Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Exploring a Powerful Anthem of Hope and Comfort

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This episode of Sounds of Faith focuses on the 20th century English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams’ anthem “The Souls of the Righteous,” which the Chapel’s Dr. Philip Cave describes as “a short, powerful work, with a very relevant message of comfort and hope.” Using a text from the Wisdom of Solomon, Vaughan Williams composed the anthem for the Dedication Service of the Battle of Britain Chapel in Westminster Abbey, London, in July 1947. The Duke Vespers Ensemble sang the piece at Duke Chapel’s 2019 All Hallows’ Eve service in a darkened and candlelit Chapel.

“The anthem opens with a haunting soprano solo, singing the words ‘The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God: and there shall no torment touch them,’” explains Dr. Cave, associate conductor for Chapel Music. “The soprano’s rather modal, mournful melody suggests both a timeless past, and an ongoing and everlasting comfort of being in the hands of God. This other-worldly atmosphere is maintained by the full choir in its bare setting of ‘In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die.’”

An editor of The English Hymnal (1906), Vaughan Williams’ compositions ranged from operas to film music to vocal pieces to symphonies. To continue exploring his music, here are two recommendations for further listening: “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis” (1910) and “Mass in G minor for Double Choir and Soloists” (1921).

The soloists in the Chapel’s All Hallows’ Eve service were Fran Newark (soprano), Henry Branson (tenor), and Christopher Short (bass).

The hymn "For All the Saints" is played by Chapel Organist Christopher Jacobson.

Watch the full anthem.

Watch more Sounds of Faith videos.