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By Stephen McManus
Composed by Stephen McManus. "Bachian" fuges - think Saint Anne in Eb. General. Published by CanticaNOVA Publications (C5.6019).
Item Number: C5.6019
The tempo marking on these trios is "In baroque style, but not too fast." That sums up these charming settings of two popular Catholic hymn tunes. Grosser Gott, sung with the text "Holy God, We Praise Thy Name," is a tune from the Allgemeines Katholisches Gesangbuch, published in Vienna in 1774. Variations of the tune abound; the one used here is quite simple, but it does include a repeat of the last phrase, often lacking in modern or non-Catholic settings. There are several hymn tunes called Saint Thomas; this one is also known as Wade, from its composer, John Francis Wade (1711-1786). Wade, also credited with the music for "Adeste fidelis / O Come, All Ye Faithful," was an English Catholic living in exile in France. Saint Thomas [Wade] is most often sung with the Latin text, "Tantum ergo Sacramentum," which is the last few stanzas of the hymn "Pange lingua gloriosi," written by Saint Thomas Aquinas - from which the tune gets its name. English translations of Tantum ergo are numerous: "Down in Adoration Falling" / "Humbly Let Us Voice Our Homage" / "Therefore We before Him Bending." Each of these trios is scored for two manuals and pedal, with the hymn tune found in tenor range in the left hand. As with all trios, they require a degree of independence on the part of the organist, but are of medium difficulty on the "trio" spectrum. Not without precedent in the works of J.S. Bach, these three fugues by Stephen McManus offer reflections on the Three Divine Persons of the Trinity. The composer offers these notes: "Each fugal movement has its own subject. The first movement (Fugue 1), based on I Kings 19:11-13, expresses the Father as a "gentle whisper." Dynamic levels should not exceed mf. There are numerous statements of the subject and, combined with the elements of canon and stretto, represent continual praise of the Father. The movement also depicts the holiness that surrounds the presence of God in the Old Testament. The Father's subject is based on the opening notes of the Gregorian chant Credo III. Fugue 2 is a double fugue. The main subject, a descending, chromatic melody, expresses the Christ we read about in Philippians 2:6-11 - one who humbled himself, descended from heaven to become man, and walked the path of obedience to the cross. The second subject is that from Fugue 1; this intertwining with the first subject represents the Father's presence and power throughout Christ's life. The entries of the voices spread upwards and, occasionally coupled with ascending eighth notes, conveys the "Word of God" spreading out to the people. Near the end, subject 1 is not accompanied by subject 2; this is the time when Christ experienced abandonment on the cross. The subsequent crescendo and ascent reflect the resurrection and ascension back to the Father, the texture thickening to five parts for dramatic effect. Allusion to the Holy Spirit's subject occurs in the last three measures - Christ had completed his task on earth and the Spirit could be freely given to all peoples. Fugue 3 is based on Acts 2:1-4. The subject conveys the violent wind and the tongues of fire descending on the apostles, and also relates their exuberance on receiving the Spirit. The subject from Fugue 1 is introduced as a cantus firmus. The two subjects from Fugue 1 and Fugue 2 are heard together; and eventually all three subjects are combined in triple counterpoint - the Trinity as a whole. Christ's subject has been modified at this point and, although a chromatic element remains, the idea has changed as he had, following the resurrection. The first two fugues are playable on manuals alone; the third requires pedal.
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