Choral music for Easter, Part I — Richafort, Christus resurgens

Back in the pre-quarantine era, the choir had begun work on an anthem for Easter Sunday morning. It has been my habit to find some of the most wondrous, most elaborate, most effusive music in the repertoire for us to share with the congregation as we celebrate the Resurrection together. And the choir has always worked hard — and remarkably, without complaining — to try to master the pieces I have selected.

This year, we had planned on singing a piece by a composer whose work was new to us. Not much is known by anyone about Jean Richafort, who was born sometime around 1480, somewhere in the Netherlands. He worked as choir master in a few churches in the Netherlands, had some association with the French royal court, and may have been at one time in the service of Queen Mary of Hungary.

Whatever Richafort’s biography might contain, the piece we had planned to sing demonstrates his musical skills. Christus resurgens is an exuberant celebration of the reality of the Resurrection. It was first published in 1520, and as there are many surviving contemporary copies of the score, it was probably very popular in its day.

The text is a familiar one from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans:

Christus resurgens ex mortuis, jam non moritur, mors illi ultra non dominabitur.
     Christ, rising again from the dead, dieth now no more. Death shall no more have dominion over him.
Quod enim mortuus est peccato, mortuus est semel, quod autem vivit, vivit Deo,
For in that he died to sin, he died once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God.
Mortuus est enim propter delicta nostra: et resurrexit propter justificationem nostram,
     He died for our sins and rose again for our justification,
Quod autem vivit, vivit Deo,
     who liveth unto God.

I’m very sorry that we couldn‘t share this with our fellow worshipers this morning. We’ll work on it for next year! [NOTE: The choir was finally free to sing this piece on Easter Sunday 2022.] Meanwhile, here is a performance of Jean Richafort’s Christus resurgens sung by the Oxford Camerata, conducted by Jeremy Summerly.