Dominus illuminatio mea. Psalm 27.
The Lord is my light, and my salvation, whom then shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid? When mine enemies pressed sore against me, they stumbled and fell. Though an host of men were laid against me: yet shall not my heart be afraid. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen. The Lord is my light . . .
O God the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal: Grant this, O heavenly Father, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope. Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.
[Psalm 79] Be merciful unto our sins, O Lord: wherefore do the heathen say: Where is now their God? Help us, O God of our salvation: and for the glory of thy Name, deliver us, O Lord.
Alleluia, alleluia. [Psalm 9] Thou O God, are set in the throne that judgest right: be thou the refuge of the opprest in due time of trouble. Alleluia.
St. Luke 6:36-42
At that time; Jesus said to his disciples: Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again. And he spake a parable unto them, Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch? The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye.
[Psalm 13] Lighten mine eyes, that I sleep not in death: lest mine enemy say: I have prevailed against him.
[Psalm 18] The Lord is my stony rock, and my defence: my Saviour, my god, and my might.
Below are plainsong renditions of the Psalms as published in the Saint Dunstan’s Plainsong Psalter.
Alessandro Grandi, Illumina oculos meos
Orlande de Lassus, Illumina oculos meos
Henry Desmarets, Illumina oculos meos
Johann Sebastian Bach, Ein ungefärbt Gemüte (BWV 24, “An unstained character”)
Johann Sebastian Bach, Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ (BWV 177, “I call to you, Lord Jesus Christ”)
Today’s Offertory is a verse taken from Psalm 13. Here is that verse and several of the following verse which are often included in musical settings.
Illumina oculos meos, ne unquam obdormiam in morte,
Lighten mine eyes, that I sleep not in death.
Ne quando dicat inimicus meus, Praevalui adversus eum.
Lest my enemy say “I have prevailed against him.”
Qui tribulant me exultabunt si motus fuero.
For if I be cast down, they that trouble me will rejoice at it.
Ego autem in misericordia tua speravi, exultavit cor meum in salutary tuo.
But my trust is in thy mercy, and my heart is joyful in thy salvation.
Cantabo Domino qui bona tribuit mihi et psallam nomini Domini altissimi.
I will sing of the Lord, because he hath dealt so lovingly with me: yea, I will praise the Name of the Lord most highest.
The first of three settings of this text presented below is by Alessandro Grandi (1590–1630). A native of Venice, Grandi may have studied with one of the most celebrated of Venetian composers, Giovanni Gabrieli (c.1554-1612). For a time he served at St. Mark’s Cathedral as an assistant to Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643).
Grandi’s setting of Illumina oculos meos is sung here by counter-tenor Henri Ledroit, accompanied by Philippe Pierlot on viola da gamba and organist Bernard Foccroulle.
The setting of this Offertory by Orlande de Lassus (1532–1594) features only the first two lines of the text above. Each of the four a cappella voices enters in turn singing the word illumina (“lighten”), dramatically jumping up a full octave (in musical imagery, ascending often suggests light, descending, darkness). In the performance embedded beow, the Lumina Vocal Ensemble is guided toward the light by musical director Anna Pope. (The score is here if you care to follow along.)
French baroque composer Henry Desmarets (1661-1741) was best known for his operas. Initially trained in church choirs, he also composed a number of sacred choral works. Below, tenor Jean-Paul Fouchécourt is accompanied by Les Violons du Roy conducted by Christopher Jackson.
Ein ungefärbt Gemüte is one of three cantatas that Bach wrote for use on the Fourth Sunday after Trinity. Inspired by the Gospel reading, the text by pastor/theologian Erdmann Neumeister (1671-1756) presents a series of reflections and admonitions on the merciful, generous, forgiving, and candid character of true disciples. As Julian Mincham summarizes the text of the cantata, “The theme is essentially two sided: one part expresses God’s honesty and the positive outcomes that eventuate when the uncorrupted Christian’s mind allows itself to be encompassed by His goodness. The other is the almost ferocious and venomous attack on the hypocrites who turn from Him and wear the devil’s clothes.”
The cantata opens with an alto aria which oddly situates the commands of Jesus in the context of national pride: “An unstained character with German faithfulness and goodness makes us beautiful before God and man.” Accompanied by unison violins and violas, the simplicity of this opening movement suggests the sincere integrity of the unstained character described throughout the work.
This is followed by a tenor recitative, in which love of neighbor is enjoined. The concluding command in that mini-sermon: “Make of yourself the image you would like your neighbor to be!” Then, we hear the full choir for the first time, and — as conductor John Eliot Gardiner observes — “Bach brings out his big guns to ram the point home.” The text the choir sings is a verse from the Sermon on the Mount, expressing a simple and familiar moral insight: “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.” The music presenting this simple text is intense, forceful, and anything but simple. Mincham comments: “The text has given Bach little specific in the way of inspirational images so he seems to have solved the problem by representing ceaseless activity through constant musical movement.”
After this powerful chorus, a bass recitative warns against the evils of hypocrisy: “Many a devilish monster seems to be an angel. They keep the wolf hidden inside while the sheep’s fleece is turned outside.” This is followed by a tender tenor aria enjoining sincerity: “May faithfulness and truth be the foundation of every thought of yours, as your words and mouth on the outside, so may your heart be inside.”
The cantata concludes with the first stanza from O Gott, du frommer Gott, an eight-stanza chorale by poet Johann Heermann (1585–1647):
Oh God, you righteous God,
You wellspring of all gifts,
Without whom nothing is that is,
From whom we have everything,
Grant me a healthy body,
And [grant] that in that body
An unvexed soul
And clean conscience might abide.
Ein ungefärbt Gemüte is sung here by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir, conducted by Ton Koopman. The soloists are Bogna Bartosz, alto; Gerd Türk, tenor; and Klaus Mertens, bass. The cantata’s complete text — with helpful annotations by Michael Marissen and Daniel R. Melamed — is available here.
Johann Sebastian Bach, Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ (BWV 177, “I call to you, Lord Jesus Christ”)
The text for the cantata that Bach composed in 1732 for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity is based on a hymn/chorale written by Johann Agricola (1492–1566). The five stanzas of Agricola’s hymn comprise a sequence of entreaties to God: “Bestow your grace on me . . . do not let me despair . . . pardon me also at this hour . . . give me a new life . . . give me constancy until the end . . . if temptation now comes, Lord, defend me.” You may read the entire text of the hymn here.
The middle stanza of this hymn begins with a petition that links the text with the Gospel reading for this Sunday: “Grant that from the bottom of my heart I may forgive my enemies.”
Bach used all five stanzas of Agricola’s chorale, which was one of the most frequently sung hymns prescribed for use during Trinitytide. It was designated as Hymn of the Day for the 2nd, 19th, and 21st Sundays after Trinity and as a Communion Hymn on the 5th, 6th, 8th, and 22nd Sundays after Trinity. It was also sung in other Church seasons, being the Hymn of the Day for the Third Sunday after Epiphany, as well as for Septuagesima and Sexagesima Sundays. So we can assume that the text and the spirit of its pleas were familiar to the congregation in Leipzig where Bach’s cantata was first heard.
The first of the five movements of the work — a chorus — begins with an elaborately woven trio of a violin and two oboes, supported by a full string section. Then the three lower voices of the choir — alto, tenor, and bass — each entering in turn with the words “Ich ruf” [“I call”]. With each entrance, the singers begin with an upward musical leap of five or six steps, thereby capturing the sense of urgency in the petitions that follow: “I call to you, Lord Jesus Christ, I pray, hear my lamentation.” Before the sopranos enter singing a stretched-out melody, the three lower voices settle into a three-part tapestry of sound similar to that of the opening instrumental introduction. John Eliot Gardiner says of these opening measures: “Even by his [i.e., Bach’s] standards, the interweaving of the three lower voices is emotionally charged and poignant: penitential writing at its lyrical best.”
The opening chorus is followed by three arias — no recitatives in this cantata, which was rare for Bach at the time the work was composed. Alto, soprano, and tenor soloists each take a turn to continue the earnest entreaties of a hopeful believer. The highlight of the cantata is the soprano aria in the middle of the work. The text in this stanza of the hymn includes these words: “let your word always be my food with which to nourish my soul, to defend myself when misfortune comes upon me that might soon lead me astray.”
Julian Mincham describes this solo as possessing an all-enveloping sense of geniality and affection. “The one word that sums up this aria is warmth. Is it the warmth of the genuine Christian forgiving his enemies and nourishing his soul in the establishment of a new life? Or perhaps it is the warmth of the Divine Love which guides and defends us.”
The tenor aria is a plea for steadfastness and mercy, and the jaunty cheeriness in the music implies confidence that the prayers will be answered; after all, God’s grace is not dependent on our performance. “No man can inherit nor acquire through his works your grace that delivers us from dying.”
The concluding chorale is a strong and simple four-part harmonization of the tune traditionally sung with Agricola’s hymn. This tune was also present in the cantata’s opening chorus. Years before composing this cantata, Bach had written a chorale prelude based on this melody (you can hear it and learn more about it below). Here is the entire melody without any harmonization:
While this melody is predominantly set in a minor key, at two pivotal moments (cadences), Bach slips into a major key. Mincham writes: “This is noteworthy, considering the journey upon which the cantata has taken us. The realization that those things which the Lord can bestow upon us will lighten our condition, is all-important. Consequently, those moments of light shine through even the subtlest of details of the chorale harmonization.”
The entire cantata is performed here by the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir, conducted by Ton Koopman. The soloists are Sandrien Piau, soprano; Bogna Bartosz, alto; and Christoph Prégardien, tenor.
Below is organist Leo van Doeselaar playing the chorale prelude Bach composed on the melody sung with Agricola’s hymn.
Leo van Doeselaar talks about the sense of sadness present in this work in the video below.
The following poem is from John Keble’s The Christian Year (1827).
For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by the reason of Him who hath subjected the same in hope, because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.
Romans viii 19–22.
It was not then a poet’s dream,
An idle vaunt of song,
Such as beneath the moon’s soft gleam
On vacant fancies throng;
Which bids us see in heaven and earth,
In all fair things around,
Strong yearnings for a blest new birth
With sinless glories crowned;
Which bids us hear, at each sweet pause
From care and want and toil,
When dewy eve her curtain draws
Over the day’s turmoil,
In the low chant of wakeful birds,
In the deep weltering flood,
In whispering leaves, these solemn words —
“God made us all for good.”
All true, all faultless, all in tune
Creation’s wondrous choir,
Opened in mystic unison
To last till time expire.
And still it lasts; by day and night,
With one consenting voice,
All hymn Thy glory, Lord, aright,
All worship and rejoice.
Man only mars the sweet accord
O’erpowering with “harsh din”
The music of Thy works and word,
Ill matched with grief and sin.
Sin is with man at morning break,
And through the livelong day
Deafens the ear that fain would wake
To Nature’s simple lay.
But when eve’s silent footfall steals
Along the eastern sky,
And one by one to earth reveals
Those purer fires on high,
When one by one each human sound
Dies on the awful ear,
Then Nature’s voice no more is drowned,
She speaks, and we must hear.
Then pours she on the Christian heart
That warning still and deep,
At which high spirits of old would start
E’en from their Pagan sleep.
Just guessing, through their murky blind
Few, faint, and baffling sight,
Streaks of a brighter heaven behind,
A cloudless depth of light.
Such thoughts, the wreck of Paradise,
Through many a dreary age,
Upbore whate’er of good and wise
Yet lived in bard or sage:
They marked what agonizing throes
Shook the great mother’s womb:
But Reason’s spells might not disclose
The gracious birth to come:
Nor could the enchantress Hope forecast
God’s secret love and power;
The travail pangs of Earth must last
Till her appointed hour.
The hour that saw from opening heaven
Redeeming glory stream,
Beyond the summer hues of even,
Beyond the mid-day beam.
Thenceforth, to eyes of high desire,
The meanest thing below,
As with a seraph’s robe of fire
Invested, burn and glow:
The rod of Heaven has touched them all,
The word from Heaven is spoken:
“Rise, shine, and sing, thou captive thrall;
Are not thy fetters broken?
“The God Who hallowed thee and blest,
Pronouncing thee all good—
Hath He not all thy wrongs redrest,
And all thy bliss renewed?
“Why mourn’st thou still as one bereft,
Now that th’ eternal Son
His blessèd home in Heaven hath left
To make thee all His own?”
Thou mourn’st because sin lingers still
In Christ’s new heaven and earth;
Because our rebel works and will
Stain our immortal birth:
Because, as Love and Prayer grow cold,
The Saviour hides His face,
And worldlings blot the temple’s gold
With uses vile and base.
Hence all thy groans and travail pains,
Hence, till thy God return,
In Wisdom’s ear thy blithest strains,
Oh Nature, seem to mourn.
The following hymn is from Bp. Christopher Wordsworth’s The Holy Year; or Hymns for Sundays and Holy Days throughout the Year (1862).
Fourth Sunday after Trinity
The Creation, represented in the Epistle of the Week as travailing in pain for a more glorious state of existence after the General Resurrection.
O Lord, how alter’d is the face
Of this World, once so fair
The lands where Eden’s garden bloom’d
Now thorns and thistles bear.
The Ground, where once unbidden fruits
Enrich’d the fertile field,
Now hardly will with painful toil
A scanty produce yield.
Earth, once made beautiful for man,
Was blighted by his Fall;
And now with sympathizing grief
Weeps at his funeral.
But lo! the second Adam, Christ,
A blessed hope displays,
That He will Adam’s fallen race
To bliss and glory raise.
O Lord, Thy Gospel reaches down
From Man to suffering Earth;
She travails now in pangs and throes
For that Day’s glorious Birth.
That Birth through Death will her upraise
From sorrow and distress;
New Heavens and Earth will then be bom,
“Where dwelleth righteousness.”
The Heavens and Earth, when cleansed by fire
From all things that defile.
Will on that Resurrection morn
Rise from their funeral pile.
Who shall the future glories tell
Of that fair Paradise?
Where God says little, they who are
Most silent, are most wise.
To God Triune be thanks and praise
For what His Word reveals;
Nor let Him less be glorified
For what that Word conceals.