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Sweet Seraphic Fire - Holden, Billings, Wood


Release Date: 08/30/2005 
Label:  New World Records   Catalog #: 80640   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Oliver HoldenWilliam BillingsAbraham WoodJacob French,   ... 
Conductor:  Stephen Marini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Norumbega Harmony
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 13 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews


Shortly before this disc arrived, I had by coincidence been looking at Richard Crawford’s recently published America’s Musical Life: A History . One of the topics that caught my eye in the earlier chapters was 18th-century church music, and in particular the name of the remarkable autodidact William Billings (1746–1800). In a scholarly note, Stephen Marini traces the emergence of Billings as a central figure in the adoption and propagation in America of the English Parish, or “West Gallery,” style, and the religious revival known as the Great Awakening. Impetus for the Great Awakening was aroused by a new kind of poetic adaptation of the psalms, the leading exponent of which Read more was the English Congregationalist minister Isaac Watts, the author of no fewer than 17 of the texts on the present disc. The music associated with these developments took one of three forms: the “plain tune,” a simple harmonized setting; the “fuging tune,” which started as a plain tune, but then introduced imitative entries; and the more elaborate set-pieces, or anthems. Examples of all three are included on the present disc, although fuging tunes predominate.


The first major collection to appear in the US was Urania , published in Philadelphia in 1761, but it was the series of publications by the Boston tanner Billings that gave the New England singing school its major impetus. Starting in 1770 with the New-England Psalm Singer , Billings produced a series of publications that not only stamped an indigenous style on the repertoire, but also inspired his successors, among them pupils like the memorably named Supply Belcher (1751–1836), known as the “Handel of Maine.” If the rubric seems a little exaggerated, Belcher certainly emerges as one of the more talented composers featured.


By arranging the contents of the disc by city or region, Marini has been able to trace the singing school movement roughly chronologically from its New England origins through Vermont, and New York to its arrival in the Deep South, where it survived longest. Finally, a group of contemporary pieces testify to the remarkable revival the singing school enjoyed in the late 20th century. All the music recorded here is taken from The Norumbega Harmony , a collection of over 130 hymns edited by a committee that includes Marini. Obviously, it is dangerous to draw conclusions from what is only a cross section of the repertoire, but certain inescapable thoughts emerge. The most important is that the earlier pieces have a certain raw energy and rhetorical strength that later became diluted. This is typified by the hymns of Billings himself, who whether by design or the accident of dilettantism displays an adventurous, even reckless approach to his harmony and melodic construction rarely equaled by his followers. Interestingly, it is the late 20th-century hymns that show the greatest level of conservatism, displaying an interest in melody that is largely absent in the earlier composers, whose fondness for dissonant harmony frequently gives their work a curiously archaic feel.


I’m no expert in this field, but the a capella performances strike me as idiomatically authoritative. They strive for natural, strongly sung projection rather than any imposed sophistication or finesse, which would certainly be out of place. If the CD interests you, I would, however, suggest that it is not heard all in one sitting; there is inevitably a uniformity of mood and texture that eventually palls. A comprehensive discography (mostly featuring rather arcane specialist labels) and bibliography are included in the booklet. As an outsider, I found the disc something of an education. There is certainly no great “art” music here, but it is difficult to imagine a better introduction to a fascinating branch of American musical history.


FANFARE: Brian Robins
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Works on This Recording

1.
New Canaan by Oliver Holden
Conductor:  Stephen Marini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Norumbega Harmony
Period: Classical 
Written: 1793; USA 
Length: 2 Minutes 14 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/10/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/17/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/30/2004) 
2.
Maryland by William Billings
Conductor:  Stephen Marini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Norumbega Harmony
Period: Classical 
Written: 1778; USA 
Length: 3 Minutes 16 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/10/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/17/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/30/2004) 
3.
Bethlehem by William Billings
Conductor:  Stephen Marini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Norumbega Harmony
Period: Classical 
Written: 1778/1779; USA 
Length: 2 Minutes 29 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/10/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/17/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/30/2004) 
4.
Lynn by Oliver Holden
Conductor:  Stephen Marini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Norumbega Harmony
Period: Classical 
Written: 1793; USA 
Length: 1 Minutes 36 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/10/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/17/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/30/2004) 
5.
Funeral Hymn by Oliver Holden
Conductor:  Stephen Marini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Norumbega Harmony
Period: Classical 
Written: 1792; USA 
Length: 3 Minutes 12 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/10/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/17/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/30/2004) 
6.
An Anthem for Easter by William Billings
Conductor:  Stephen Marini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Norumbega Harmony
Period: Classical 
Written: USA 
Length: 3 Minutes 26 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/10/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/17/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/30/2004)
Composition written: USA (1787 - 1795). 
7.
Walpole by Abraham Wood
Conductor:  Stephen Marini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Norumbega Harmony
Period: Classical 
Written: 1786; USA 
Length: 3 Minutes 4 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/10/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/17/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/30/2004) 
8.
Beauty by Jacob French
Conductor:  Stephen Marini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Norumbega Harmony
Period: Classical 
Written: 1789; USA 
Length: 2 Minutes 2 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/10/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/17/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/30/2004) 
9.
Happiness by Jacob French
Conductor:  Stephen Marini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Norumbega Harmony
Period: Classical 
Written: 1793; USA 
Length: 1 Minutes 11 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/10/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/17/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/30/2004) 
10.
Woburn by Jacob Kimball
Conductor:  Stephen Marini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Norumbega Harmony
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1793; USA 
Length: 2 Minutes 15 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/10/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/17/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/30/2004) 
11.
Montague by Timothy Swan
Conductor:  Stephen Marini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Norumbega Harmony
Period: Classical 
Written: 1777; USA 
Length: 1 Minutes 27 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/10/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/17/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/30/2004) 
12.
Newport by Daniel Read
Conductor:  Stephen Marini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Norumbega Harmony
Period: Classical 
Written: USA 
Length: 1 Minutes 52 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/10/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/17/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/30/2004) 
13.
Hatfield by Thomas Baird
Conductor:  Stephen Marini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Norumbega Harmony
Period: Classical 
Written: 1800; USA 
Length: 2 Minutes 59 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/10/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/17/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/30/2004) 
14.
Attention by Asahel Benham
Conductor:  Stephen Marini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Norumbega Harmony
Written: 1790; USA 
Length: 2 Minutes 50 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/10/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/17/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/30/2004) 
15.
Crucifixion by M. Kyes
Conductor:  Stephen Marini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Norumbega Harmony
Period: Classical 
Written: USA 
Length: 2 Minutes 26 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/10/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/17/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/30/2004) 
16.
Mechias by James Lyon
Conductor:  Stephen Marini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Norumbega Harmony
Period: Classical 
Written: 1774; USA 
Length: 1 Minutes 53 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/10/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/17/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/30/2004) 
17.
How beauteous are their feet by Supply Belcher
Conductor:  Stephen Marini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Norumbega Harmony
Period: Classical 
Written: by 1794; USA 
Length: 1 Minutes 57 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/10/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/17/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/30/2004) 
18.
Transition by Supply Belcher
Conductor:  Stephen Marini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Norumbega Harmony
Period: Classical 
Written: 1794; USA 
Length: 1 Minutes 16 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/10/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/17/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/30/2004) 
19.
Jubilant by Supply Belcher
Conductor:  Stephen Marini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Norumbega Harmony
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1794; USA 
Length: 1 Minutes 22 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/10/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/17/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/30/2004) 
20.
The Lilly by Supply Belcher
Conductor:  Stephen Marini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Norumbega Harmony
Period: Classical 
Written: 1794; USA 
Length: 0 Minutes 43 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/10/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/17/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/30/2004) 
21.
Buckfield by Abraham Maxim
Conductor:  Stephen Marini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Norumbega Harmony
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1802; USA 
Length: 1 Minutes 21 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/10/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/17/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/30/2004) 
22.
Pennsylvania by Nehemiah Shumway
Conductor:  Stephen Marini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Norumbega Harmony
Period: Classical 
Written: 1793; USA 
Length: 3 Minutes 3 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/10/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/17/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/30/2004) 
23.
Sounding Joy by J.P. Storm
Conductor:  Stephen Marini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Norumbega Harmony
Period: Classical 
Written: 1795; USA 
Length: 2 Minutes 7 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/10/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/17/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/30/2004) 
24.
Redemption by Jeremiah Ingalls
Conductor:  Stephen Marini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Norumbega Harmony
Period: Classical 
Written: 1805; USA 
Length: 1 Minutes 23 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/10/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/17/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/30/2004) 
25.
Consolation by Lucius Chapin
Conductor:  Stephen Marini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Norumbega Harmony
Period: Classical 
Written: 1812; USA 
Length: 1 Minutes 40 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/10/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/17/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/30/2004) 
26.
Liberty-Hall by Lucius Chapin
Conductor:  Stephen Marini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Norumbega Harmony
Period: Classical 
Written: circa 1812; USA 
Length: 1 Minutes 33 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/10/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/17/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/30/2004) 
27.
The Babe of Bethlehem by Traditional
Conductor:  Stephen Marini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Norumbega Harmony
Length: 1 Minutes 41 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/10/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/17/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/30/2004) 
28.
Convoy by M.L. Swan
Conductor:  Stephen Marini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Norumbega Harmony
Period: Classical 
Written: 1867; USA 
Length: 2 Minutes 10 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/10/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/17/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/30/2004) 
29.
Hallelujah New by Roland Hutchinson
Conductor:  Stephen Marini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Norumbega Harmony
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1996; USA 
Length: 2 Minutes 15 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/10/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/17/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/30/2004) 
30.
Nativity by Bruce Randall
Conductor:  Stephen Marini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Norumbega Harmony
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1990; USA 
Length: 1 Minutes 53 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/10/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/17/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/30/2004) 
31.
Cortona by M.R. Truelsen
Conductor:  Stephen Marini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Norumbega Harmony
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1996; USA 
Length: 0 Minutes 50 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/10/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/17/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/30/2004) 
32.
Great Divide by Stephen Marini
Conductor:  Stephen Marini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Norumbega Harmony
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1997; USA 
Length: 1 Minutes 50 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/10/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/17/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/30/2004) 
33.
Arinello by Dennis O'Brien
Conductor:  Stephen Marini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Norumbega Harmony
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1997; USA 
Length: 1 Minutes 46 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/10/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/17/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/30/2004) 
34.
Ev'ry String Awake by Glen Wright
Conductor:  Stephen Marini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Norumbega Harmony
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1996; USA 
Length: 2 Minutes 9 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/10/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/17/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/30/2004) 
35.
Ten Thousand Charms by Hal Kunkel
Conductor:  Stephen Marini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Norumbega Harmony
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1996; USA 
Length: 1 Minutes 47 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/10/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/17/2004); Dover Church Meeting House, Dover, MA (10/30/2004) 

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