Come, Philip, let us sing the 46th Psalm.
— Martin Luther to Philip Melanchthon
Last year in this column (October 2016), we examined the contents of the first Lutheran hymnal, “The Eight-Song Book.” As Lutherans (and many others) now celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation (31 October 2017), it seems fitting to conduct a brief historical survey of the best known hymn of Martin Luther (1483-1546), “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”
In all time of our tribulation; in all time of our prosperity;
in the hour of death; in the day of judgment: Help us, good Lord
— from The Litany
The traditional title of the ancient Mass for the Dead is “Requiem,” which hails from the first word of the Introit for this occasional Mass, “Rest (requiem) eternal grant to them, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine on them.” Readers who are not of the Roman Catholic faith may be a bit surprised to encounter a column on a musical setting of the Requiem from a Lutheran writer, but we must be cautious not to throw out the “Lutheran baby” with the “Medieval bath water.” The text of the Requiem omits the Gloria and the Creed, alters the Agnus Dei to include prayers for the dead, and includes numerous texts on the final judgment that are curiously devoid of the Gospel. Two sacred texts remain intact, however, which overlap with the traditional “Sunday” text of the Mass: the Kyrie (“Lord, have mercy”) and the Sanctus (“Holy, holy, holy”). These texts have inspired composers through the centuries, leaving a veritable treasure trove in our ecclesiastical back yard. Welcome to the first installment of our occasional “Rescuing the Requiem” series, which seeks to extract and explore excerpts from the Requiem repertoire, beginning with the Kyrie of the Requiem of Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986).
Mozart shows us the kind of music we might hope to hear in heaven.
But it is Bach, making music in the Castle of Heaven, who gives us the voice of God—in human form.
— John Eliot Gardine
In the final movements of The Mass in B-Minor by J. S. Bach (1685-1750), the composer intentionally contrasts large choruses with more intimate arias, with a miniature chiasm around the Benedictus:
Only the last two movements remain to be considered in this, our final installment of “B Minor Basics”: the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) aria and the Dona Nobis Pacem (Grant Us Peace) chorus.
To Thee all angels cry aloud, the heavens and all the powers therein;
To Thee cherubim and seraphim continually do cry:
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth!
— The Te Deum
The Nicene Creed ends with the words, “I expect the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come. Amen.” In a musical setting of the Mass, the Nicene Creed is followed immediately by the Sanctus, “Holy, holy, holy.” One would normally expect the Creed to end with a whole note, a fermata, and a short break before the Sanctus. In his Mass in B Minor, however, J. S. Bach (1685-1750), ends the Creed with a quarter note with no fermata on the “-men” of “amen,” followed by three beats of rests and a relatively quick transition to the Sanctus. In the Creed, then, the church has confessed her longing expectation for the life of the world to come. And when the new creation arrives in all its fullness, she will be ready to sing the song which will serve as the focus of this issue of “Lifted Voice,” “Holy, holy, holy.” We will also examine its liturgical companions from Psalm 118, the Hosanna and the Benedictus.
In [this confession of faith] we shall appear before the judgment throne of Jesus Christ,
by God’s grace, with fearless hearts and thus give account of our faith …
— Formula of Concord
On Trinity Sunday (June 11th), the church will confess the Athanasian Creed, which focuses on the doctrine of the Trinity and the two natures in Christ. J. S. Bach (1685-1750) did not write a musical setting of the lengthy Athanasian Creed, so we will be content to explore the first three movements of Bach’s setting of the Nicene Creed in The Mass in B-Minor, which focus on God the Father and God the Son:
By Thy glorious resurrection and ascension;
And by the coming of the Holy Ghost, the Comforter:
Help us, good Lord.
— from The Litany
As the church celebrates the Fifty Great Days from Easter Sunday to the Feast of Pentecost, the focus of the Gospel lessons gradually shift from the resurrection appearances of our Lord to His discourses on the Holy Spirit. This seems to be a fitting time to focus on the portions of Bach’s B Minor Mass that address the Holy Spirit, the church, and the sacramental and eschatological gifts given therein.
To Your Royal Highness I submit in deepest devotion the present small work
of that science which I have achieved in musique, with the submissive prayer
that Your Highness will look upon it with most gracious eyes …
— J. S. Bach, from the dedication of
Kyrie-Gloria Mass, 1733
On Easter Sunday this month, the Gloria of the Divine Liturgy will return after its omission for the penitential season of Lent. This seems to be a fitting time for another installment in our “B Minor Basics” series, focusing on the last four movements of the Gloria.
God is man, man to deliver,
And the Son / Now is one / With our blood forever.
— Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676)
The relatively late date for Easter in 2017 places Ash Wednesday on March 1st, which means that the entirely of the month of March will be devoted to the Lenten discipline. As the connection between the incarnation (Christmas) and the cross (Good Friday) gradually unfolds in the church year, it seems fitting to focus on two corresponding movements in The Mass in B Minor by J. S. Bach (1685-1750): Et incarnatus (“And was incarnate”) and Crucifixus (“And was crucified”).
Behold, the Lord, the Ruler hath come:
And the kingdom and the power and the glory are in His hand.
— Historic Introit for Epiphany Day
The relatively late date for Easter Sunday 2017 facilitates a lengthy Epiphany season. As the Gloria (“Glory be to God on high”) returns after its absence during Advent, it seems fitting to focus on the Gloria in this installment of “B Minor Basics”. The Gloria of Bach’s Mass in B Minor comprises eight movements. For the sake of length, I will divide it into two columns, addressing the first four movements in this issue, and the final four movements in the forthcoming April 2017 column.
Everything that happens with Christ forms a prefiguration for the church.
— Martin Luther
As the season of Epiphany begins on January 6th, many parish choirs will hopefully sing the traditional carol, “Tomorrow shall be my dancing day,” which tells the entire story of salvation in the voice of Christ.
Drop down, ye heavens, from above
And let the skies pour down righteousness.
— Historic Introit for Advent IV
As the church celebrates Advent, a season of hope and expectation, many of us will hopefully pray and sing the seven Great “O” Antiphons, which lend a seasonal theme to the Magnificat at Vespers. The following translation of the antiphons is from Lutheran Service Book (LSB), with scripture references from Oremus: A Lutheran Breviary by David Kind:
During the late 16th century, the debate between Lutherans and the Reformed became polarized after the territory of Anhalt-Dessau, under Joachim Ernst and his son, Johann Georg, began to introduce Reformed liturgical customs into a traditionally Lutheran territory. Wolfgang Amling, the leading theologian in Anhalt, set things off by trying to remove the baptismal exorcism in 1590, and the ensuing Anhalt Controversy climaxed in 1616 with a 25-point declaration from Johann Georg, Margrave of the Silesian duchy of Jägendorf. A translation from Joseph Herl’s book, Worship Wars (p. 111), has numbering added by the present writer to facilitate easy reference in a liturgical IQ test.
Many false masters now hymns indite
Be on your guard and judge them aright.
Where God is building his church and word,
There comes the devil with lie and sword.
— Martin Luther, Preface to the Babst Hymnal
Fans of the NCAA Basketball Tournament are familiar with the field of 64 teams and the nick names associated with the final weekends of the tournament: The Sweet Sixteen, The Elite Eight, and The Final Four. This process of numerical reduction also conveniently applies to the first Lutheran hymnal (1524), usually known as the Achtliederbuch (“Book of Eight” or, moreliterally, “Eight-Song-Book”). As faithful sons of the Reformation approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, just one year away, it seems fitting to survey the contents of our first hymnal to help us understand why Lutherans sing what they sing. Stephen Crist of Emory University sets the stage.
The heart opens [in the Kyrie of the B-Minor Mass]
and it leads us to the hill of the crucified one.
—Carl Hermann Bitter (Bach biographer)
In 1962, at the height of the Cuban missile crisis and U. S.-Soviet tensions, the late choral conductor, Robert Shaw (1916-1999), led his famed Robert Shaw Chorale on a six-week tour of Russia. They performed three different programs of choral literature, but the biggest hit was the Mass in B-Minor of J. S. Bach (1685-1750), which often held audiences well beyond the final curtain call. Shaw recalled leaving the stage in Moscow, for instance, after numerous encores, then changing clothes and returning to the hall for one last look. To his amazement, the audience was still in the theatre, some thirty minutes after the conclusion of the concert. And they were standing in silence! (Keith C. Burris, Deep River: The Life and Music of Robert Shaw, pp. 122-123)
“How is your relationship with Jesus Christ?” Good? Bad? Non-existent? It’s complicated? Are you close to God or far from Him?
We’ve all heard questions such as this, perhaps rolling our eyes at the awkwardness of the question but not being able to diagnose accurately the reason for our uneasiness. In fact, we may fear that questioning such a pious question might seem un-Christian and unbecoming of a person having “a good relationship with Jesus.” This “relationship” language has become the widely accepted way of describing the Christian’s life of faith (or a non-Christian’s lack of it). A “good relationship” with Christ is likely that faith life of the strong Christian. A “bad relationship” is perhaps that faith life of the wandering sheep. A “non-relationship” may refer to that faith-less life of the unbeliever. Despite its common usage, could it be possible that the language of relationship is an unhelpful and unbiblical way of speaking of the Christian’s life of faith? While usually well-intentioned and innocently put forth, might such “relationship” language undermine the full comfort of the gospel and give a false picture of what salvation means for the Christian?
Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping
that awake we may watch with Christ and asleep we may rest in peace.
— Antiphon to the Nunc Dimittis
During the Middle Ages, an elaborate system known as “The Liturgy of the Hours” developed to frame the prayer lives of the faithful at regular intervals each day. These non-Communion offices (also known as “Daily Office,” “Divine Office,” or “Canonical Hours”) “flow down from that liturgical mountain peak [of the Lord’s Supper], like streams seeking the lower places, the daily routine and grind of life” (David Kind, Oremus: A Lutheran Breviary, p. vii). Reformation revisions, along with a pesky dynamic known as reality, have generally reduced the rhythm of daily prayer to Matins, Vespers, and Compline. Most recent hymnals, including Lutheran Service Book (LSB), also include the orders of Morning and Evening Prayer, providing at least three evening services to highlight the gifts of the Gospel at eventide: Vespers, Evening Prayer, and Compline. The profound theological themes for eventide have not been lost on the great composers of the church, including the hymn, anthem, and solo that are highlighted in this installment of “Lifted Voice.”
[In the church Christians] find delight not in the baleful songs sung by
theatrical performers, songs which lead to sensual love, but in the chants of the Church.
-- St. Ambrose
Wedding season is in full swing, which brings to the local parish a unique set of blessings and curses. On the positive side, the rite of Christian marriage brings the blessing of the lifelong union of husband and wife. On the negative side, however, the wedding rite is often cursed with a theatrical soloist singing another sensual and seductive rendition of “The Wedding Song” (“It is good to be together at the calling of your hearts,” etc.), against which St. Ambrose and a host of other fathers warned. One prominent Lutheran church musician from New York, Dr. Jane Schatkin Hettrick, perhaps put it best when she said that most weddings are “an orgy of bad taste.” In an effort to recover the solemnity and dignity of the Christian wedding, I would like to recommend three choral settings of the sequence hymn, Ubi Caritas, “Where Charity and Love Are [Found], God is There.
Theology must sing.
— Martin Franzmann
As the summer months approach and the seminaries dispatch candidates for the office of the ministry into the field, many pastors and church musicians are selecting choral music for services of ordination. In addition to the sacred music for Pentecost that was discussed in the June 2015 issue of this column (“Veni Creator Spiritus”) and last month’s issue (“A Musical ‘Tallis Man’”), I would like to suggest three choral responsories that are equally fitting for such an occasion.
Thomas Tallis (c. 1505-1585) is perhaps best known in Lutheran congregations for his tune, known as the Tallis Canon, which is usually sung with the text, “All Praise to Thee, My God, This Night” (Lutheran Service Book 883). This article seeks to demonstrate there are several aspects of his sacred vocal music that make the case for his inclusion not only in the hymnal, but also in the repertoire of the church choir.
The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men
And be crucified and on the third day rise.
-- St. Luke 24:7
On March 27th, 1900, the Bach Choir of Bethlehem, PA, gave the American premier of what Alfred Mann calls J. S. Bach’s (1685-1750) “crowning achievement of sacred music” (American Choral Review 27:1, p. 52), the Mass in B Minor. It is just a coincidence that Easter Sunday also occurred on March 27th this year, but that is more than enough reason during these Fifty Great Days of Easter to focus on Bach’s musical depiction of the resurrection of the Son of God, the inaugural installment of our occasional “B Minor Basics” series.
With the inclusion of the hymns “Now, My Tongue, the Mystery Telling” (Lutheran Service Book 630) and “Thee We Adore, O Hidden Savior” (LSB 640) in the 2006 hymnal of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, it would appear that St. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274) is gaining a foothold in his contribution to Lutheran sacramental piety. Still missing from our hymnic repertoire, however, is perhaps his finest contribution, “O Sacred Feast”:
In the funerals of the departed, accompany them with singing …
for precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.
-- Apostolic Constitutions VI:30
On February 2nd, the church celebrates The Presentation of Our Lord and the Purification of Mary, which focuses largely on Simeon’s Canticle, the Nunc Dimittis (St. Luke 2:29-32), which was originally sung on the 40th day after Jesus’ birth. Musical settings of Simeon’s canticle abound, including J. S. Bach’s use of stanza 1 of Luther’s Nunc Dimittis hymn, “In Peace and Joy I Now Depart” (LSB 938) in Cantata 106, “God’s Time is the Best Time,” also known as the Actus tragicus. Although the exact origins of the cantata are uncertain, it remains “perhaps the most admired of Bach’s compositions presumed to date from before his appointment at Weimar (1708)” (David Schulenberg, Oxford Composer Companions: J. S. Bach, p. 197).
Welcome to Around the Word
Around the Word paints a Biblical and joyful picture of teaching and life. We have our Bibles open, and we believe with simplicity what the Lord speaks there. We endeavor to have a thoughtful and generous, historical and current approach to the Lord’s word, understanding that theological integrity is the best way that we can serve the church at large.
We are Lutheran, that is, we let the Law and the Gospel echo in the full voice with which God speaks it, and we are on the lookout for error because we love to hear the truth, the life-giving voice of Jesus. So we care about their families and their neighbors and the world, both in this life and in the life to come.
We are working to recover the joy and delight of doctrine, of the Gospel.