Liturgy of Sacred Music – February 11, 2024 – 5:00 p.m.
The Gospel on the Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time is about Jesus healing a leper, and the music selections will reflect on an interpretation of the healing message.
Jesus heals the hearts of those who feel alone and those who are troubled.
In Jesus we find the strength to overcome our own trials in life.
The first two pieces are from the late Baroque era. During this time, it was typical for composers to be employed either through the court, or through the church. George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) and Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) both found employment through the church. Bach spent most of his life composing for the Lutheran Church (which is why we have endless amounts of sacred works from him), while Handel found his church employment when he arrived in England in 1710.
The entrance hymn, “Jesus, Sun of Life, My Splendor“, features text by Johann Franck, a German poet, that was set to a “Ach, wie hungert mein Gemüthe” a chorale from Handel’s Brockes Passion (1712). The choral melody is clean and clear, with an active organ accompaniment, which is not uncommon to hear during the Baroque era. The clarity of the music allows us to hear the text and meditate on the soaring soprano exclaiming “… Jesus, Bread of Life, I pray Thee, Let me gladly here obey Thee, By thy love I am invited, Be thy love with love requited…”
The presentation of gifts hymn, “Jesus bleibet meine Freude”, or by its popular English title, “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”, is a chorale taken from Bach’s Cantata Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 147 written in 1723. Bach began a new position as the music director in Leipzig, and within the first year of his employment he composed a new Cantata almost every week from the Sunday after Trinity Sunday 1723 to the following Trinity Sunday in 1724.
This chorale is recognizable to most people today; it has stood the test of time. The piece begins with a continuous stream of triplets from the accompaniment followed by a strong entrance from the chorus singing with praise “Jesus remains my joy, my heart’s consolation and juice”. This work will be sung in German; the text reflects a gratitude for Jesus, “Jesus fends off all suffering, He is my life’s strength”.
For the last two pieces of the Mass, we will be skipping to the Romantic era. Harmonically, this era becomes more complex, as composers of this time period were finding ways to break the music composition rules of the Classical period. Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) was a French pianist, composer, and master of the organ. While Saint-Saëns is most famous for his Symphonic Poems and Carnival of the Animals, he also wrote a handful of sacred works.
The communion hymn, “Panis Angelicus”, was written by Saint-Saëns in 1898. While his version is not performed that often (César Franck’s setting is heard most), it has a simple yet haunting melody that accompanies the Latin text which celebrates the Eucharist. The text comes from the last two stanzas of the hymn “Sacris solemniis” written by St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274).
The closing hymn, O God Beyond All Praising, is originally from Gustav Holst’s (1874-1934) Jupiter movement in his orchestral suite The Planets (1914-1916). Holst took the melody, THAXTED, from this movement and set it to the words of an English poem “I vow to thee my country”. Michael Perry (1942-1996), a prominent hymn writer and Vicar in England, felt moved to set text to this melody that would be appropriate for Christian worship. The music from Holst is incredibly grand, and it was a formidable task for Perry to set text to the melody. In 1982 Perry completed the hymn. Perhaps the most striking moment is the harmonic changes reflecting the text in verse two “…And whether our tomorrows Be filled with good or ill, We’ll triumph through our sorrows And rise to bless you still….”