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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Elizabeth Clark

Elizabeth Clark Elizabeth Clark splits her time between Bloomington, Indiana, where she works for WFIU, and Columbus, where she teaches piano and directs the choir at First Lutheran Church. At WFIU, she writes for and produces Harmonia. She holds degrees in organ and harpsichord from St. Olaf College and Indiana University. Elizabeth began working with Harmonia in July 2013.

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