Wednesday, March 22, 2006


Probably my best contribution to Nick's new series.

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence - arr. by Gustav Holst

This is the arrangement I learned as an 11-year-old tenor in a (can you believe - Catholic) choir of men and boys directed by Reuel Gifford. Yes, I did say tenor! Back then I had never even heard of the hymn, let alone the choral arrangement. Now, as many musicians know, the hymn tune of choice is the French tune, PICARDY. The text comes from the 4th Century Liturgy of Saint James. Many probably know the arranger of this edition I'm reviewing - Gustav Holst - as composer of The Planets, and the hymntune THAXTED (which is Jupiter in The Planets).

The Holst arrangement is for SATB with accompaniment. It calls for piano, but sounds really good on the organ. The end result is quite mysterious, especially in the beginning. Don't rush it. I've heard the basic hymn itself often played at quarter note=120 or more. Take this one at 100 or less (preferably less - maybe low to mid 90's - tops!).

You start with a group of sopranos or a soprano solo (if you have a boychoir, a solo treble would sound really nice). Keep the organ light - probably a very soft string celeste, no pedal.

The second verse is sung by a baritone or group of baritones. The organ takes a bit of a deeper, darker tone here (add 8' flute or geigen to existing registration). Here you could use a well-blending 16' pedal on the bottom note. The excitement builds on the organ with the last line of the verse: his own self for heav'nly food.

Then boom! The third verse is sung a capella (less a near staccato quarter note chord on the very first beat of the verse). It starts as an SAAT harmony (yes, the alto section divides and the bass section sits out the first couple of lines), then goes into SATB. You start to hear the organ on the last few bars.

Now, the final verse. You start in unison, and start playing on brighter stops. I start with 8' and 4' principals here. Get the 2' ready for them triplets in the accompaniment that follows "as with ceaseless voice they cry" (on that line, you should have your choir build a nice crescendo). Then the climaxing Lord, most high! Here I add the mixture, and then the chorus reed for the two Amens that follow.

To this day, thirty years later, I'm still stuck to the Holst arrangement. It's in E-minor. Personally, I won't use this as a "basic" hymn with just a cantor, because of its high pitch. But as a choral piece with or without congregation, this octavo is a must have. It's published by Galaxy Music Company of New York.



Valerie said...'ve piqued my interest. I'll have to look this one up! Lucky altos...they get to divide. Usually it S1 and S2. At least it was when I was a soprano. :-) My range has dropped somwhat after birthing 6 kiddos, so the alto division excites me.

Jason Pennington said...

The Holst Let All Mortal is a great anthem indeed. I almost always use a soprano solo for verse 1, and I take it with colle voce the whole way through the solo. The accompaniment there is very very thin, so following is easy. I let the soloist interpret her solo as she wishes, otherwise, the solo can come out as very ironed and stayed. I've been at the console for a performance of this work with a small chamber ensemble under a conductor who insisted on strict rigidity for the solo (he could simply not contuct the strings in a way that followed the soloist, alas). The line was straight-jacketed and boring. Let the soprano fly on her own wings here, and the listeners will be enraptured and want to hear more.

Brian Michael Page said...

It looks like it could be A1 and A2, the way the notes seem to flow. Although you "could" divide the sopranos instead.


Dad29 said...

Nice touch, the triplets recalling the "Sanctus 3x" of the angels...

Anonymous said...

Will you accept nominations for other anthems/motets?

Brian Michael Page said...

I'll paste the comment Nick replied with under his own review of "Thee We Adore".

BMP (Nick's reply below)

"sure, I'm open to suggestions, provided it's in the cathedral library or my personal choral resource library, and it's standard/traditional choral sacro-pop. Future installments will include "Draw us in the Spirit's Tether" - Friedell, "Christ the Lord is Risen Again" - Rutter, "All Hail Adored Trinity" - Sowerby, "If Ye Love Me" - Wilby... Contact me at nico_corleone321 "at" yahoo "dot" com for other suggestions.

Brian Michael Page said...

If it's something I have I may be able to help.

PhiMuAlpha2681 said...


You're right about it sounding better on organ than piano, but my score says that it's a piano REDUCTION. Have you (or anyone else) heard this anthem rendered with the full orchestration?


Brian Michael Page said...

I haven't seen a full orchestral edition of this yet. Just the accompaniment (or "reduction").