for ourselves: ‘what we sing with our lips, may we believe in our hearts; and what we believe in our hearts, may we shew forth in our lives’. Whatever sins we commit, we humbly ask for Jesus’s forgiveness through his mercy and sacrifice. We have no degree in theology, our knowledge of the Bible is patchy, we are not in a house group – or maybe sporadic in our attendance. We don’t do 'Spring Harvest' or go on pilgrimages, we prefer read prayers to extempore prayers, we get worried when the sermon lasts longer than 10 minutes.

But we are submitting our wills, our hearts, our voices, our instruments – to the interaction with the Creator God as we recreate sounds of great beauty, that move people to tears, that make words persuasive so that they strike right to the heart.

If we go about this primary objective in a slapdash way, that would suggest that beauty is secondary to somethig else and not the most important thing, then it will not move to tears, it will not persuade – will not strike to the heart. It will draw attention to other considerations – out of tune, unbalanced, one part dominates, sloppy rhythm, 'something went wrong there', 'they obviously don’t know the piece well yet' – all distractions to worship, where a more carefully rehearsed approach would enhance rather than distract.


The slapdash approach has a tag among the more cynical of German church musicians: ‘Soli Deo Gloria’  - meaning that if it’s done in the 'right atitude', by people who are manifestly sincere believers (- and who is to be judge of that? – have we never been deceived by someone’s assumed sincerity?) – then musicality doesn’t matter – and all that goes with it in terms of right notes in the right order, dynamics, balance, tone, tuning, interpretation……


Now I also take issue with the 'excellence' crowd, by which I mean those who set excellence (as a striving for perfection) in performance, above spirituality, appropriateness and cultural relevance. The notion that there is perfection this side of eternity, is just illogical. However, there is to our ears a relative perfection that is of great beauty, and there is a beauty that is not perfect in any absolute sense, but it is still absolutely beautiful - to our human instincts. It is but a poor reflection of the beauty of God, but it is our goal to reflect the beauty of God in our lives – in our manner, our dealings with people, in our homes, in the way we decorate our room, the way we are - which includes: in our music. (Cue for a hymn: 'When in our music God is glorified' - words by Fred Pratt Green, to Stanford's tune 'Engelberg')


Not perfect - although we are on a pilrimage to that perfect City – and we won’t attain that perfect body until we die.

Last word with concert organist Peter Hurford, of late blessèd memory: “Perfection is unattainable,” he said, “for every man has his own ideal, but beauty and truth, though never found, are worthy of being sought.” Might have come from the book of Proverbs!

So: beauty, not perfection.

11. Taizé Music


On a visit to the Taize Community, I was very fortunate to meet Brother Xavier, a Belgian who had been there for three years as a Singing Brother.  I was armed with a few questions—and here is an extract, with the answers paraphrased from his broken English.


Chris: There is something special here, when two thousand young people are gathered in a mood of silent expectancy, to the clear, clean tones of a Baroque organ playing some Pachelbel, Bach or Buxtehude fugue, followed by a full three minutes’ silence; then a brother chants an Allelulia, to which everyone responds in rich harmony, without announcement or visible leader.

Brother Xavier: We learn to sing in harmony and to ‘carry our part’ at the daily practice, to which everyone is invited.  About once a week we use other instruments in the chants, if the players are good enough.   Otherwise, it’s all unaccompanied.  

Chris:Why do you sing the chants so many times?

Brother Xavier: Because some of the time you can sing, and some you can pray without singing.   We always write it down and rehearse it together.  

Chris: The style of your music doesn’t feature any of the elements common with today’s youth music; no percussion instruments, blues harmony or persistent beat, no great complexity of rhythm or simultaneity.

Brother Xavier:In another community those things might be appropriate.  But ours is a community of peace and reconciliation, and our musical style fits this.  Also we do not have sentimental music.  We try to use only music that has objectivity, so that you can set any prayer to it.    Baroque harmony and Bach chorales seem good for this.

Chris:Surely young people become bored with this!

Brother Xavier:No, we don’t find this.   But we must admit that we get bored!  Visitors come for one day, one week, a fortnight, and they attend three services a day and sing one hundred of our songs.  But there are not many more than these hundred so we who are here all year sing the same songs a lot!

Chris:Has the style of your music changed over the years?

Brother Xavier:  Our style has been the same for a long time.   But in a few years, who knows it might change.   But that doesn’t matter—we don’t plan ahead.   The Lord teaches us to live in the present, and not worry what style to use tomorrow.


To hear some Taize chants, visit

12. BEYOND ENTERTAINMENT: Music and healing



We all know that, beyond preference – beyond mere like and dislike - there is much music that affects our mood. The belief in the healing qualities, physical and psychological, of certain musics goes back centuries, even millennia. Examples can be found in the Biblical account of the young David soothing King Saul’s spirit with his harping, and in Plato and Aristotle, accounts of the different mind-conditioning qualities of the Greek modes.


Seated at the pianola, pumping away at the age of eight, I can clearly remember the emotions of excitement and elation as the final C major emerges at the start of the finale to Beethoven's 5th Symphony.


Listening to the moment in Wagner’s Tristan where the 6th note of the scale features at the climax as an appoggiatura – I’m sure you will agree that it creates a rather different kind of excitement!


The stuff of much late Renaissance and Baroque music is suspension and resolution; building tension on the 4th note of the scale and then resolving on to the third.


Then there’s what the Germans called Affektenlehre: a thoroughly worked-out doctrine of how music affects the emotions – a well established theory in the 18thcentury, and instantly demonstrable.


But what of the physical effects of music?

Again, some aspects are easily demonstrable eg low frequencies causing vibrations that can be felt more than heard, and when loud, can be harmful; and high frequencies at high volume equally harmful, which certain viola players have recently made a matter for litigation!

Meanwhile, down a blind alley, there are those YouTube videos that claim a healing effect for certain frequencies – only to find that they play a single tone, often more a sine wave than any discernable tone colour. The less gullible are not impressed!

But there is an experience that is lost to those who have been brought up on equal-tempered keyboard instruments (which means most of us in the Western world) – and that is the well-tempered triad, so tuned that there are no beats (or as few beats as possible), and it is completely (or relatively) still. This experience was impressed on me as I practised on the Chaplain Organ at the original Royal College of Organists building in Kensington Gore – which had been tuned to Werckmeister III. The triad of F major was so euphonious that I couldn’t let it stop – I must have listened to it for a good three minutes before practising my ARCO exam pieces.


Since then, whenever I have encountered ‘just intonation’ (pure tuning of thirds and fifths), I have found it to be a memorable experience in a sea of imperfect, make-do tuning – and this applies to performances of keyboard, string and choral music too. The best example is just before an organ is tuned, when the reed stops can produce many ‘out of tune’ chords when played alone – and among them one can always find some ‘low’ major thirds and ‘perfect’ 5ths where there are no beats – and one or two of them will coincide to produce a perfect triad in ‘just intonation’. Because of the loudness and brightness of the reed sound, the sheer physicality of the experience is inevitably and naturally heightened. The abiding sensation is one of euphoria – a very pleasant sensation which is not the same as an equal-tempered triad on the same stop or tone colour, however beautifully voiced it might be.


Now the significant thing, for this argument, is what a perfectly tuned triad does to the listener in a physical sense – not just to the auditory equipment, or to the brain’s emotional response to pleasant stimuli, or even in a psycho-somatic sense -  but to the body in its entirity – flesh, bones, nerves, organs: the lot – for there is of course a physical effect to be felt in response to loud, low vibrations eg from a 32 foot Open Wood pipe. But a quieter, even an imperceptible vibration, will by degree also have some effect, however small in comparison.

By this I am referring to ‘difference tones’.


This is the experience that wherever two tones are played together, they produce a lower ‘ghost’ note that is quieter than the two tones being played – and this happens to a greater or lesser extent to any two tones at any frequency – low or high, loud or soft – the ghost note or ‘difference tone’ is always there – whether our auditory/sensory equipment picks it up or not.

This is something we have all experienced, possibly even without knowing it. Just two examples: the slightly unpleasant low buzz we experinece when we get too close to the referee’s whistle (if it is a 2-tone whistle); also the even more unpleasant feeling we get when a class of descant recorders is playing in thirds, in a classroom with bare walls and lots of closed windows. Quite a throb, as I remember!


This last phenomenon can easily be produced on a pipe organ or an electronic keyboard: choose a flute, recorder, or better still an ocarina, or sine wave. Play two notes close to each other at or near the top of the keyboard, with your ear near the pipes or the speaker. As we progress from a semitone to a tone then minor third then minor third etc, we soon become aware of a third sound, that ghost note, which is a sound well below the two notes we are playing – which gets higher and higher, the wider the interval.

If this doesn’t work for you, then the same can be done with two descant recorders – played either by two players, or even by the one player. Start by playing the second C (3 octaves above the keyboard ‘middle C’) on one recorder, with C# on the other. While the first player sustains the note C, the other plays sucessively higher notes: D, Eb, E, F, F#, G.

The same experience of hearing the lower ‘ghost note’ or difference tone, will occur to both players, and anyone within ear-shot. The ghost note will get successively higher, strangely starting 5 octaves lower (the C two octaves below middle C) when C and C# sound together, changing to the next octave (an octave below middle C) when C and D are played together, reaching middle C when C and E sound together, and the octave above middle C when C and G sound together. This is the octave below the lowest note being played, thus producing audibly the three notes c, c1, e1 and g1 - even though only two notes are actually being played.





This is called a ‘difference tone' simply because, if you take the frequency of the highest tone, and subtract the frequency of the lower tone, the resulting figure is the number that exactly corresponds to the frequency of the ‘ghost note’ you are hearing. It is the mathematical difference, in an exact sense, between the two real tones that have been chosen.

Now the ghost note will be one that we can actually sing, a definite sound, not a figment of the imagination. The vibrations of that note are there in reality, in the sound environment. But they may not correspond to exact notes of the equal tempered keyboard you may be using – unless some ‘unequal’ tempering has been done, that is. They may sound slightly ‘out of tune’.

The perfect major third, one where there are no beats (flatter in fact than what we all know as an equal-tempered major third) will produce a difference tone that is exactly two octaves below the lowest tone being played. It is an exact fit – which results in a more pleasant, well-tuned, literally ‘well-tempered’ effect on our ears, our psyche, our emotions – and, I submit, on our body – flesh, skin and bone, as well as nerves and the brian’s perceptory cells.

So also with the perfectly tempered fifth – which produces a difference tone exactly ONE octave lower than the lowest tone being played.

For a more scientific explanation (with examples you can listen to) visit the Wikipedia article on ‘Beat (Acoustics)’.


Now you can see where this is going – the more perfectly aligned the notes that are being heard, the more pleasant, euphoric, calming, soothing, and, I submit, HEALING, the experience will be.

And so, there you have it – music and healing. Perfectly tuned chords (just intonation, tempering) that can have an effect on the listener of altering their state to a greater or lesser extent. Some will not want to stop there, and may want to take the argument into such considerations as ‘music of the spheres’ and metaphysical considerations – all well and good, but not for now. The writings of Augustine of Hippo, Andreas Werckmeister, Johannes Kepler and Michael Praetorius will occupy us another time.





So what of performances that are not so well tuned as to produce perfectly resonating  difference tones? The answer is, that there are many more emotions that music is expected or designed to affect in listener and performer (as in Affektenlehre: the ‘doctrine of the affects’): excitement, elation, pathos, sadness, happiness, melancholy…. ; and these are emotions that can be affected by mode, melody, rhythm, dynamics and articulation, as well as harmony. Every day we can hear superb performances that have all these constituents, without drawing attention to tuning and temperament.





So in what kind of music DOES temperament actually matter?


The first answer that comes to mind is: every Classical or Romantic string quartet we hear, and we have all heard sensitively tuned chords in a string quartet that wow us momentarily. So also with any ensemble where tuning can be altered ‘on the fly’ by the performer (so not any equal temperament keyboard music then!)

But supremely, ‘just intonation’ matters in a recorder consort, a viol consort, and of course a vocal ensemble – as far as musical forces are concerned.


Then in terms of musical style and genre, it really does matter in Renaissance and Baroque polyphony – when performed by one-to-a-part groups, or chamber choirs that are small enough for individuals to realise their own potential for affecting the tuning. In larger choirs this is less possible, and in groups that habitually use vibrato without discernment, simply impossible.


Now I am not wanting to denigrate performances we have all heard, of music by Byrd and Tallis, by church choirs, cathedral choirs and chamber choirs, where careful attention to tone, blend and balance have produced some superb performances that have enraptured us, to a greater or lesser extent. But the same pieces performed by small enembles, supremely by one-to-a-part groups like Stile Antico, Voces8, The Ora Singers and Heinavanker, have simply taken the experience to another level, and have elicited from their audiences such responses as ‘moved me to tears’, soothed, healed, ‘my pulse comes down’, ‘transported to heaven’* – and so on (just scroll down the comments below each performance by these groups on YouTube and you will see what I mean; some such comments are included in Appendix 2).

So also with performances of Renaissance and Baroque music on organs and harpsichords. The same piece by the same performer on the same instrument – tuned once to equal temperament, then for a second recording of the same piece with the same instrument tuned to a tempered tuning (such as Werckmeister III, Kirnberger, Young, Valotti, or Mean Tone) – will transport the listener to a new level of delight, ravishment, calm, soothing, and even healing – after listening long enough to get accustomed to the new sounds (which often sound out of tune for a while until the new sound-scape is embedded in the psyche – or at least, into the auditory system).




Perhaps this is why some of my junior school pupils respond enthusiatically to the ‘triads’ warm-up exercise I often use. In three groups, each singing a different note of the triad, the combined effect is at the very least harmonious and pleasant. The aim is to build tone (singing with a round-shaped mouth), balance, concentration, confidence, and a sense of how tuning matters. But there is often a crowning glory to the outcome: when I choose individuals to work in threes and construct a triad, the occasional product (admittedly by chance) -  is a perfect triad in just intonation. 

The look of surprise in their eyes is something to be treasured!

But what is more telling for this article, is what they say about the experience when I ask them ‘What did you feel?’. Respones usually range from ‘wierd’ to ‘calm’; but on one memorable occasion an articulate eleven-year-old actually used the word ‘euphoric’. 

Enough said!

* also: ‘gives me comfort to go on living’, ‘positive effect on my health’, ‘unbelievably beautiful’, ‘beyond beautiful! It touches my soul deeply’, ‘my 90th playing’, ‘the perfect remedy, after a hectic day, sheer bliss.’




Music Therapy in a Russian Clinic

Michael Gordon is a medical doctor who believes, in a very practical and empirical way, in the use of music as an integral part of his healing program. He leads the burns unit in the First Clinic in the Russian city of Izhevsk, and as part of his music therapy program, he invited the choir I directed, back then in 2014, from Holy Trinity Church Geneva, to present a 30-minute recital in the main reception area of his clinic, to some 60 of his patients. We were 12 singers, and the program included Tallis’s ‘O Nata Lux’, Gibbons’s ‘Short’ Magnificat and Stanford’s ‘Beati Quorum via’. Apparently music recitals feature as a weekly occurence in his clinic.



Sample witness statements from YouTube



The connotation "Healing music" has a reason. In general, music can have healing effects if the following conditions are met: (1) The composition and arrangement are of an otherworldly quality; (2) The performing musicians were in perfect flow during the recording; (3) The engineering and production of the music are experienced to be suitably inspired by the composition and recording; (4) The listener feels invited to, so to speak, "letting go & letting come" and become immersed in the musical experience. I feel this piece of music certainly meets the first three criteria; the fourth, of course, is entirely up to you. 



How much better this marvellous private music sounds one to a line.


very soothing


Truly healing voices. 


are there any words to describe music as beautiful as this. Thomas Tallis wrote music centuries ago, and here we are marveling over it, quite incredible.


This reached into my soul and brought out tears. I don't know what I'm crying about but here I am...

I am only 13 but this piece is one of the most magnificent pieces of music I have ever come across! I love Tallis and this has got to by far be my favourite arrangement. Absolutely divine

A beautiful deeply moving cry of faith, my soul is singing with them.

one doesn't just listen to this, one experiences it.  it washes over the mind and feeds the soul!

So amazingly soul-soothing singing ...

13. PROGRAM NOTE to my Chorale Partita: Jesu meine Freude

(score availble through the Compositions page of this website)

Sample text and literal translation of the chorale (Hymns Old and New has a reasonably singable paraphrase)

Jesu, meine Freude,
meines Herzens Weide,
Jesu, meine Zier!
Ach wie lang, ach lange,
ist dem Herzen bange 
und verlangt nach dir!
Gottes Lamm, mein Bräutigam,
außer dir soll mir auf Erden
nichts sonst Liebers werden.

Jesus, my joy,
my heart's pasture,
Jesus, my jewel!
Ah, how long, so long
has my heart suffered
and longed for you!
Lamb of God, my bridegroom,
besides You shall, on earth,
nothing be dearer to me.


This work, a theme-and-variations after Bach’s models, had its inception during my year of study at the Berliner Kirchenmusikschule in 1974. Along with all final-year students, I was challenged by my Liturgisches Orgelspiel tutor Renate Zimmermann, to improvise a 4-movement partita on a chorale theme and perform it in a concert. Choosing my favourite chorale, I effectively composed the variations in my head, never being allowed to write anything down. Several nights of being locked in church produced the first performance of this partita in June 1974. It was not until taking early retirement from schoolteaching that I freed up enough time to work on a further two movements in 2013 (‘Aria’ and ‘Choral im Bassus’).


Next to the Passion Chorale, Jesu meine Freude is the chorale Bach returned most frequently to, in making harmonisations and arrangements. The melody is by Johann Crüger  (1653), the text by Johann Franck (1650).


In terms of theology, it is devoid of any doctrinal content, but it is a very direct and moving love song: to God, in the person of Jesus.


On the surface, it seems to stand within the stream of Pietist literature. This is a common misconception, based on the assumption that Lutheran orthodoxy, or any orthodoxy of whatever church’s particular emphasis of Christian doctrine, is by its very nature dry and cold - lacking the warmth and fervour of anything evangelical. 


This misconception has been highlighted by Robin Leaver in his discussion of orthodoxy versus Pietism in Bach's chosen texts.


At the very heart of all Christian orthodoxy is the God who gave his life in place of ours, as a sacrifice - the Atonement, the Act of Redemption which is celebrated, re-enacted, made a memorial of at every eucharist, mass, communion, Lord’s Supper or ‘breaking of bread’. Our total indebtedness to God for this ultimate act of love, in the person of the crucified Jesus, is the grounds of our love for Him and for our neighbour. The extent of our dwelling on this in our devotional literature is commonly and perhaps narrowly seen as the measure of our Evangelical zeal. This is perhaps why the lively and warm orthodoxy of Lutheran poets Johann Gerhardt (the Passion Chorale 'O sacred head sore wounded'), C.F.Henrici (libretto of the devotional arias in the StMatthew Passion), and Johann Franck (the author of Jesu meine Freude) often persuades us, mistakenly, into placing their output within the Evangelical/Pietist Movement. 

To add wonderfully to all the confusion, it was the orthodox Gerhardt who contributed many hymn texts to Crüger’s Praxis Pietatis (‘The Practice of Piety’, 1656). 


The same confusion arises when we associate the warm and fervent hymns of Charles Wesley exclusively with the Evangelical Movement, non-conformist churches, and with Low Church expressions of worship. Charles remained a high-church Anglican to his death, (not many people know this!) despite his brother breaking away to found the Methodist movement. This makes his hymns as much part of the Anglican tradition as those of the Anglican priest John Newton (Amazing Grace, How sweet the name of Jesus sounds) and the Reformed Church Calvinist preacher and poet Joachim Neander (Praise to the Lord the almighty, All my hope on God is founded).

Incidentally, many of the most warmly devotional of Bach's cantata texts continue to elude the musicologists, as their origins remain untraced. It should not seem inconceivable to us, though, to suggest that Bach could have written these himself. He had the means, in terms of his literary background, and of his own warm and sincere faith grounded in Lutheran orthodoxy. The evidence for this is now irrefutably laid out in his own marginal notes to his study Bible, now in Concordia Theological Library in St.Louis, Missouri, US – and at last available in facsimile.

Since this is not meant to be a sermon, you are now left to ponder these salient facts and to reach your own conclusions, as you let the music drift over you. (sample pages from the score can be found on the Compositions page of this website)

1.  Choral




Above is the theme for this set of 5 variations. It is simply harmonised in 4 parts according to the rules that Bach followed, and in which we many of us trained in our A-level music lessons! The melody is the older form taken from the Evangelisches Kirchengesangbuch, not the later version Bach used. 

2. Orgel-choral: The theme is used as a cantus firmus in the soprano voice, supported by quaver movement in the lower voices.

3. Trio: We now hear the chorale in the tenor voice, highlighted with a reed stop. An embellished version of the first line of the chorale is the starting-point for the upper voice, supported by a walking bass (in this case, more of a running bass!) played by the pedals.

4. Aria: The chorale tune is again in the highest voice, with some migration to lower vaoices, this time heavily embellished, over and under a two-part accompaniment.

5. Cantus Firmus im Bassus: Now unchanged, the chorale is played by the pedals in long notes, with a two-part texture woven above it.

6. Fuge: The subject of this final fugal movement is loosely derived from the opening of the chorale melody.






It is treated to a standard fugal exposition, with entries in the order soprano, tenor, alto, bass. An extended episode brings us to the middle entries in the major key, with a hidden quote from the 'Gute nacht' movement of Bach's motet. We begin to hear inverted entries, as the section closes with superimposed rectus and inversus versions of the subject (ie upside down and right way up). The final section features rectus, inversus, stretto and augmentation - interrupted by that irresistible Neapolitan chord visited so much by both Bach and Vivaldi. The coda combines all versions of the subject in a concentrated final outburst.


Are you still with me? Never mind if you aren't, because the aim of a fugue is to engage you in a musical journey (a flight, even, since the Italian fugare means ‘to fly’) - that involves the soul as well as the mind. As Bach intended: ‘.....that this results in full-sounding harmony to the glory of God and the delight of the soul. The ultimate goal of all music should be nothing but the glory of God and the renewal of the senses (‘rekreation des Gemuthes’). When this is not taken into consideration there is no true music, but a devilish din and droning' (‘ein teuflisches Geplaerr und Geleier’).

NOTE: Johann Franck (1618 – 1677) is not to be confused with the controversial Pietist preacher August Hermann Francke (1663 – 1727)

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This may be a significant part of the answer, along with other provisions planned and already in place:








  • Engage chidren and young people in a morning of expert tuition and ensemble playing on an instrument they can take home

  • See how they become more socially engaged

  • Give them a new sense of purpose

  • Witness the positive effect on their intellectual development (YES – intellectual: not just pleasure, recreational and social – see link to scientific proof below)

  • Dispel the elitist tag that musical engagement has acquired: make it open to all regardless of ability to pay, and regardless of the kind of school they attend




  • Premises

  • Frequency & regularity

  • Professional tutors of one-to-one, small groups, and ensembles

  • Volunteer organisers

  • Instruments

  • Timescale

  • Funding

  • Research



St.John’s Church, hall and AtOne building? The church could be used for ensembles when hall not available on Saturday mornings, eg for WLTDO. If organised independently of the church, hire fees would be payable.


Frequency & Regularity

Once a month to start with, then weekly when it takes off?

My view is that it needs to be weekly for continuity, from the start – but some ensemble activities could be monthly or fortnightly. The goal: a 4-way involvement: instrumental ensemble, vocal ensemble (essential!), instrument lesson, theory/aural class.


Professional tutors

One-to-one tutors, and ensemble coaches: both needed from the start, vocal and instrumental

Ensembles eventually envisaged: 

Kindermusic for 2 to 4 yr olds

Suzuki Violin Class for 2 to 4 yr olds

Orff Instrument Circle for 5 to 7 yr olds (glocks, xylophones etc)

Childrens Choir (8 to 11)

Youth Choir (12-18)

String Ensemble

Wind Ensemble 

Brass Band


Recorder Consort

Early Music Ensemble

African Drumming Group

Big Band Jazz Orchestra

Rock Bands

Any folk/ethnic instrument group based on community demand.


Start-up ensembles (being realistic here!): 

String Ensemble

African Drumming Group 

@One Choir 

(tailor-made to those that turn up? Or set up to anticipate three, advertise in hope, with tutors ready?)


Some tutors associated with St.John’s church could be approached initially.

The best must be sought, through advertising and head-hunting – could include some outstanding recently qualified music students.

Student undergraduate teachers could be included, but only if under a mentoring scheme …. and not because they might be cheaper!


Volunteer organisers

Parents mainly, since they will be required to bring their children and stay with them.

But some concerned members of the community who share the vision might be included.



Need to source from second hand shops, loan schemes, hire-to-buy schemes and donations.



10 years for the full effect to be realised in the community (ie when the 4 year-olds in the Kindermusic class become 14 year olds fully engaged in one of the bands or orchestras, going on courses, attaining leadership potential – and significant reduction in number of young people hanging around aimlessly in the park!)

5 years for the effect to be felt in any real way in terms of quality ensembles, individuals to reach the upper grades

2 years for ensembles to reach a stage where they can perform publicly and attract children and youth to say ‘I want to be part of that’

6 months to become established and for families and all school pupils to know about it



Essential – cannot, and must not, rely on subs or fees, though donations invited from those who can.

Possible sources: 

Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation

Arts Council England

Heritage Lottery Fund

(there are many others!)



Projects up and running:


B&NES Music Hub (fee-paying):


El Sistema England:

InHarmony projects report and case studies:

The Big Noise (El Sistema Scotland):

The Nucleo Project:


Example of a church-run project:


Example of a cathedral-run project:


Scientific evidence of the benefits of musical training for all:








Call a meeting for all concerned.

If interested, email:

07950 583459






These are reflected in the congregation at St.John’s Keynsham, particularly in the choir, which has a huge age gap between the ages of 11 and 26. But also in the bands, where the gap is even wider: only one person under 40 out of a pool of some 24 musicians and singers.


This is being addressed at St.John’s through chorister recruitment (mainly through St.John’s School), and through the choral scholarship scheme, currently being set up.


HOWEVER, there remains the same gap in instrumental ability, reflected in:

  • lack of young instrumental players coming forward when we have and orchestra or ‘Elastic Band’

  • low numbers attaining higher grades, or even Grade 5

  • low instrumental ability among the children and young people associated with St.John’s altogether!

  • low level, (and in some cases total lack of) instrumental provision in schools


This might also be reflected in the low number of instrumental teachers living and/or teaching in and around Keynsham, but easy transport to teachers and music centres in Bath and Bristol would render this as an insignificant factor. However, travel to and from an instrument lesson, with a parent now legally compelled to stay, is a possible and likely tipping point when the enthusiasm wains.


So there is a disastrous lack of higher-grade playing in Keynsham, and with it a low level of excellence among local young musicians. 


This is quite apart from the affordability of lessons, so it is not a social/class factor, no matter how widely it is perceived as such.


In nailing down the particulars of the problem, it would be necessary to gain statistics as to how many children are having school, private and music centre lessons, how many are in ensembles and choirs, and of these, how many are likely to give up after a year, and how many are motivated enough to procede beyond grade 5.


It would also be most enlightening to send a questionnaire to parents of young musicians, asking what motivated them to encourage their children to learn an instrument, and what would galvinise them to encourage their children to make the effort to reach beyond grade 5. So many parents have said to me that they would let their child give up once they reached grade 5, if they didn’t enjoy it. What message does that give to our young as to the vital part musical training plays in our growth as human beings – intellectually, socially and culturally?


In the present cultural and political climate, the expected motivation (based on what I hear very often), is ‘to give them a release’, ‘enjoyment’, ‘relaxation’, ‘channel their creativity’; very few would so far say ‘because it will help them in their maths’, ‘enlarges their intellectual capacity’, or even ‘increases their memory capacity’. As research becomes more publicised in the media, more and more parents and school heads are realising this. I wonder if it will lead to re-diverting that extra money that went to English and Maths, that was originally ear-marked for music and the arts!


Our own education, based on principles of the so-called ‘enlightenment’, has led us to believe, along with the very influential 18th century musicologist Charles Burney, that music is an ‘innocent luxury…… unnecessary to human existence’. This belief, consciously or not, has given many a school head the excuse not to fund music, to close down A-level and even GCSE music provision, and not to push for the government-promised instrumental provision when it doesn’t materialise!!


B&NES Music Hub now has a truly enlightening and potentially galvinising clause in its manifesto for provision in Keynsham (and Bath and the whole of the county):


“…..many are unaware of the numerous recent studies that have shown that regular engagement with music from a young age leads to intellectual, social and personal development. Clear links to language development and the development of literacy, numeracy and concentration and listening skills have been recognised.” 

… from B&NES Music Hub website:


Would that the funds were forthcoming from central government to back this up!


So what are you waiting for?


Let’s meet, discuss, plan, galvinise and activate.


Chris Thomas  04.11.2019


Please don’t hesitate to contact me at

07950 583459



- how to account for them in the light of the spiritul and the material – and how orthodox Christianity accounts for them.


The standard model current in society is that of the cosmic watchmaker: seeing Divine influence in the creation of the work of art, but not in the development and re-creation of it. Thus God is the inspirer of Tallis’s 40 part motet, Allegri’s Miserere and Bach’s B minor Mass; but is not involved in their subsequent manifestation, development, performance, or the effect it has on generations of listeners. 


Disappointingly, in all these cases, the received, traditional understanding of their creation, how they originally came into being, and how they came to our contemporary ears, is far from legendary. No young Mozart transcribing from memory in Allegri’s case, and no Papal ban; no complete first performance in either a Lutheran or even a Catholic mass in Bach’s case; and no liturgical opportunity in Tallis’s case.


How legends surround a work of art is a matter of great interest: articles, books and even movies – the totality of which has all been very useful in the received orthodoxy of the narrative of the history of music, which places ‘landmarks’ in our understanding – thus offering us the narrative we all learned at school, conservatoire and university. Then there are the subsequent articles and books, of greater or lesser interest, puncturing the myths and re-writing the narrative.


The usefulness of legends surrounding works of art to political regimes has and is still manifest for all to see – from Hitler’s re-writing of art history, based in turn on Wagner’s ‘Das Judentum in der Musik’ of 1869:


… to the East German communist regime’s assimilation of Bach as national hero (ignoring the totality of his choral music, 99% on religious texts).


As to Divine intervention in performances of a work, be it a child in his or her first concert, (or even in the act of practising their instrument); or St.Paul’s Cathedral choir making a commercial recording of Allegri’s Miserere under the dome – it would not be every Christian tradition that would see the hand of God here. Indeed, the belief in the activity of the Divine in everyday life is viewed with suspicion in some Christian circles, as if it’s borderline fanatical.


However, that is indeed where I am going with this article.

Allegri’s Miserere – a work of many revisions


Take the performances we have all heard that drew us into the beauty of Ivor Atkins’s 1951 re-creation of Allegri’s Miserere – whether in Latin or English. Without the soaring top C, approached by a rising fourth then magically descending by step, I maintain that we would hardly have noticed the piece, save for its liturgical usefulness in setting Psalm 51 for an appropriate liturgy on Ash Wednesday or in Holy Week. It will disappoint many to hear that this musical device was not part of the original composition. Allegri, moreover, based his setting on an earlier model.


‘The result is strangely beautiful, and is probably here to stay. It is, after all, one of the most popular pieces of sacred music. However, it is neither a representation of the performance practice of the Sistine Chapel choir, nor a true reflection of how the pieces was ever sung there.’ Quoted from Ben Byram-Wigfield 2016 in Ancient Groove Music:


But this in no way detracts from the effect on the listener, of something that has developed over the course of many years and many revisions by many people (including a notable transposition mistake by none other than Felix Mendelssohn!). The comments on YouTube to performances by Voces8 and the Tallis Scholars bear witness to this effect, and in so doing, I maintain, bear witness to Divine agency: God the Trinity acting in our daily lives in beauty and love – what Jean Calvin called ‘Common Grace’.


The great Japanese conductor Masaaki Suzuki puts this very clearly in his interview with Damian Thompson in The Spectator: ‘Calvin saw music as part of God’s creation in this world, part of the wonderful grace that He has sent for us,’ says Suzuki. ‘It doesn’t need to be sung as worship to glorify God — and it doesn’t lose its spiritual power because the performers or the audience aren’t Christians’.


Bach’s Mass in B minor – a mere job application?


For most of us, we encounter this great work in a single performance – so long that sometimes there is even an interval. I doubt that any of my readers have experienced a liturgical performance of the whole mass – it takes 1 hour 30 minutes – just the music, without prayers, sermons and hymns!


But even when divorced from the liturgy, its sheer beauty and tremendous proportions are indeed legendary. But what of a unified ‘work of art’, composed as one single intention or commission, however long it might have taken? No, this is in no way the kind of scenario that one might imagine for Mozart or Beethoven’s great operas, concertos and symphonies, some equally legendary to many of us.


The first section Bach composed was the Sanctus, some eleven years before he began work on the Kyrie and Gloria. Then other parts of the work were compiled from other cantata works with entirely different texts, over the remaining 17 years of his life.

Moreover, the most monumental parts of this mass, the Kyrie and Gloria, were completed as a job application to Augustus III, King of Poland – during a period of mourning for his father Augustus II. Initially ignored, the application was eventually successful: as a non-resident Court Composer.


So does this detract from the ‘greatness’ of this work? I would maintain that, had it been a quarter of its length, thus useful as a liturgical mass, it would not have found its way into the concert hall (as its gradual reception through the curiosity and agency of CPEBach and Felix Mendelssohn had ensured its endurance beyond the 18th century). Moreover, its spiritual message would have remained within the four walls of the church, and not have enriched the lives of countless millions of concert-goers and domestic listeners.


For a subsequent article I will offer you a summary of the current research on Tallis’s monumental motet of 40 voice parts – which seems to have been an answer to a challenge.



(Well, my conclusion anyway!)

Less legendary? No – MORE legendary, if we take on board the science and truth of God’s interaction in history, culture, and in our concert going, liturgical performances and general musical encounters in our day to day lives – whether or not we believe Calvin’s ‘Common Grace’. 


I would add, furthermore, that the church’s own rejection of major works of liturgical music in favour of something more pragmatic, or, day I say it, easier – has resulted in it being gifted to the wider world. 


We could say that, where the church has been reticent in spreading the Gospel, the Almighty has taken the first step. Thus we are used to hearing concert performances of Bach’s St.Matthew Passion, where subsequent church authorities in ‘enlightenment’ Germany considered it too long, and too distasteful in its focus on our Lord’s suffering.


Thomas Tallis: Spem in Alium - a motet in 40 voice parts


However we might imagine how this monumental work came into being, it stands as a testament to man’s potential to conceive works of supreme beauty and ingenuity.


It stands head and shoulders above not only every composition in Europe at the time – not only in its vocal scale (works in 50 parts had been attempted, as well as others in 40 parts) – but on a level with Bach’s ‘Art of Fugue’ in complexity an unfathomable richness and, some would say, perfection.


And if the sheer beauty of hearing a good choir singing it is sufficient to impress us, there is another layer of wonder: numerical significance, as is the case in many of Bach’s works. The number 14 occurs everywhere in Bach, and so too with Tallis: the number 68 – in each case, the sum of the numerical alphabet for each of their surnames. The motet is 68 bars long, that is, 68 ‘longs’ (twice the length of a ‘breve’).


Appendix to Article 1: Richard Alison's Psalmes of David 1599: dedication to the Countess of Warwick

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