Settings of: Nunc Dimittis
Date: Wed, 4 Dec 1996 13:18:49 -0500
From: olsent(a)gar.union.edu (Timothy Olsen)
Subject: Nunc Dimittis
Thanks to all who responded to my request for settings of the Nunc Dimittis
for Candlemas. I'm still undecided as to what I'm going to use, but I'm
leaning towards Weelkes, Holst, or the Vaughan Williams "O, how amiable".
Here is a compilation of the responses:
There exists a very wonderfully written "Nunc Dimittis" for eight part
chamber choir that was written by Gustav Holst. I know that there was a
version of it published in 1979 at the request of Imogen Holst. However,
I do not know which company. It is my favorite of Holst's short religious
works! There is a recording of it,Hyperion CDA66329: The Holst Singers and
I'm a big fan of the Holst Nunc Dimittis, which is for SSAATTBB
unaccompanied with short solos for S and T. It's in Latin, and quite
managable for an amateur choir. I'm performing it with my German choir of
c24 amateurs, and they had no real difficulties with it.
The one setting that is perhaps the most georgeous is Rachmaninoff's,
except that you need an excellent tenor as soloist, a good low bass
section, and lots
of people in your choir (it's in 8 parts). If you can meet these "specs.,"
there is no better setting, IMHO. (However, this piece is currently out of
print, so you'd need to find a copy and get permission to photocopy.
Movement 7 from Rachmaninoff "Vespers" is a terrific "Nunc." It takes a great
tenor soloist, and a choir that can sing in tune. Also -- alternate low bass
ending required, and possible. But it isn't actually difficult notationally.
My college choir learned it very quickly and LOVES it.
you might try Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis by Healy Willan published by
Oxford or one of the several settings by Howells or there is a good setting
by Dyson (Novello publishers)
If you've got a couple of rumbling low basses, I'd suggest the setting
by Gretchaninof. (Boston Music Co., No. 4213)
There is a very nice Alexander Gretchaninoff Canticle of Simeon with
a good English version. I have heard that it is in public domain now,
but I'm not certain. The ranges are a bit extreme, but it is shorter
than most of his pieces, making it accessible to a good HS choir.
During Advent we are using Stanford's Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis. These
settings are very popular in Australia and England, but don't seem to be
as well-known in the States.
I'm very fond of C.V. Stanford's Mag & Nunc in G major. The Nunc is for
baritone solo (not too difficult--most challenging part of it is the
length of the phrases) and SATB choir with organ. It is written in
almost a verse-anthem call and response form, with the chorus echoing the
final words of the soloist, until the Gloria Patri (all chorus).
Any of Stanford's settings are good. I particularly like Stanford in G and
Stanford in C. We have also done Orlando Gibbons' "Second Service" (an a
Have you considered Halsey Stevens' work? It is a tremendous setting of
the text in English and is challenging and beautiful. I just performed it
last night with my choir and they (and the audience) loved it!
There's a nice one by Halsey Stevens (to balance his better known setting
of the Magnificat for choir, trumpet and strings, I suspect). Its published
by Mark Foster Music Company. Contact David Bohn at
for more information.
The Howells Collegium Regale is a wonderful one, with an especially
uplifting organ accompaniment.
1. My view is that most of the English settings work best in the
context of Evensong where BOTH Mag. and Nunc are performed. Often the
Nunc - whilst it may perfectly complement the Mag. does not
necessarily stand up so well alone. Commonly known examples of that
would be Stanford in C (always a nice sing) and Noble in B Min.
2. My favourite Nunc is always Sumsion in G with its tender trebles
opening against organ solo stop. I also always enjoy the Nunc of
Gibbons short service in A flat (unaccomp service) - that whole
service is so well written harmonically that its almost impossible to
go flat. And if you have the right sort of organ (with a big Tuba)
there is nothing better than the Nunc of Stanford in A (for double
choir). You might also look at the Nunc of Murrill In E - really fun
to sing especially the gloria. That whole service is also great fun to
3. Of the Nuncs I have NOT had the chance to perform the Nunc of
Howells Coll. Reg. is a favourite.
I've done both Vaughan-Williams and Everett Titcomb's "Mag and Nunc" with
small, somewhat rural Episcopal church choirs, and they did them well,
and enjoyed them. Both pieces are terrific, but the Titcomb is a little
more straight-forward, and easier to learn.
There's a wonderful new Nunc Dimittis by Robert H. Young, about to be
published by Plymouth, to go with his Magnificat. People can get a copy
from Young directly if it's not published in time (they can email David
Never mind the Nunc Dimittis--there are about a thousand settings from choral
evensong, and you can sing them at the end of any Eucharist, as the Lutherans
do. The one piece you *must* do for this feast is Johannes Eccard's "Maria
wallt zum Heiligthum", usually translated as "When to the Temple Mary
SSATTB, chorale style, two verses. Also, Vaughan Williams's "O how
amiable" for Psalm 84, also in the lectionary for that day, is a goodie.
Sorry to be bossy, but the Eccard (which is in the old Church Anthem Book,
OUP) is such a jewel and you will have to wait until Groundhog Day falls on
Sunday to do it again. I did it in 1992, and can't wait to do it again in
Three that come to mind are Rutter (Hinshaw), John Tavener (Collegium Regale
service; probably pub. Chester) and Randall Thompson (from his *Nativity acc.
to St. Luke*--ECS).
Several years ago the British label Hyperion released two CDs containing
settings of the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis as sung in typical Anglican
cathedrals, performed by the choir of St Paul's Cathedral. Vol 1, under
the title "My soul doth magnify the Lord", contains settings by Blair,
Brewer, Stanford, Walmisley, Wesley and Wood. Vol 2, called "My spirit
hath rejoiced", contains settings by Darke, Dyson, Harwood, Howells,
Murrill, Noble and Sumsion. I have had both discs for a long time, and I
enjoy them a lot. The Priory label has begun a similar but more ambitious
project, with at
least seven discs already out, each sung by a different cathedral choir. I
haven't heard any of these discs, but I have read favourable reviews in
I am fond of Gibbon's Nunc Dimittis and Byrd's from the Great Service.
I'm a composer who has written a Nunc Dimittis recently -- I'm not normally
in the habit of writing things which have not been commissioned, but I'm an
experienced choral singer and this piece just "came out" of me! It is quite
"accessible," both in terms of the difficulty level and its tonality.
I am chauvinistic enough to mention my own Nunc dimittis from
my Evening Service of 1972, which has been sung in a wide variety of
places. Not difficult, SATB, harmonic, nice organ part. If you'd like to
see a copy, let me know your snail mail address and I will send you one.
Jackson Hill, Bucknell University
Kenneth Leighton wrote two settings of the Canticles, both of which are well
known here in Britain (and in some places in the States...) They are available
from Novello (G.Shirmer in the US). You might like to look at the Web site at
information on Leighton and the music.
There are a number of nice Nunc Dimittis settings (as well as Magnificat
and other service music), in English, not very difficult, in the
collection called Tudor Church Anthems. It's a very old collection, in
public domain (you can photocopy); you'll have to look in a library for
it. The composers are Gibbons and others of his time. It's a ten-volume
set or so.
In our Christmas concert this year we are doing a beautiful new setting of
the Nunc Dimittis by Robert Scholz (Chapel Choir director at St. Olaf
College, Northfield, Minnesota). It's published by Augsburg Fortress
(11-10662). I highly recommend it!
A very simple but effective unison setting is a modern one one by Geoffrey
Birgen, Fans of John Le Carre and Alex Guinnes will recognize it as the
closing theme of the BBC television dramatization of "Tinker, Tailor,
My favorite of all Nunc Dimittis's is by Weelkes from his 5th Service. It's
got the most ethereal "To be a light" section in the middle. We do a weekly
Vespers service modeled on Evensong here at Duke, so we've done billions on
Nunc's over the years. This Weelkes is far and away my favorite!
I once performed Mendelsohn's Nunc Dimittis (op.69 no.1) in English, but it
came from a handwritten (unpublished??) score. If you cannot find any
other trace of this version, and are interested in performing, I could send
you a photocopy. The guy who gave me this score, told me there were still
ongoing discussions whether the German or the English version is the
Visiting Assistant Professor
of Performing Arts
Director of Music
St. Stephen's Episcopal Church