Harmonia Early Music

Thanks And Praise

Gratitude is a theme often explored in early music, and we’ll hear expressions of thanks from a variety of sources on this edition of Harmonia.

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saint cecilia

Photo: Wikimedia commons

From the painting of Saint Cecilia, patron saint of musicians, by Simon Vouet, 1626.

This hour, we’re exploring expressions of thankfulness through music, from sources both sacred and secular. And in a featured recording by the Choir of New College, Oxford, we’ll hear music in thanks and praise for St. Cecilia, the patron saint of musician.


We start with “Nun danket alle Gott” (“Now thank we all our God”) from J.S. Bach’s Leipzig Chorales, performed by Fenner Douglass on the Flentrop organ of Duke University Chapel. The instrument, built in 1976, was designed to look and sound like an 18th-century organ.

JS Bach: Track 13: “Nun danket alle Gott,” BWV 657 (4’40”) / Track 2: Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 147: Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring (arr for organ) (excerpt of 3:28)
Fenner Douglass — Toccata in D Minor and Other Favorites (Gothic Records , 2002)
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What does it mean to give thanks?

Over the centuries, countless composers have turned to music as a way of showing thankfulness. They have written songs giving thanks to God, to country, even to the Pope. This hour on Harmonia, we’re feeling thankful, and we’ll hear a variety of music that expresses this sentiment.

One famous piece of “thanksgiving” music is Johann Sebastian Bach’s cantata 29, “Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir.” We’ll hear the opening sinfonia, which is actually an arrangement, based on the Praeludio from the Violin Partita No. 3.

Track 13: BWV 29, I. Sinfonia (3’41”) / Track 14: BWV 29, II. Chorus: “Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir” (3’12”)
Bach Collegium Japan, dir. Masaaki Suzuki — Cantatas 52 – Leipzig 1730s-40s (I) (BIS Records , 2012)
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Bach was by no means the first composer to give thanks to God in song. Hundreds of years earlier, probably in the early 1360’s, Guillaume de Machaut became the first composer to compose a complete setting of the ordinary texts of the Roman Catholic mass.

Let’s hear the final words of the Mass of Our Lady, “Ite, missa est. Deo gratias” (“Go, the mass has ended. Thanks be to God”), set by Machaut, followed by three anonymous interpretations of the same text.

Track 18: Messe de Nostre Dame: Ite missa est (1’41”)
Obsidienne, dir. Emmanuel Bonnardot — Guillaume de Machaut: Messe Nostre Dame / Motets et Estampies (Calliope, 2011)
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Track 20: Chant setting: Ite missa est (1’18”)
Anonymous 4 — An English Ladymass: Medieval Chant and Polyphony (harmonia mundi , 1992)
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Track 16: La Messe de Tournai: Ite missa est (1’49”)
Clemencic Consort — La Messe de Tournai / Codex Musical de Las Huelgas (Oehms Classics , 2013)
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Track 27: La Messe de Tournai: Ite missa est (2’10”)
Quintus Quodlibet — Sound from Heaven: A Liturgy for Pentecost (Washington National Cathedral , 2010)
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Giving thanks to God at the end of the mass: we heard two different interpretations of the same setting from the anonymous Messe de Tournai, performed by the Clemencic Consort, followed by Quintus Quodlibet and the girls’ choir of Washington National Cathedral. Before that, we heard Anonymous 4, from their recording An English Ladymass, and we started off with part of Machaut’s Messe de Nostre Dame, performed by the ensemble Obsidienne.


 It wasn’t just in church that people sang songs of praise. “Deo gratias Anglia” is a medieval English song of the type known as a “political carol.” It tells the story of the 1415 Battle of Agincourt, where the English army, led by Henry V, routed the French army in a major victory for England.

Track 1: Agincourt Carol (4’58”)
Ensemble Céladon, dir. Paulin Bundgen — Deo Gratias Anglia: polyfonies sacrées, chansons anglaises de la guerre de cent ans (Aeon, 2013)
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Like a lot of music from medieval times, the manuscript of the Agincourt Carol leaves us with more questions than answers, especially about performance. How many singers? Should there be instruments? Even tempo is unclear. So, here’s another interpretation of the same carol.

[See the full playlist by clicking on the "Music on this episode" tab just above the image at the top of this web post.]


Occasionally, a song of thanksgiving bridges the gap between sacred and secular. 18th-century English composer William Boyce’s verse anthem “The Lord is King, be the people never so impatient,” while undoubtedly intended for performance in church, was written in thanksgiving for the Peace of Paris.

Track 10: The Lord is King (7’01”)
Choir of New College Oxford, dir. Edward Higginbottom — Boyce: Select Anthems (CRD Records , 1991)
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Two hundred years prior to William Boyce, Orlande de Lassus was one of the most popular European composers of the 16th century. His 1573 motet “Agimus tibi gratias”—“We give Thee thanks”—was published in the collection Patrocinium musices, a five-volume collection of sacred works.

[See the full playlist by clicking on the "Music on this episode" tab just above the image at the top of this web post.]


Featured recording: In thanks and praise of Saint Cecilia

On our featured recording, we’ll hear from Edward Higginbottom and the young musicians of New College, Oxford. The recording Exultent superi features motets of the 18th-century French composer François Couperin, including the reconstructed “Resonent organa,” a motet honoring St. Cecilia, the patron saint of musicians.

Among composers, there is a long tradition of music written in thanks and praise of St. Cecilia. Her feast day is celebrated on November 22.

Track 1: Resonent organa à 3 et symphonies. Pro Sancta Cecilia (12’30”)
Soloists of the Choir of New College, Oxford, Collegium Novum, dir. Edward Higginbottom — Exultent superi: Motets Choisis (Novum, 2012)
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Break and Theme music

:30, Nota sebissa, Marcabru, Millenarium

:60, Morley, La Volta, New London Consort

:30, La Gamba, Ortiz, Unda Maris

Theme: Danse Royale, Ensemble Alcatraz, Elektra Nonesuch 79240-2 1992 B000005J0B, T.12: La Prime Estampie Royal

The writer for this edition of Harmonia is Elizabeth Clark.

Curious about what’s new in recordings of early music? We review recordings new and old each week on the Harmonia Early Music Podcast. You can subscribe on iTunes or at harmonia early music dot org.

JS Bach: Track 13: “Nun danket alle Gott,” BWV 657 (4’40”) / Track 2: Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 147: Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring (arr for organ) (excerpt of 3:28)
Fenner Douglass — Toccata in D Minor and Other Favorites (Gothic Records , 2002)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Track 13: BWV 29, I. Sinfonia (3’41”) / Track 14: BWV 29, II. Chorus: “Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir” (3’12”)
Bach Collegium Japan, dir. Masaaki Suzuki — Cantatas 52 – Leipzig 1730s-40s (I) (BIS Records , 2012)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Track 18: Messe de Nostre Dame: Ite missa est (1’41”)
Obsidienne, dir. Emmanuel Bonnardot — Guillaume de Machaut: Messe Nostre Dame / Motets et Estampies (Calliope, 2011)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Track 20: Chant setting: Ite missa est (1’18”)
Anonymous 4 — An English Ladymass: Medieval Chant and Polyphony (harmonia mundi , 1992)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Track 16: La Messe de Tournai: Ite missa est (1’49”)
Clemencic Consort — La Messe de Tournai / Codex Musical de Las Huelgas (Oehms Classics , 2013)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Track 27: La Messe de Tournai: Ite missa est (2’10”)
Quintus Quodlibet — Sound from Heaven: A Liturgy for Pentecost (Washington National Cathedral , 2010)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Track 1: Agincourt Carol (4’58”)
Ensemble Céladon, dir. Paulin Bundgen — Deo Gratias Anglia: polyfonies sacrées, chansons anglaises de la guerre de cent ans (Aeon, 2013)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Track 10: The Lord is King (7’01”)
Choir of New College Oxford, dir. Edward Higginbottom — Boyce: Select Anthems (CRD Records , 1991)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Track 1: Resonent organa à 3 et symphonies. Pro Sancta Cecilia (12’30”)
Soloists of the Choir of New College, Oxford, Collegium Novum, dir. Edward Higginbottom — Exultent superi: Motets Choisis (Novum, 2012)
Buy from Amazon »
album cover
Track 7: Agincourt Carol (4’31”)
Alamire, dir. David Skinner — Deo gracias Anglia! (Obsidian, 2012)
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Track 19: Agimus tibi gratias (1’25”)
Currende Vocal Ensemble — Orlando di Lasso: Patrocinium Musices, 1573-1574 (Accent, (mp3s 2001), 1999)
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Elizabeth Clark

Elizabeth Clark is a graduate student at Indiana University, where she is pursuing degrees in organ and harpsichord. She is a 2010 graduate of St. Olaf College, where she earned a B.M. in organ performance. She is currently the Director of Music at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Columbus, Indiana.

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