On Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs: "Lord, Thou hast been our Refuge" (Psalm 90) by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958)
He who daily remembers that he will die is one who easily despises all worldly things.
— St. Jerome
Psalm 90 (please see the text below the video link) is the only Psalm attributed to Moses, perhaps written after the people sinned in the wilderness, or possibly at the end of his life. Martin Luther summarizes the theology of this Psalm:
Death is . . . the gateway to our homeland, the tabernacle of joy, the everlasting kingdom of peace.
The reader may recall from the April 2018 issue of “Lifted Voice” that we explored music inspired by the Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s last Sunday (April 7, 1945) before his martyrdom in the death camp at Flossenbürg. Two days later Bonhoeffer was hung from the gallows for his alleged involvement in an unsuccessful plot to kill Hitler. The disposition of his remains is still unknown. Two weeks later the Allies liberated the camp. In another week Hitler committed suicide and the war in Europe was over. His twin sister, Sabine, did not hear about his death until May 31. As late as July 23, Bonhoeffer’s parents, Karl and Paula, had only heard the rumor of Dietrich’s death, although they were aware of the death of their son Klaus. Meanwhile, two pastors and Dietrich’s dear friend, Bishop George Bell, organized a memorial service for brothers Dietrich and Klaus, which was held on July 27 at London’s Holy Trinity Brompton Church (please see the image above). Bishop Bell arranged for it to be “livestreamed” in Germany, which served as confirmation for Bonhoeffer’s extended family that he was dead. Three sacred choral works from this memorial service will serve as the focus of this issue of “Lifted Voice”.
Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”
— St. John 7:38
From the rivers of salvation in the Old Testament to the Jordan River in the New Testament, Psalm 42 points the thirsting soul toward the waters of salvation. The picturesque images in the first 3 of the Psalm’s 11 verses have especially inspired composers through the centuries:
Today you are not to be given fear of life but courage;
and so today we shall speak more than ever of hope,
the hope that we have and which no one can take from you.
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Confirmation Sermon, March 13, 1932
On Sunday, April 8, 1945, in an abandoned schoolhouse in the village of Schönberg, the Lutheran pastor and prisoner, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), celebrated the first Sunday after Easter (hereafter “Easter I”) with a short service of preaching, prayer, and praise. Bonhoeffer had been imprisoned since April 5, 1943, charged with collaboration in a failed plot to assassinate Hitler. Hitler, whose army was reduced to young boys and old men, was handing out death sentences aplenty. On this solemn occasion, Bonhoeffer read from a devotional book known in German as the Losungen (“watchword”), which appointed Isaiah 53:3 as the Old Testament watchword for the day and I Peter 1:3 as the New Testament counterpart (Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Prophet, Martyr, Spy, pp. 527-529). The traditional Communion propers for this Sunday, especially the Introit and the Gospel Lesson, were certainly on his mind, if not included in his sermon. Inspired by these events, and in part because April 8th is Easter I this year, this issue of “Lifted Voice” will focus on musical settings of the aforementioned devotional readings and appointed propers for Easter I.
Chant + Motet + Hymn
For behold, by the wood of Your cross joy has come into all the world!
— The Solemn Liturgy of Good Friday
In the sixth century, the Queen of France founded a nunnery in Poitiers. Before the formal consecration of the nunnery, she was kind enough to present various relics to it, including a supposed piece of the true cross of Christ, which she obtained from Emperor Justin II. As the story goes, the Bishop of Tours, escorted by numerous clergy and laymen, with torches and incense, joined in the procession and the solemn dedication of the nunnery on 19 November in the year 569. It was on this occasion that the hymn “The Royal Banners Forward Go” by Venantius Honorus Fortunatus (c. 530-609), known in Latin as Vexilla Regis, was heard for the first time:
The Psalter is the book of all saints, and everyone, whatever his situation
may be, finds psalms and words in it that fit his situation. . .
— Martin Luther
With this Ash Wednesday installment of “Lifted Voice,” I am pleased to introduce my occasional series, “On Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs” (from Col. 3:16), which will explore the church’s vast treasury of Psalm settings for choir and congregation. We begin our journey with one of the most famous works in the a cappella repertoire, Miserere (“Have mercy,” i.e., Psalm 51) by the Italian composer, Gregorio Allegri.
By the mystery of Your holy incarnation; by Your holy nativity . . . Good Lord, deliver us!
— from The Litany
On the fourth and final Sunday of Advent, many of the Faithful hear the following Introit: “Drop down, ye heavens from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness.” As Advent turns to Christmas and expectation to fulfillment, many of us will hopefully take time to sing, pray, and meditate on the following ancient responsory for Matins on Christmas Day:
+ In all time of our tribulation . . . in the hour of death; and in the day of judgment:
Help us, good Lord. +
— From The Litany
Faithful readers of “Lifted Voice” may recall that I recently began an occasional series entitled “Rescuing the Requiem,” which explores musical settings of selected texts from the historic Mass for the Dead (the Requiem) that are fitting in a Lutheran context, especially the Kyrie and the Sanctus. In the present issue, I wish to share with the good reader two settings of the Sanctus that are accessible to the capable parish choir and organist, both from prominent French composers, Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) and Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986).
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).
Pr Brian Hamer
Rev. Brian Hamer is Command Chaplain at Naval Air Station, Lemoore, CA, via the LCMS Board for