• Hymns

    Music for Passiontide, X — “Ah, holy Jesus”

    One of the hymns that we often sing at Good Friday services is “Ah, holy Jesus.” The hymn powerfully combines an expression of grief at the horrible suffering of the innocent Jesus with the sorrowful recognition of the guilt of each individual believer, whose sin was the occasion for Christ’s death. Our hymn is an English translation of a German hymn inspired by a passage of devotional prose written in Latin by an an Italian-Norman Benedictine monk. Leaving most of the genealogical details aside for now, the German hymn — known as Herzliebster Jesu — was written in 1630 by Johann Heermann (1585-1647), a Lutheran pastor and poet. Our Hymnal’s…

  • Repertoire

    Music for Passiontide IX — Good Friday responsories

    Yesterday’s post explained the structure of the Maundy Thursday Matins in which the Tenebrae responsories were placed. The structure for the Matins on Good Friday is the same: three nocturns (groups of readings and chanted or sung responsories). Each nocturn contained three readings and a following responsory. As was the case on Maundy Thursday, the traditional readings in the first nocturn on Good Friday were all from Lamentations, the first being from 2:8–11. The Lord hath purposed to destroy the wall of the daughter of Zion: he hath stretched out a line, he hath not withdrawn his hand from destroying: therefore he made the rampart and the wall to lament; they…

  • Hymns

    Music for Passiontide VIII — “Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle”

    Every year on Good Friday, we sing this ancient hymn to a traditional plainchant tune (you can read more about the hymn here). Father Glenn often quotes this hymn in his Good Friday sermons, citing what is in our Hymnal the 4th stanza, which begins: “Faithful cross! above all other, one and only noble tree.” Since we’re not together to sing it this year, I thought it would be edifying to find a recording of a choir and/or congregation singing it to encourage our homebound worship. The recording below includes some of the stanzas from the original hymn that our Hymnal doesn’t have (and omits one of them). But the…

  • Repertoire

    Music for Passiontide VII — Maundy Thursday responsories

    This post presents the series of 9 brief texts that were traditionally sung on Maundy Thursday as part of the Divine Office. Within the structure of the hours of prayer in the Western monastic tradition, Matins services were held at about 2 AM. On Maundy Thursday, Matins included three “nocturns,” i.e., groups of readings and prayers. The readings in the first nocturn on Maundy Thursday was from the Lamentations of Jeremiah, a text which mourned the siege of Jesusalem in the 6th century BC. These readings were followed by chanted responsories with texts that described the various sufferings of Jesus on the night in which he was betrayed. Chanted in…

  • Repertoire

    Music for Passiontide, VI — Passion settings before Bach

    If you have listened to musical settings of the story of the Passion, odds are it was one by Johann Sebastian Bach. Given Bach’s astounding achievement in both of the two extant Gospel-based Passions, it’s easy to forget that he didn’t invent the form. Jonathan Freeman-Attwood has observed that Bach’s “Olympian reputation invites avalanches to smother the achievements of distinguished forebears.” In the program notes to a recording of the St. Matthew Passion of Orlande de Lassus, baritone Greg Skidmore points out: setting the passion narrative to newly-composed music to be performed liturgically during Holy Week has been a constant practice in the Catholic church since the 14th century. Liturgically…

  • Repertoire

    Music for Passiontide, V — Buxtehude and the Body of Christ

    Several years ago, I wrote an article for Touchstone about Membra Jesu Nostri (“The Limbs of Our Jesus”), a work by Dieterich Buxtehude (ca. 1637-1707). The article — “Made Clean by His Body” — explained the background to this collection of seven short works based on a medieval poem and designed to encourage meditation on the significance of the suffering of Christ on the Cross. On this page, I’ve placed the Latin text for this unique work, along with an English translation and an embedded recording.

  • Service music

    Palm Sunday (April 5, 2020)

    If we were together on this day, our service would open with the Processional hymn “All glory, laud, and honor.” This page includes (at the bottom) the singing of the hymn by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, as well as a lot of information about the hymn’s history. One of the texts traditionally sung during the distribution of Palm branches is Pueri Hebræorum vestimenta. Pueri Hebræorum vestimenta prosternebant in via     The Hebrew children spread their garments in the way, et clamabant dicentes: Hosanna Filio David,     and cried out, saying: Hosanna to the Son of David: benedictus qui venit in nomini Domini.     blessed is He that cometh in the Name…

  • Recording reviews,  Repertoire

    Music for Passiontide, IV — Morales, The Seven Lamentations

    Almost exactly five years ago — on April 3, 2015, at our parish’s Good Friday service — our choir sang a piece by Cristóbal de Morales (c. 1500-1553). It was a poignant setting of several verses from the book of Job. Parce mihi, Domine (“Spare me, Lord”) captures the sense of desolation and abandonment that is expressed by Job, a dark condition akin to the forsakeness that our Lord experienced on the cross. Although the work was not composed with liturgical use on Good Friday in mind, it seemed fitting for us to sing it then. Morales, Parce mihi, DomineThe Monteverdi Choir, John Eliot Gardiner, director Parce mihi, Domine, nihil…

  • Repertoire

    Music for Passiontide, III — Mendelssohn and others revisit Media vita

    Earlier this week, we listened to John Sheppard’s setting of Media vita, which begins “In the midst of life we are in death.” The hymn probably dates to the early 13th century. In the early 16th century, Martin Luther translated this Latin hymn into a metrical German hymn, suitable for congregational singing. In his hands it became a three-stanza hymn which still survives in a few Lutheran hymnals. Luther amplified the text to make it more explicitly Christocentric, making reference to Christ’s shed blood as the source of our salvation. In the early 19th century, Felix Mendelssohn set Luther’s text to stirring music for 8-part a cappella choir. Small fragments…

  • Recording reviews,  Repertoire

    Music for Passiontide, II — The Tenebrae Consort sings Holy Week plainchant and polyphony

    During Communion in our parish, we often sing the text to St. Thomas Aquinas’s great Eucharistic hymn, which begins “Now my tongue the mystery telling” (Hymn #199). The tune to which we usually sing this hymn is PANGE LINGUA, a plainchant melody that comes from the Sarum Use. We also sing that tune on Good Friday, with the text of a different hymn, this one about the Cross and the Crucifixion, a hymn which begins: “Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle.” Here is that Holy Week hymn sung in its original Latin form by the Tenebrae Consort, directed by Nigel Short. This is from a recording that presents a collection…