Robert Leo Sowerby (1895-1968), often called the "Dean of American church music," was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he began to compose at the age of ten. His interest in the organ began at the age of 15, he was self-taught at the instrument. He studied composition with Arthur Olaf Andersen at the American Conservatory of Music, Chicago. He spent time in France during World War 1 in the role of bandmaster. In 1921 he was awarded the Rome Prize, the first composer to receive this. He joined the American Conservatory of Music as faculty in 1924. In addition he received the 1946 Pulitzer Prize for Music for his cantata, the "Canticle of the Sun," written in 1944. In 1927 he became organist-choirmaster at St James’s Episcopal Church, Chicago. Previously, Sowerby was associate organist at Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago (1919).In 1962, after his retirement from St James’s, he was called to Washington National Cathedral to become the founding director of the College of Church Musicians, a position he held until his death in 1968. His substantial output includes over 500 works in every genre but opera and ballet. His later works, done at St James's, Chicago, and Washington Cathedral, are primarily church music for choir and organ.
"The snow lay on the ground" is of 19th century origin and is an Anglo-Irish carol of unknown source. Sowerby's arrangement was published by H. W. Gray in 1965 as # 995 in their famous "St. Cecilia Series."
Sowerby captures the lyric, happy lilt, including some personal touches, most noticeably a "trumpet descant." The tune that he gives as a dotted quarter at 104 seemed ridiculously fast to me, so mine is about 80.
The ending is reminiscent of some of the "English carol arrangements" done by the likes of David Willcocks.
The score is attached below, as well as the music for the entire hymn/carol. Also included is a photo of Leo Sowerby.
The full text is in the First Comment.
LOTS more Christmas music coming soon!