Merbecke Holy Communion, arranged by David Aprahamian
I have attempted to write out this version of Merbecke’s
chants in a manner as faithful as possible to the way we do it
St Barnabas Pimlico. I trust that this will assist other organists.
My harmonisations can all be played on harmonium or piano, but
on organ the bass line should be taken by the feet, except
in the Agnus Dei, which does not want pedals, and is sung softly.
In earlier years, I used to ‘spice up’ the harmonies
with various chromatic notes and chords, but I have come to understand
that the most appropriate accompaniment, as with plainsong, is
derived entirely from the notes of the mode or scale used by
the chant. Nevertheless, I like to acknowledge the 20th century
and beyond by at least employing interesting chords and
suspensions generated from the notes of the mode. Parallel fifths
etc. have been used to great effect by Franck, Duruflé,
Vaughan Williams et al., so I see no need to shun these!
The accompaniment for the Agnus Dei bears witness to a rigidly
authoritarian priest, who objected to the hand-shaking at
‘The Peace’, and ordered me to proceed without delay.
Consequently, I devised a method of accompanying the Agnus Dei
with one hand, leaving the other free to greet people with a hand-shake!
This accompaniment, like all the rest, has settled
over years into the St Barnabas custom, though thankfully that
priest is long gone.
The speech rhythm of the text is the best guide to performance,
though I have utilised crotchets to indicate dwelling on a note.
Please use the natural rhythm of normal utterance and punctuation
to shape the music. In the Credo, “suffered”, “buried”
“worshipped” are all two-syllable words, whereas in
the Benedictus the ‘-ed’ in “blessed”
is pronounced as a separate syllable.
The accompaniment should be played legato. At the end of phrases
it is a matter of taste and clarity whether the organist holds
the chord whilst pausing, or chooses to release it briefly. Similarly,
taste and clarity will guide the organist on the matter of
restating or tying melody notes where the chant repeats the same
pitch several times. For example in the Credo at the words
“incarnate by the”, the second and third syllables
of ‘incarnate’ plus ‘by the’ are all sung
to G, and the organist could simply hold
that G as a minim, rather than playing four
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