The Lord Is Risen Indeed by William Billings

Often called “the father of American choral music,” William Billings lived and worked in Boston from 1746-1800. He variously supported himself as a tanner and a singing school teacher, never with great success. However, he left a legacy of shape-note works that are sung to this day. The Easter Anthem is challenging and usually only sung at large conventions where folks really let it rip! It is rousing, lively, and full of Easter spirit.
This performance by His Majesties Clerkes is combined with a slide show of Russian Orthodox icons. I’m not quite sure what Billings would have thought. The anthem is 236 in the Sacred Harp. What makes this performance stand out is the combination of professional-quality voices (using appropriate straight tone) with a spirited tempo.

Several recordings I’ve reviewed of this anthem take it way too slowly and attempt to turn it into respectable church music. Remember that Billings and his contemporaries composed the music that the German-educated reformers of American hymnody couldn’t stand: too fast, too unconventional, too many rules of common practice harmony violated with parallel fifths and octaves. And worst of all, it was sung by just anybody - not a respectable robed choir standing in a special place.


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