• Repertoire

    J. S. Bach, Erforsche mich, Gott, und erfahre mein Herz, “Search me, God, and know my heart” (Cantata BWV 136)

    The biblical readings for the Eighth Sunday after Trinity are Romans 8:12-17 (a text which affirms our identity as children of God, and thus joint-heirs with Christ), and St. Matthew 8:15-23, which warns of false prophets and more generally of hypocrisy: “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” The text of this Gospel reading is the link that connects the six movements of this cantata, one of three that Bach composed for use in the liturgy on the Eighth Sunday after Trinity. The opening chorus is a text…

  • Repertoire

    “Ye now therefore have sorrow” — Music from Bach for the third Sunday after Easter

    The third Sunday after Easter is traditionally known as “Jubilate Sunday,” because the Introit — from Psalm 66 — begins with the words Jubilate Deo, “Be joyful in God.” Joy also shows up in the Gospel reading for this day from St. John 16, part of the “farewell discourse” of Jesus, his rich and enigmatic description of (among many other things) his coming departure from the disciples. In verse 20, Jesus says to them “Verily, verily, I say unto you, that ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy.” Johann Sebastian Bach wrote three cantatas…

  • Repertoire

    Bach, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (Sleepers Awake) BWV 140

    This may be the best-known of all of Bach’s cantatas. Written for the 27th Sunday after Trinity (which is rarely observed, since it requires that the date of Easter be as early as possible), the text to Wachet auf develops the eschatological themes inspired by both the Gospel and Epistle reading for that Sunday. The Epistle for Trinity 27 is 1 Thessalonians 5: 1-11, in which St. Paul urges his readers to be watchful and sober-minded, anticipating Christ’s return with the knowledge that “the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.” The Gospel reading — St. Matthew 25: 1-13 is the parable of the wise and foolish virgins,…

  • Repertoire

    Saul on the Road to Damascus, Part 3

    The week before last, I introduced readers to Heinrich Schütz’s Saul, Saul, was verfolgst du mich? (SWV 415). This short work presents the moment when the words of Jesus come to Saul, the initial phase of his conversion. Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It will be hard for you to kick against the thorns. Calvin Stapert (whose books on various musical topics I often cite) wrote to share with me some comments on how Schütz constructed this short work. With Stapert’s permission, I’ve posted his comments below. First, here is another recording of Saul, Saul, was verfolgst du mich? featuring the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists, conducted…

  • Repertoire

    More on Saul->Paul & music

    After last week’s post concerning Felix Mendelssohn’s musical depiction of the conversion of the apostle Paul, a reader sent a note to remind me of another work based on the account of the confrontation on the road to Damascus. Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672) wrote a short piece using the words of the ascended Jesus to the young Church’s chief adversary: Saul, Saul, was verfolgst du mich? (SWV 415). In translation, the text reads: Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It will be hard for you to kick against the thorns. Scored for 14 voices plus instruments, it is a dramatic work displaying the influence of the Italian polychoral style on Schütz…

  • Repertoire

    Celebrating the Conversion of St. Paul with some help from Felix Mendelssohn

    Today (January 25th) is the day on which we celebrate the conversion of St. Paul. The only musical portrayal of that remarkable event that I’m aware of is by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847). The oratorio Paulus, premiered in 1836, was the work that catapulted the twenty-seven-year-old Mendelssohn into international prominence. Mendelssohn biographer R. Larry Todd writes: Paulus was greeted with a rare, nearly unanimous critical acclaim. A clear indication of its success was its rapid reception in foreign countries, including England, Denmark, Holland, Poland, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States (where three performances followed in quick succession in Boston, New York and Baltimore between 1837 and 1839).* The text of…

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    Tribus miraculis

    During the season of Epiphany, we reflect on the significance of the revelation of God in Christ that commenced with the birth of Messiah. One of the traditional antiphons sung on the Feast of Epiphany is the Latin text, Tribus miraculis: Tribus miraculis ornatum, diem sanctum colimus: Distinguished by three miracles, this holy day is celebrated: Hodie stella Magos duxit ad praesepium: Today the star led the Magi to the manger; Hodie vinum ex aqua factum est ad nuptias: Today wine was made from water at the wedding; Hodie in Jordane a Joanne Christus baptizari voluit, Today in the Jordan by John, Christ chose to be baptized ut salvaret nos,…

  • Essays,  Repertoire

    Bach to basics

    Why “Lutheran Mass” is not a contradiction in terms by Ken Myers [This article originally appeared in the September/October 2014 issue of Touchstone magazine.] When the words “Bach” and “mass” appear in proximity, the subject at hand is usually the magisterial Mass in B Minor. Composed during the last two years of his life as the last great project of his musical career, the Mass in B Minor is an aural textbook of forms of musical expression that Johann Sebastian Bach had explored and mastered for decades. Bach scholar and biographer Christoph Wolff has observed that, “just as theological doctrine survived over the centuries in the words of the Mass, so Bach’s…

  • Hymns,  Repertoire

    To Jordan came our Lord, the Christ

    Text: Martin Luther (1483-1546) Music: Unknown source Tune name: CHRIST UNSER HERR ZUM JORDAN KAM   THE TEXT From the beginning of the Church’s liturgical life, hymns have been used to teach or, more accurately, to preach. The long history of hymnody contains many figures — not all of them orthodox — who recognized the power of singing to instruct, encourage, and inspire. Along with St. Ambrose, Martin Luther was one of the greatest champions of music’s theological and pastoral significance. First published in 1543 — late in Luther’s life — the hymn Christ, unser Herr, zum Jordan kam (“Christ our Lord came to the Jordan”) was written to offer instruction about…

  • Repertoire

    Howells, Here is the little door

    Between 1918 and 1920, Herbert Howells wrote three Carol-Anthems, of which “Here is the little door” was the first. It is based on a poem by Frances Chesterton (1869–1938), the wife of the great apologist and journalist G. K. Chesterton. In one of his own poem’s — “The Ballad of the White Horse” — Chesterton credited her with playing a crucial role in his own faith: Therefore I bring these rhymes to you Who brought the cross to me. Unable to have any children, Frances Chesterton was deeply moved by the image of the Nativity and regularly wrote poems depicting the Infant Jesus for inclusion in Christmas cards. The best known…