A scene from The Canterbury Psalter (12th century)

Choral Evensong Notes (Torrey Cambridge 2024)

On Tues 7 Feb at 6pm, the choirs of King’s and St John’s Colleges will be singing choral evensong in St John’s College Chapel. On this summer trip, we normally try to attend evensong in King’s College chapel as an opportunity to be in that especially special space with its famous fan-vaulted ceiling. (Students who want to do this on their own can attend worship at King’s on Fri, Sat or Sun.) But of course St. John’s chapel is also wonderful, and a double choir is especially powerful.

Here is the order of the musical portions of the service, which I’ve fitted with links for students who want to study up in advance for what they’ll be hearing during the service (of course you can also refer back to these links after the fact, in case you prefer to keep exploring at leisure what you experienced in person). Listening to the Elgar anthem (9 minutes long, it’s his Opus 74 from 1914) in advance will be especially helpful, as it’s a kind of art object in itself, carefully structured. Second most important to consider in advance is the “Canticles: Second Service in E Flat” by Charles Wood; this is Mary’s Magnificat and Simeon’s “Now let your servant depart” prayer. These two songs from Luke are always sung at a choral evensong. But their choral settings can vary widely: I’ve heard settings that repeat parts of the text almost like a fugue, making the song much longer; and I’ve heard it sung in Latin; I’ve heard jarringly dissonant versions that felt modernist, and amazingly sweet versions that established the emotional center of the whole service.

Introit: O Lord, support us   Henrietta Moran
Responses: Humphrey Clucas
Psalm: 8
Readings: 2 Samuel 6. 1–5, 12–15; Colossians 3. 12–17
Canticles: Second service in E flat (Nunci Dimitiis and Magnificat)   Charles Wood
Anthem: Give unto the Lord   Edward Elgar (text from Psalm 29)
Hymn (NEH): 433 (O Worship the King) (omit vv. 4, 5)

Note that these are just the musical bits (plus the seasonal lectionary readings). The actual order of service (see here) includes a goodly quantity of prayers, spoken responses, and scripture.

A helpful way to think of the Anglican evensong service is as a Protestant retooling of a monastic tradition. Cranmer and company made the service shorter and less demanding for laypeople, but also built in much more scripture, and carefully worked out the balance between receiving the words and answering in unison. Here’s a pretty readable 1920s article on “evensong explained” that covers some of the basics.

About This Blog

Fred Sanders is a theologian who tried to specialize in the doctrine of the Trinity, but found that everything in Christian life and thought is connected to the triune God.

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