“All the pieces are settings of familiar hymns (or improvisations on them),” Diemer said.
The subject is love — religious love, mainly, but also compassion, empathy and pity ("Man, man," insists the police detective to Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment, "One cannot live, quite without pity!"). There is, I think, scarcely any meaning of the word “Love” — except carnal — which will not apply here.
The recital — which, indeed, carries the legend, "All About Love" — is best heard in the frame of two quotations from St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians. The first appears as an epigraph to the printed program:
"Though I may speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am becoming as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal (13:1)
The list of works to be performed — all more or less transformed by Diemer the composer — consists of "Adoro Te Devote. (Humbly I Adore Thee)" (French church melody), "O Love, That Will Not Let Me Go" (Melody by Albert Peace, 1884), "O Perfect Love" (Melody by Joseph Barnby, 1889), "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee" (Melody by Beethoven), "Hymn Sing #84: Love Came Down at Christmas (Irish melody), Improvisation on "Love Came Down at Christmas," "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling (Melody by Rowland Prichard, 1831), "I Am Thine, O Lord" (Melody by William Doane, 1875), "The King of Love My Shepherd Is" (Irish melody), "Though I May Speak with Bravest Fire, and Have Not Love" (English folk melody), Improvisation on "Jesus Loves Me! This I Know" (Melody by William Bradbury, 1861), Variations, in 19th century style, on "Abide With Me" (Melody by William Monk, 1861).
As an epilogue to this list, we get the last verse of the same chapter — one of the most astonishingly beautiful chapters in the entire New Testament:
"And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (13:13)
This music will all feel quite “American” — for the indispensable components of the American “sound” are the Protestant Hymn and the Negro Spiritual. This program also seems very close to Emma Lou Diemer’s heart — she is, after all, an American composer, a very fine one, and who would bother arranging, setting, or improvising upon so many works if she did not love them.
Admission is free to all concerts in the Trinity Advent Organ series at Trinity Episcopal Church, 1500 State St. in Santa Barbra.