Tuesday, April 01, 2008

An Easter Shape-Note Anthem

Just for fun, and for a change of pace, here's an mp3 of "Easter Anthem," the Offertory that we sang on Easter II, courtesy of the "Southern Harmony" section of CCEL. It's a rousing good William Billings number, and here are the words:
The Lord is risen indeed! Hallelujah!
(Repeat previous line)!
Now is Christ risen from the dead,
And become the first fruit of them that slept.
(Repeat previous 2 lines).
Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah.
And did he rise? And did he rise? Did he rise?
Hear it, ye nations! hear it O ye dead!
He rose, he rose, he rose, he rose,
He burst the bars of death,
(Repeat previous line twice).
And triumphed o'er the grave.
Then, then, then I rose,
Then I rose, then I rose,
Then first humanity triumphant
Past the crystal ports of light,
And seized eternal youth.
Men all immortal hail, hail, heaven,
All lavish of strange gifts to man,
Thine's all the glory, man's the boundless bliss.

Interesting to listen to them in the fasola ("fa-sol-la") run-through; you can hear the singers learning the piece - and they have it, by the time it comes to sing the words. Here's the musical score in modern notation, at CPDL. There's a midi file over there, too.

Not really "chant," per se, but an interesting vocal style and genre, anyway. Here's Wikipedia on shape-note singing; here's fasola.org, the website of the Sacred Harp Musical Heritage Association. Here's a (PDF) booklet on shape-note singing from the Smithsonian.

Something about William Billings:
William Billings (October 7, 1746 – September 26, 1800) was an American choral composer, and is widely regarded as the father of American choral music.[1] Billings was originally a tanner by trade, and lacking formal training in music, Billings created what is now recognized as a uniquely American style.

"He had one eye, a deformed arm and a harsh voice; he was lame in one leg; and he was addicted to snuff."1 He was married with six children. Billings died in poverty on September 26, 1800. His funeral was announced in the Columbian Centinel "Died- Mr. William Billings, the celebrated music composer. His funeral will be tomorrow at 4 o'clock, PM from the house of Mrs. Amos Penniman, in Chamber-stree, West-Boston."2

Here's the first page of the shape-note score of "Easter Anthem" (which isn't very readable):

Here's the frontispiece of Billings' "New England Psalm-Singer"
; the engraving is by Paul Revere. (Yes, that Paul Revere.)

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