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    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…

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    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…

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    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…

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    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…

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    Music for Passiontide, I — John Sheppard, Media vita

    In the Church in England — before it was the Church of England, and thus before The Book of Common Prayer as we know it — many English parishes followed the liturgical practices prescribed in the Sarum Use, developed in the see of Salisbury. These parishes included in the prayers at Compline (i.e., the evening prayers) the singing of the Nunc dimittis, as does our Evening Prayer service. Beginning sometime in the 14th century, from the third Sunday in Lent until Passion Sunday, Compline services prefaced the singing of the Nunc dimittis with an antiphon which began: Media vita in morte sumus.     In the midst of life we are in…

  • Service music

    Passion Sunday, the Fifth Sunday in Lent (March 29, 2020)

    This Sunday marks the beginning of the two-week period historically known as Passiontide. During these final days before Easter, more attention is given to the sufferings and death of Jesus. This Sunday has also been known as Judica Sunday, that designation taken from the first word of the day’s proper Introit, a text taken from Psalm 43: Give sentence with me, O God, and defend my cause against the ungodly people: O deliver my soul from the deceitful and wicked man: for thou art the God of my strength. O send out thy light and thy truth, that they may lead me: and bring me unto thy holy hill, and…

  • Service music

    Feast of the Annunciation (March 25, 2020)

    Within the Anglican tradition, there are two sets of Propers that may be sung on the Feast of the Annunciation. The first set contains the texts from the traditional Western Rite, texts which relies heavily on passages from Psalm 45. The Introit from the Western Rite presents the scene of the royal wedding that is depicted in Psalm 45: The rich also among the people shall make their supplication before thee; she shall be brought unto the King in a raiment of needlework: the virgins that be her fellows shall be brought unto thee, with joy and gladness. My heart is inditing of a good matter: I speak of the…