Clef Notes

Stephen Schall

Music Director

Trinity Sunday, Musical Rhetoric, and Goodbye to the Choir

Sunday is Trinity Sunday. As you would expect you will hear lots of references to the Triune God in the hymns and choral music. Did you know that “pure” music can reference the Trinity too? In fact, the prelude you’ll hear, J.S. Bach’s, Fugue in E flat, pays rhetorical homage to the Trinity. 

Let me explain. During the Baroque era, when Bach lived, it was customary to portray ideas or concepts through the music. This was pretty obvious in choral or vocal music where the composer could cleverly portray certain words musically. But doing it in instrumental music gets a bit more abstract. 

While we don’t have a statement from Bach that this fugue is about the Trinity, it’s pretty obvious in this case. The key of e flat has three flats. The piece is in three large sections, each of which has a different character and counter-subject. The clincher is that each section is united by the same fugue subject. Thus, the piece really is three pieces in one.

You’ll probably notice that the main subject sounds like the first phrase of the hymn tune, SAINT ANNE, to which we sing, “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.” While this figure was actually a common one at the time, the hymn tune itself was not written until later, so Bach did not know the hymn tune or its name. The similarity, however, has prompted the tendency to call the fugue “The Saint Anne” Fugue. When the great French composer and organist, Jean Langlais, was asked about this, he remarked that it wasn’t the Saint Anne Fugue at all; it was the Trinity Fugue: one part for the Father, one for the Son, one for the Holy Spirit and nothing left for Saint Anne!

Sunday is also the last day of the choir season. Looking back over the past year, I am amazed at how our faithful band of singers has led the music for worship. We are blessed to have such dedicated and talented volunteers and staff singers at Northmont and we look forward to them rejoining us after Labor Day. Please join me in expressing your hearty thanks for their hard work this season and best wishes for a restful summer:

The Chancel Choir

✦Chelsea Cockburn
Dianna Hollo
Anne Linaberger
Linda Richard
Chris Sartori
Jody Sebben
Sam Amelio
✦Rob Frankenberry 
Glenn Rudolph
✦Kym Laret
Paula Davis
Sue Swick
Scott Davis
✦Matt Dooley
Bill Goff
Jim Nicola
George Pearsall

✦Staff singers