Tag Archives: chorale prelude

9th Sunday after Pentecost – 21 Jul 13

Liebster Jesu

Opening Voluntary: Chorale Prelude on Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier (BWV 731) – J. S. Bach (1685-1750)

Today’s opening voluntary is a chorale prelude on the hymn tune, Liebster Jesu, sung today as our offertory hymn, “Blessed Jesus, at thy word” (#440, Hymnal 1982). The original version of the tune was a composition of Johann Rudolph Ahle (1625-1673) and first appeared in 1664 paired with the text of an advent hymn.  Ahle was born in Mülhausen, Thuringia and studied theology at the University of Erfurt from 1645-1649.  He became the cantor of The Church of St. Andrew in Erfurt in 1646 and was later appointed organist of the Church of St. Blasius in Mülhausen in 1654.  Ahle’s  original tune, a somewhat florid and soloistic work, was later altered to a form more appropriate for congregational singing and was paired with the present text of Tobias Clausnitzer (1619-1684), Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier. It was republished in that revised form in 1687 with Clausnitzer’s previously-published text of 1663.  It entered into English hymnody in the 19th century through the translations of Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878) and was first published in her work, Lyra Germanica of 1861. It was later included in The Chorale Book for England in 1863 along with its associated melody.

Clausnitzer’s German text was originally subtitled “before the sermon” and contains references to and quotes from other portions of the liturgy.  The Sursum Corda is eluded to in the first stanza, “dass die Herzen von der Erden/ Ganz zu dir gezogen werden,” freely translated into English as “that our hearts from the earth are wholly drawn to thee.” This is lost, however, in the poetical translation of Winkworth that we use today.  There is a more direct quote in stanza three, “Light of Light, from God proceeding” from the Nicene Creed.  The text and tune were later parodied by baroque period composer, Benjamin Schmolk (1672-1737), who retained only the first line of Clausnitzer’s hymn, and created the rest of a new text on a baptismal theme.  One stanza of this later work appeared in The Hymnal of 1940, but it was not retained in our present Hymnal 1982.

In the baroque period, composers, particularly in the Germanic Lutheran countries, began to set chorale melodies for the organ.  The original purpose of these “chorale preludes,” as they are known, is not absolutely clear.  Some of them may have been used as introductions to congregational singing, while others were more likely to have been intended to function as free-standing compositions.  Musicologists today describe at least eight different types of treatment of the chorale in these works.  Today’s version of Liebster Jesu by J. S. Bach (1685-1750) is of the “ornamented cantus firmus” type in which the chorale melody (cantus firmus), usually (and in this setting) in the top voice, is presented in a highly ornamented  form supported by a relatively simpler harmonic accompaniment.

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Whitsunday, The Feast of Pentecost – 19 May 2013

Opening Voluntary:  Prelude on Komm, heiliger Geist, Herre Gott – Dietrich Buxtehude (1637/9 – 1707)

At the Offertory: Prelude on Komm, Gott Schöpfer, heiliger Geist – Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706)

Closing Voluntary: Prelude on Komm, Gott Schöpfer, heiliger Geist – J. S. Bach (1685-1750)

The Opening Voluntary  for today is based on the German Chorale Tune, Komm, heiliger Geist, Herre Gott.  Both the tune for this chorale as well as the text for the first Stanza are by unknown persons.  This hymn, known in English translation as “Come Holy Ghost, God and Lord,” first appeared in 1524 in the Erfurt Gesangbuch, one of the first hymnals of the German reformation and which consisted, in major part, of hymns previously printed as “single sheet” publications known usually in English as “broadsheets.”  The first verse of the chorale is a versification of the antiphon Veni Sancte Spiritus, while the 2d and 3d are compositions of Martin Luther. Of the 26 hymn texts in the publication, 18 were the creation of Martin Luther, either in whole or in part.  This particular chorale was a popular subject for arrangement by German composers.  Today’s version is a chorale prelude in which the melody appears in the highest/treble line in an ornamented form, accompanied by lower imitative voices in manuals and pedals.  It is typical of many other compositions of this type by German composer Dietrich Buxtehude (1637/9 – 1707).   In translation, the first stanza of the hymn reads:

Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord, with all your graces now outpoured on each believer’s mind and heart; Your fervent love to them impart. Lord, by the brightness of your light, in holy faith your Church unite; from every land and every tongue, this to your praise, O Lord, our God, be sung: Alleluia! Alleluia!

The pieces At the Offertory and The Closing Voluntary are both based on another German chorale, Komm, Gott Schöpfer, heliger Geist, sung today as our Offertory Hymn (#501, The Hymnal 1982). Both the tune and the text of this metrical version derive from the 9th Century Latin plainsong hymn, Veni Creator Spiritus, found in The Hymnal, 1982 as #504, attributed to the 9th century Benedictine monk and later Archbishop of Mainz, Rabanus Maurus (c. 780-856).  In the Latin rite, this hymn has traditionally been appointed for the offices of Terce and Vespers on the feast of Pentecost.  In the post-reformation Anglican liturgy, it appears in the Ordering of Priests and the Consecration of Bishops in the Prayerbook of 1662.  Luther’s metrical version, which we sing today, dates again to 1524 and also was first published in the Erfurt Gesangbuch.  The organ  settings performed today were written as chorale preludes by Johann Pachelbel  (1653-1706) and Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750).  Although based on the very same hymn, they are vastly different treatments of this chorale melody.  The version by Pachelbel sets a mood of quite contemplation, while the version by Bach is one of jubilant celebration.


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