Season after Pentecost, 2023
Leo Sowerby was affectionately known as the "Dean of American Church Music". He was an incredibly prolific composer of music in many genres, including choral anthems.
Here are five Sowerby anthems that every church musician should know.
This is probably the most popular of Sowerby's anthems. While employing a good bit of chromaticism this anthem is well within the grasp of many church choirs. It requires an alto soloist.
If Sowerby's setting of Psalm 121 (above) is rather constrained in scope, some of his music takes place on a somewhat larger scale and can unfold rather deliberately.
His setting of Psalm 122 ("I was glad") begins with a grand organ introduction and declamatory singing from the choir. Several minutes in a more lyrical, imitative section begins with the words "O pray for the peace of Jerusalem". The music picks up in intensity again at the concluding section, "For my brethren and companions' sakes".
Hallmarks of Sowerby's anthem writing are on display here with lyrical, soloistic organ interludes and a quiet, ecstatic organ coda.
Among his shorter works, the unaccompanied "Eternal light" is a work of near perfection, with shimmering harmonies at key moments. Most performances are around two minutes.
A passionate panegyric for the Epiphany season. This work unfolds slowly and smoothly, like a brilliant sunrise. The recording from St. Mark's Cathedral, Seattle gives the organ solo line to a viola, adding even more expressive possibilities.
A freely composed work for Pentecost. Sowerby is unwavering in his 5/4 time signature.
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