Anniversaries in Sacred Music: One Hundred Years of Singing the Gloria with Frank Martin and Ralph Vaughan Williams
We beheld the glory, as of the only-begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
—St. John 1:14
Recall from the first installment of this special series on settings of the Mass for double choir by Frank Martin (1890–1974) and Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958) that these two choral masterworks overlap historically and stylistically. Martin began writing his Mass in 1922, finished it in 1926, but curiously concealed it until the early 1960s. Vaughan Williams (hereinafter RVW) wrote his Mass in G minor in 1922, but with no idea that Martin was writing a similar work, much less any notion that the two works would become unofficial ‘choral companions’ a century later. Stylistically, both works draw upon older compositional methods, perhaps most notably the motet, a compositional process in which the musical themes change with each word or phrase of the text. But both composers also employed newer compositional methods, earning both works a permanent place in the choral repertoire. Please join me during this, the latter portion of the Easter season, to explore how these composers treat the Gloria.
When the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
— I Peter 5:4
The liturgical context for Cantata 104, “Thou Shepherd of Israel, Hear Us” is Misericordias Domini Sunday, informally called “Good Shepherd Sunday.” Most modern readers probably associate the Good Shepherd theme with the Fourth Sunday of Easter, placing the theme of Christ the Good Shepherd at the very center of the seven Sundays of the Easter season. But the flock in Bach’s day, and almost universally from Medieval days to the 1960s, expected the portrait of Jesus as the Good Shepherd on the second Sunday after Easter. The Introit declares that the “earth is full of the goodness of the Lord; by the word of the Lord were the heavens made,” declaring from the start of the service that every good gift in this world is under the auspices of the risen Shepherd. The Epistle (I Peter 2:21–25) reminds the faithful of their true calling and their identity as Christ’s sheep: “For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (v. 25). The Verse (St. Luke 24:35b; St. John 10:14) and the Gospel (St. John 10:11–16) draw from John 10, declaring the good news that the Shepherd knows, loves, and even dies for His sheep. His sheep (i.e., the elect), in turn, know their Shepherd, hear His voice, and follow Him. Psalm 23 is curiously absent from the historic propers for this Sunday, but church musicians can easily incorporate it as a choral response or attendant music, as J. S. Bach (1685–1750) did with the Good Shepherd theme in Cantata 104.
Pr Brian Hamer
Brian J. Hamer is Chaplain to School of Infantry West at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton via the LCMS Board for International Mission Services.