You know how movies on DVD are really cool because they have special features? You know, like deleted scenes and alternative endings and actor/director commentaries? Well Anglican church music also has special features. Here's one of them:
In the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis (Collegium Sancti Johannis Cantabrigiense), AKA "the St. John's service", Herbert Howells (1892-1983) includes a nifty little back page for an Alternative Ending to the Nunc.
The alternative ending is marked with an asterisk by Novello, Howells's publisher.
* The alternative ending may be used if desired.
for [sic] alternative ending, see overleaf.
The two endings diverge at the words "world without end." In what I will call the original version, this unison line begins on an E-flat; in the alternative ending, it begins on F, a whole step higher than the original. Both of these lines travel the octave, meaning that the trebles then sustain a high E-flat in the original; F in the alternative.
Two endings diverged on yellowing parchment, and I took the one the choir did.
In the original the E-flat divides to become C and F (part of an F Major sonority) and then reconvenes to crown a D Major chord. In the alternate, however, the F triumphantly divides, first leaping up to F and A, then triumphantly resting with D and F-sharp.
The two endings still manage to end in D Major, but voicing of the alternative ending is much higher.
Interestingly, the choral crescendo is absent from the alternate ending. This is sort of par for the course with my experience with Howells, but it does make me wonder if it means anything.
There's something delightfully revealing about Howells's craftsmanship here. He can start with two very different places for his melodic line (a whole step is, after all, a big amount of step), and still weasel his way back to D Major.
These endings aren't drastically different from each other, and after the lay clerks have a couple drinks in the pub after evensong, they probably won't even remember which version they perfomred.
So why then did Howells take the trouble to include the alternative ending in the published version? Maybe he couldn't make up his mind? Or maybe he thought that St. John's could use the alternative ending for feast days? It does have a little more oomph (that's a technical term when it comes to the Anglican tradition), but not a whole lot.
Written in March, 1957, the alternate ending of the St. John's service predated the introduction of the DVD by about 40 years. Tune in next time for a "deleted scene" in Charles Hubert Hastings Parry's I Was Glad.
Word choice tangent 1957: alternative; 2006: alternate. Synonymous?
Recording tangent: I can't understand why St. John's didn't record their own service on the excellend Howells disc they have recorded for Naxos. What gives? Does anyone own/reccomend a recording of the St. John's service?
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