“Artful repentance” — Josquin des Prez composed the first major setting of Psalm 51 (Miserere mei, Deus). Its subtle structural details make it worth many repeated listenings.
“Bach to basics” — The phrase “Lutheran Mass” may sound like a contradiction in terms. But Luther really liked almost all of the traditional elements of the Mass. Bach wrote four works known as “Lutheran Masses” which get far too little attention.
“Bend down thy gracious ear” — A paraphrase by Martin Luther of Psalm 130, set to a haunting melody, is the foundation for powerful choral works constructed by J. S. Bach and Felix Mendelssohn.
“Christus Victoriae” — Born in a Spanish city famous as the home of a mystical saint, Tómas Luis de Victoria was a man of intense faith and the rare capacity to convey in music the awe and fearful wonder that the great mysteries command.
“Echoes of glory” — Faith becoming music,” Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger once observed, “is a part of the process of the Word becoming flesh.” But the modern segregation of “faith” from “culture” resists this incarnational dynamic. Composer James MacMillan has boldly reintegrated faith and culture.
“Eloquent lamentation” — The Renaissance composer Orlande de Lassus worked in a wide range of styles. Two of his longest works explored the theme of lamentation. Psalmi Davidis Pœnitentiales is based on the texts of seven psalms with penitential themes, and Lagrime di San Pietro, “The Tears of St. Peter,” expresses the apostle’s woe at having betrayed his Lord.
“Made clean by His body” — 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). Best known as an organist and composer for organ, the Danish-German Buxtehude was also a prolific composer of vocal music.
“A mysterious sense of rightness” — The motets of Anton Bruckner capture both the depth and simplicity of faith. If Bruckner’s symphonies are cathedrals in sound, his motets are intimate side chapels, inviting prayer and contemplation.
“Schütz: Baroque before Bach” — Born exactly 100 years before J. S. Bach, Heinrich Schütz played an important role in injecting the glorious musical style of the early Italian baroque into the German musical bloodstream.
“The sound of perpetual light” — Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem and his four motets based on Gregorian melodies remind us how plainchant developed into polyphony, and demonstrate how the Church’s music can be both traditional and innovative.
“A Tudor tutorial” — In the 1920s, a bequest from a Scottish-American industrialist ambled the recovery of some of the English-speaking church’s richest musical treasures.
“The wondrous mystery in song” — The Virgin birth and the Incarnation are not (in the words of an ancient hymn) in “the normal scheme of things.” Such mysteries are conveyed in music more adequately than in mere propositions.