Magnificats at the Close of Advent

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Our Advent celebration comes to a close on Sunday, Dec. 21 with Luke’s Gospel account of the Annunciation. After the annunciation by the angel Gabriel, Mary proclaims her song of praise, the Magnificat canticle, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,” which is actually found a few verses past today’s Gospel citation. Marian hymns are, thus, appropriate for today.

During Communion this morning, we sang David Hurd’s tune Julion with the text “Ye who claim the faith of Jesus.” Hurd beautifully sets the Latin Magnificat words as a descant over the last stanza, the words of which are Mary’s song in English. This great tune is a prime example of the contemporary hymn “explosion” of composers worldwide in the 1970s and 1980s, writing beautiful unison tunes with through-composed accompaniments for organ or piano.

As Mary’s song of praise is also one of the canticles traditionally used for Choral Evensong, the Magnificat will also be sung by the Motet Choir this afternoon in a new setting by Carson Cooman, composer-in-residence of Harvard Memorial Church. Cooman’s musical interpretation of this more traditional translation, “My soul doth magnify the Lord,” alternates between grand choral statements and introspective, mysterious solo choral and organ melodies. Both ideas capture Mary’s emotions, shouts of praise to God along with the quiet strength and uncertainty of a young woman who now knows that she will bear the Son of God.

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