• Repertoire

    J. S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion: An introduction

    As one of the greatest pieces of music in the Church’s treasury, Bach’s St. Matthew Passion can be more than a bit intimidating on first hearing. But repeated exposure to Bach’s sensitive and insightful telling of the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus — and of the response of faithful believers to the event — brings rich rewards. In 2019, the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge and the Academy of Ancient Music recorded the work in a live performance. The part of the Evangelist was sung by tenor James Gilchrist. In the Spring of 2020, Gilchrist recorded a 30-minute guide to the work. His comments are illustrated with excerpts from the…

  • Repertoire

    J. S. Bach
    Ich bin vergnügt mit meinem Glücke
    (“I am content with my good fortune,” BWV 84)

    Bach composed this cantata for solo soprano for Septuagesima in 1727. The Gospel reading for this Sunday is the parable of the workers in the vineyard from St. Matthew 20:1–16 . As John Eliot Gardiner notes, in the text to this cantata “there is no mention of the disgruntled work-force, only of being ‘content with my good fortune that dear God bestows on me’.” The work’s opening aria — a duet with soprano and oboe — expresses this contentment with what may sound like a sense of resignation or wistfulness. But following a recitative reminding us that even the most meager provision is an undeserved gift, the second aria bursts…

  • Repertoire

    A confident Advent hymn

    One of the most dynamic Advent hymns in our Hymnal is “Wake, awake, for night is flying.” The choir had already begun recording this hymn to accompany our parking lot singing this weekend before we learned that the services were to be cancelled. I hope that you have a chance to sing it sometime during Advent. Toward that end, here is the recording that the choir made: This page provides some background to the hymn’s text, and some examples of a few of J. S. Bach’s settings of the tune, known as WACHET AUF (which translates as “Wake up”). Last year I did some research on other treatments of this…

  • Interviews,  Repertoire

    St. Cecilia’s Day 2020

    As she is the patron saint of music and musicians, St. Cecilia has not surprisingly been the subject of many musical compositions. In this feature I produced this weekend for Mars Hill Audio, I introduce several of the pieces. Also included is part of an interview with Brian Dean Sousa, who has been gracing us with his work at our organ console in recent months. Brian talks about recording a piece inspired by St. Cecilia with his ensemble, Musica Sacra Virginia. Make sure to listen on YouTube to the recording he and his singers have made for this special day.

  • Repertoire,  Service music

    Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels

    Today’s feast day is also known as Michaelmas, traditionally celebrated in Great Britain and elsewhere as the last day of the autumn harvest. The Book of Revelation (12:7-9) describes a war in heaven in which the Archangel Michael leads an angelic host to defeat Satan. That description accounts for the Church’s confident belief that God protects us each day by the watchful agency of angels, a protection recognized in the Collect for today: “O Everlasting God, who hast ordained and constituted the services of Angels and men in a wonderful order; Mercifully grant that, as thy holy Angels always do thee service in heaven, so, by thy appointment, they may…

  • Hymns,  Repertoire

    Georg Neumark, Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten

    On this page: The text: comfort in contentmentThe tune: confidence in a minor keySome of J. S. Bach’s settings of this tuneFelix Mendelssohn’s cantata, Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten [Lawrence L. Lohr wrote an informative article in The Hymn (Vol. 49, No. 3, July 1998) titled “‘If thou but suffer God to guide thee’: The Journey of a Lutheran Hymn.” You may read and download a copy of that article here.] Origins of the text A hymn text and a chorale melody are both known by the name Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten (“Whoever lets our beloved God rule”). Both are the work of Georg Neumark…

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    The wonder of his works

    by Ken Myers [This article originally appeared in the November/December 2014 issue of Touchstone magazine.] In a recent conversation, a local pastor commented that many of his parishioners seem to behave as if the Bible begins in Genesis 3 with the account of the Fall, rather than in Genesis 1 with the glorious account of Creation. This confirmed my suspicions that theology for many Christians has been reduced to soteriology. They understand the horror and tragedy of the dark shadow of sin without paying attention to the colors and textures of that on which the shadow falls. They are aware that all we like sheep have gone astray, but they are not…

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    William Byrd, Te Deum laudamus

    William Byrd’s setting of this canticle traditionally sung at Morning Prayer is part of his “Great Service.” The adjective “great” means “large,” not “excellent.” And the noun “service” refers to the three services that were part of the daily Anglican liturgical life: Morning Prayer, Holy Communion, and Evening Prayer. The collection known as the “Great Service” includes three of the canticles appointed for use during Morning Prayer (Venite, Te Deum, and Benedictus), two texts from Holy Communion (the Kyrie and the Creed), and two of the canticles sung during Evening Prayer (Magnificat and Nunc dimittis). Byrd’s Great Service, writes conductor Peter Phillips, “is the most elaborate and the lengthiest setting…

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    J. S. Bach, Christ lag in Todesbanden, “Christ lay in death’s bonds” (Cantata BWV 4)

    Composed for use on Easter Sunday, Christ lag in Todesbanden is one of Bach’s best-known church cantatas. It is also one of his earliest, probably written in 1708 when Bach was organist at St. Blasius church in Mühlhausen. A distinctive feature of this work is that it uses — unaltered — all 7 stanzas from a Lutheran hymn. First published in 1524, Luther’s hymn Christ lag in Todesbanden was a loose German paraphrase of an 11th-century Latin hymn, one which we sing every Easter (in English): “Christians, to the Paschal victim” (#97). In addition to adapting the Latin text for use in congregational singing in German, Luther and his colleague…

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    Choral music for Easter, Part V — Bach, Easter Oratorio

    “Come, hurry and run, you nimble feet; reach the cavern that sheltered Jesus! Laughing and jesting attend our hearts, for our Salvation is raised.” The first chorus in Bach’s Easter Oratorio (BWV 249) captures the joy unleashed by the Resurrection. As Bach tells the story of the discovery the empty tomb, Easter joy is revealed to be complex. It is more than excitement; it comprises comfort, consolation, hope, love, praise, and thanksgiving. Below — at the bottom of this post — is a complete performance of Bach’s Easter Oratorio by the Netherlands Bach Society. But the first embedded video is a helpful 6-minute introduction to the work, featuring comments by…