VERY ORGANIST AND CHOIRMASTER at one point or another has fallen in love with the English hymn tune “Agincourt” (a.k.a. “Deo Gracias”). It was featured in Henry V, a 1944 movie by Sir Laurence Olivier. The Brébeuf harmonies for this piece remind me why I love this book so much—a truly masterful SATB harmonization: original, fresh, yet within reach. I especially love how the Bass Line walks in stepwise motion…sometimes a whole octave! If you follow the link below (#536) and click “Bass,” you can see what I mean.
The Tenor line is quite challenging to sing correctly:
You can hear individual voice tracks if you visit the Brébeuf website; scroll to #536.
HEN I WAS AT THE CONSERVATORY, I had to memorize difficult works by Chopin, Mozart, Bach, Prokofiev, Schumann, and others. Yet, I was nothing compared to some of the students there. Indeed, I would not have dared attempt certain pieces, such as Liszt’s Feux Follets, or Chopin’s Op. 26 No. 6 Etude. Often, I would discuss interpretations with the other students. One girl from China—I can’t recall her name, but she was excellent—had studied with Ruth Slenczynska. I was discussing certain ideas I had about Chopin’s Ballade in Ab Major, and I insisted my interpretation was the correct one. Then she made a comment that haunts me to this day: “Jeff, having ideas is one thing; executing them is something else.”
On the one hand, it is good to have dreams and aspirations. On the other hand, we must face reality. AGINCOURT is a good example. A choirmaster quickly learns this is not an easy piece to sing well with a congregation. Therefore, it must be approached with caution. We may desire to do this piece. We may desire it greatly. Yet, we must never fail to ask: “How did it sound? Did it work?” By the way, here’s how AGINCOURT looked in the 1936 “English Hymnal,” edited by Ralph Vaughan Williams (d. 1958), a student of Maurice Ravel (d. 1937):