• 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…

  • Repertoire

    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…

  • Repertoire

    Howells, Magnificat (Gloucester Service)

    Herbert Howells composed more than twenty settings of the canticles appointed for use in Evening Prayer (the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis). Many of them are identified by the name of the cathedral in which they were first sung. When commissioned to compose a work for initial use in a specific liturgical space, Howells took great care to understand the acoustic qualities of the place, especially how certain notes were naturally heard as having richer resonance. But he was alert to more than the sound of the space. Howells once wrote of “the ecstasy he felt at seeing light flood through the great east window of Gloucester Cathedral.” The Magnificat he wrote…

  • Repertoire

    Orlando de Lassus: Conditor alme siderum

    The fourth and last in my series on Renaissance motets based on Conditor alme siderum features a setting by a composer who is far too under-appreciated. As I wrote recently in Touchstone: Among musically knowledgeable listeners, even those who admire the music of the high Renaissance, the work of Orlande de Lassus is woefully unfamiliar. It was not always so. During his lifetime, in the second half of the sixteenth century, Lassus was easily the most famous composer in Europe. With contemporaries that included Palestrina, Victoria, and Byrd, such fame is a remarkable tribute to his artistic accomplishments. Another contemporary, the celebrated French poet Pierre de Ronsard, hailed Lassus as…

  • Repertoire

    Francisco Guerrero: Conditor alme siderum

    This is the third in a series of “lessons” about how Renaissance composers explored the musical potential of the plainchant melody in Conditor alme siderum. In English translation (“Creator of the stars of night”) this hymn has been our Sequence hymn during Advent. (The earlier pieces featured compositions by Victoria and Dufay.) Francisco Guerrero (1528-1599) shares Spanish nationality with Tomás Luis de Victoria. But while Victoria spent much of his career in Rome, Guerrero spent most of his life in Spain, and most of that time making music at the Cathedral in Seville. His setting of the 6 verses of Conditor alme siderum — like Victoria’s — alternates between plainsong (odd-numbered…