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    Music for Passiontide, V — Buxtehude and the Body of Christ

    Several years ago, I wrote an article for Touchstone about Membra Jesu Nostri (“The Limbs of Our Jesus”), a work by Dieterich Buxtehude (ca. 1637-1707). The article — “Made Clean by His Body” — explained the background to this collection of seven short works based on a medieval poem and designed to encourage meditation on the significance of the suffering of Christ on the Cross. On this page, I’ve placed the Latin text for this unique work, along with an English translation and an embedded recording.

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    Dieterich Buxtehude, Membra Jesu Nostri

    Membra Jesu Nostri (“The Limbs of Our Jesus”) is an hour-long cycle of seven cantatas written in about 1680 by Dieterich Buxtehude (ca. 1637-1707). The text is from a poem called Salve mundi salutare (“Hail, Salvation of the World”), most likely written by an early-thirteenth-century monk. The article “Made Clean by His Body” explains the background to this work. Below is a performance by Concerto Vocale, directed by René Jacobs. The soloists are: Marina Bovet, soprano; Maria Christine Kiehr, soprano; Andreas Scholl, counter tenor; Gerd Türk, tenor; and Ulrich Messthaler, bass. The text and translation are below the embedded video. Cantata I — Ad pedes (To the feet, based on…

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    Made Clean by His Body

    by Ken Myers [This article originally appeared in the March/April 2016 issue of Touchstone magazine.] The term “Passion” is used to describe both the sufferings of Jesus on the Cross and a genre of pictorial, dramatic, or musical works recounting those sufferings. Musical Passions typically follow the narrative structure of one of the Gospel accounts of the events of Holy Week. They present a narrated story — the characters portrayed by singers often include an Evangelist as a narrator sharing the stage with Jesus and Judas, Peter and Pilate. Early Passion settings were simply chanted, but by the late fifteenth century, more elaborate “through-composed” settings began to emerge, which made room for…

  • Recording reviews,  Repertoire

    Music for Passiontide, IV — Morales, The Seven Lamentations

    Almost exactly five years ago — on April 3, 2015, at our parish’s Good Friday service — our choir sang a piece by Cristóbal de Morales (c. 1500-1553). It was a poignant setting of several verses from the book of Job. Parce mihi, Domine (“Spare me, Lord”) captures the sense of desolation and abandonment that is expressed by Job, a dark condition akin to the forsakeness that our Lord experienced on the cross. Although the work was not composed with liturgical use on Good Friday in mind, it seemed fitting for us to sing it then. Morales, Parce mihi, DomineThe Monteverdi Choir, John Eliot Gardiner, director Parce mihi, Domine, nihil…

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    Music for Passiontide, III — Mendelssohn and others revisit Media vita

    Earlier this week, we listened to John Sheppard’s setting of Media vita, which begins “In the midst of life we are in death.” The hymn probably dates to the early 13th century. In the early 16th century, Martin Luther translated this Latin hymn into a metrical German hymn, suitable for congregational singing. In his hands it became a three-stanza hymn which still survives in a few Lutheran hymnals. Luther amplified the text to make it more explicitly Christocentric, making reference to Christ’s shed blood as the source of our salvation. In the early 19th century, Felix Mendelssohn set Luther’s text to stirring music for 8-part a cappella choir. Small fragments…

  • Recording reviews,  Repertoire

    Music for Passiontide, II — The Tenebrae Consort sings Holy Week plainchant and polyphony

    During Communion in our parish, we often sing the text to St. Thomas Aquinas’s great Eucharistic hymn, which begins “Now my tongue the mystery telling” (Hymn #199). The tune to which we usually sing this hymn is PANGE LINGUA, a plainchant melody that comes from the Sarum Use. We also sing that tune on Good Friday, with the text of a different hymn, this one about the Cross and the Crucifixion, a hymn which begins: “Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle.” Here is that Holy Week hymn sung in its original Latin form by the Tenebrae Consort, directed by Nigel Short. This is from a recording that presents a collection…

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    Music for Passiontide, I — John Sheppard, Media vita

    In the Church in England — before it was the Church of England, and thus before The Book of Common Prayer as we know it — many English parishes followed the liturgical practices prescribed in the Sarum Use, developed in the see of Salisbury. These parishes included in the prayers at Compline (i.e., the evening prayers) the singing of the Nunc dimittis, as does our Evening Prayer service. Beginning sometime in the 14th century, from the third Sunday in Lent until Passion Sunday, Compline services prefaced the singing of the Nunc dimittis with an antiphon which began: Media vita in morte sumus.     In the midst of life we are in…

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    Heinrich Biber, Mystery Sonata #1, “The Annunciation”

    Sometime in the late 17th century, the Bohemian composer Heinrich Biber (1644-1704) composed a series of 15 sonatas for accompanied violin. Known variously as the “Mystery Sonatas” or the “Rosary Sonatas,” each of the 15 sonatas in the collection corresponds to one of the mysteries in the life of Jesus and Mary that focused meditative devotion. Baroque violinist Fiona Hughes, a former member of our parish and our choir, has in the past played some of these sonatas as Preludes or Postludes during services at All Saints. With colleagues in the ensemble Three Notched Road, she has recorded several of the sonatas, including the first, which musically imagines the event…

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    Johann Sebastian Bach’s birthday (March 21, 2020)

    In the midst of our present uncertainties, it is helpful to remember that God’s Creation is still a thing of goodness and beauty. And God has given us — some more than others — the capacity to discover and amplify the goodness and beauty implicit in Creation to a glorious level. One notably gifted servant of Creation’s and the Creator’s glory was Johann Sebastian Bach, whose birthday we celebrate today. Consider Bach’s achievement in a larger context discussed by philosopher Josef Pieper. In his book In Tune with the World, Pieper wrote: Underlying all festive joy kindled by a specific circumstance there has to be an absolutely universal affirmation extending…

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    J. S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, Part 6

    The first line sung in the opening chorus of Part 6 reminds us that the character of Christmas is far from that of a Hallmark greeting card. “Herr, wenn die stolzen Feinde schnauben” can be translated “Lord, when our arrogant enemies snort with rage.” In his book, Bach’s Oratorios, which includes a complete English translation of the texts to all of Bach’s oratorios and Passions, Michael Marissen comments in a footnote about the adjective stolzen: While Stolz primarily means “proud” in a more dignified sense, it is also an archaic synonym for übermutig, in the sense of “insolent” or “cocky.” In this way the word Stolz has the same double…