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 Gardiner
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
the 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:
Pr Brian Hamer
Rev. Brian Hamer is Deputy Chaplain at Naval Air Station, Lemoore, CA, via the LCMS Board for
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