Opening Voluntary: Liebster Jesu wir sind hier – J. S. Bach (1685-1750)
At the Communion: Liebster Jesu wir sind hier – Marcel Dupré (1886-1971)
Closing Voluntary: Liebster Jesu wir sind hier – J. G. Walther (1684-1748)
Today’s incidental organ music is entirely based on settings of the much-beloved German hymn, Liebster Jesu wir sind hier, (in English translation: Blessed Jesus, at thy word) which appears for the first time in its original form in an Episcopal Church hymnal in our current version of 1982. We sing this tune today as #440 for our entrance hymn. Previously, in The Hymnal 1940, a similar hymn using the first line and tune had been included. This latter hymn was what in modern speech we might term a “knock-off” or more charitably an “imitation,” as it had taken the tune and first line of its famous predecessor and then continued with an entirely different text. The German original was first published anonymously in 1663 but was subsequently known to be the work of Tobias Clausnitzer (1619-1684). Clausnitzer was a Lutheran pastor and studied at the University of Leipzig. He was later the chaplain of a Swedish Regiment and on the orders of the Swedish general preached the field sermon to celebrate the Peace of Westphalia which ended the 30 Years War (1618-1648), a war fought largely between Protestants and Catholics in the Holy Roman Empire. The tune for the hymn was composed by Johann Rudolph Ahle (1625-1673). Ahle studied theology and music and was born in Mülhausen, Thuringia where he was later organist, cantor and finally burgomaster. Ahle wrote over 400 sacred arias from which a number of hymn tunes have been adapted. The English translation which we sing today is that of Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878), who is probably better-remembered than either Clausnitzer or Ahle in her role as a translator of the German chorale tradition. Born in London in 1827, she was the fourth daughter of Henry Winkworth, a silk merchant. Although she lived most of her life in Manchester, she spent a year in Dresden where she became interested in German hymnody. In 1854, she published Lyrica Germanica, a collection of her translations of German hymns and this was followed by several other publications on this topic. Catherine was also a prominent 19th century promoter of women’s rights. She died suddenly of a heart attack near Geneva in 1878 and is buried in Monnetier in the Upper Savoy. Catherine is commemorated as a Poet in the Episcopal Church calendar of saints along with hymn writer John Mason Neale (1818-1866) on August 7th.
Opening Voluntary: Nigra sum sed formosa – Marcel Dupré (1886-1971)
At the Communion: Voluntary – F. H. Himmel (1765-1814)
Closing Voluntary: Festival Postlude on Lasst uns Erfreuen – David Johnson (1922-1987)
I black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon. – Song of Songs 1:5-6a (KJV)
The Latin text from the Song of Songs, Nigra sum sed formosa (I am black, but comely…), is one of the antiphons in the Latin rite liturgy appointed for the Feast of the Assumption. The Song of Songs, from which the antiphon is excerpted has a controversial past as far as its place and meaning in the canon of scripture. In its plain, literal sense, the work is a series of love poems with dialogue among three protagonists – a man, a woman and the chorus of the daughters of Jerusalem. According to Jewish tradition in the Midrash and the Targumim (Aramaic translations and commentaries on the Hebrew bible), the Song of Songs is an allegory of God’s love for the children of Israel. In later Christian tradition, it was often seen as an symbolizing the love of Christ for the Church or the Soul, with obvious mystical associations. From the Middle Ages onwards, however, it became traditional to identify the “beloved” in the Song with the Virgin Mary, and this particular antiphon was fittingly incorporated into the liturgical texts appointed for the Feast of the Assumption which we commemorate today on the Sunday within the Octave of the feast day of August 15. In a further extension of the identification of this text with the Virgin Mary, it became associated with the veneration of images of the Virgin in which she is depicted with dark skin, the so-called “Black Madonnas,” of which many were created in the Mediaeval period or earlier. Literally hundreds of such images dating to this period exist – at least 180 of these Vierges Noires in France alone.
The piece played at the Opening Voluntary today was composed by 20th century French organ master, Marcel Dupré (1886-1971) and is the third in a collection of 15 pieces published as his Opus 18 in 1920 as Vêpres du Commun des Fêtes de la Sainte Vierge. In form, it is a rhythmically freely-rendered melody in the highest voice accompanied by a rigorously repeating but subtly varied motif of “rocking” chords with occasional punctuation by a single or short group of pedal notes. The effect is one of a simple but haunting beauty fitting to the text.
Canon Richard Wayne Dirksen
Opening Voluntary: Musette – Georg Friedrich Händel (1685-1759)
At the Communion: Prelude – César Franck (1822-1890)
Closing Voluntary: Intrada in E – Charles W. Ore (b. 1936)
“We the Lord’s People”
Critics of The Episcopal Church (TEC) sometimes suggest that a “solution” to demographic decline might be found in “modernizing” worship and using “contemporary” music in the church. Many of them are quite surprised to find that our church continues to create new hymns and forms of music and, indeed, is one of the most “open” churches in the west to new musical creativity. Today’s entrance hymn is one example of “new” music prepared especially for our hymnal. The words of this hymn are based on a saying that became popular as a teaching device in the Church of England in the 60’s and 70s, “The Lord’s People in the Lord’s House on the Lord’s Day for the Lord’s Service,” expressing succinctly the essence of Christian Liturgy. The text was written by John E. Bowers and appeared in More Hymns for Today (London, 1980) and was later incorporated into the 1983 edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern. The words were slightly altered for consistency before its inclusion in The Hymnal, 1982.
The tune, DECATUR PLACE, was composed by TEC’s own Canon Richard Wayne Dirksen (1921-2003), former organist, choirmaster and precentor of our primatal Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul, usually known as “Washington Cathedral.” The tune was initially written in a more varied rhythm and was originally known as INNISFREE FARM. It appears in that version as hymn #34 with a Morazarabic liturgy text, “Christ, Mighty Savior.” Although the melody line version in our hymnal appears quite simple, it is undergirded by a complex harmonization that, in the words of the writers of the Hymnal 1982 Companion, makes “skillful use of passing tones in the inner voices and the bass line” which “give the setting a quality of harmonic richness and a sense of momentum.” The tune name, DECATUR PLACE, honors the Washington home of Canon Dirksen’s longtime friend and predecessor as organist at Washington Cathedral, Paul Callaway (1909-1995).