Opening Voluntary: Mit Fried’ und Freud’ ich fahr’ dahin – J. S. Bach (1685-1750)
At Communion: Mit Fried’ und Freud’ – Johann Christoph Bach (1671-1721)
Closing Voluntary: Mit Fried’ und Freud’ (Prelude and Chorale)- Marcel Dupré (1886-1971) / J. S. Bach (1685-1750)
Today’s incidental organ music is based on the German chorale, Mit Fried’ und Freud’, ich fahr’ dahin. The text is a metrical version of the Nunc dimittis and was written by Martin Luther (1483-1546) and published in J. Klug’s Geistliches Gesangbüchlein in the year 1524 in Wittenberg, Germany. For obvious reasons, it was a hymn that was typically associated with the Feast of the Presentation which we observe today as we dedicate the new image of Our Lady of Walsingham. In origin, the Nunc dimittis or Song of Simeon comes down to us from the introductory birth and infancy narratives from the writer of the Gospel according to Luke. This opening section of the gospel, although drawing heavily for its model on the stories of the births of Samson and Samuel from the Hebrew Bible, is yet quite unlike anything else in New Testament writing and has been likened in modern terms to a “musical.” In it, dramatic scenes and dialogues are punctuated and interpreted by “musical numbers” that have survived and live on, not only in text but also musically, in Christian liturgy to this day. The Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) concludes Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth. The Benedictus (Luke 1:68-79) follows as John the Baptizer’s father, Zechariah, is released from his divinely-imposed mutism. The Gloria in excelsis (Luke 2:14) functions as a great “chorus number” and the centerpiece of the angelic proclamation to the sheepherders in the Bethlehem countryside. Last, but not least, the Nunc dimittis (Luke 2:29-32), enshrines the words of Simeon as he beholds the infant Jesus on his way to presentation in the temple, miraculously revealed to him by the Holy Spirit as “Israel’s consolation.”
The Nunc dimitis was imported into the daily office of the Church in the West as the principle song for the monastic hour of Compline where it continued through the middle ages. In the English reformation, it was transferred into the composite office of Evensong/Evening Prayer where it would become, along with the Magnificat, the subject of numerous choral compositions. In Lutheran-dominated countries, where the office was less commonly observed, the text continued in Luther’s hymn paraphrase which was used not only for the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus (The Purification of Mary), but also became popular as a song for funerals.
In peace and joy I now depart
At God’s disposing.
For full of comfort is my heart;
So the Lord as promised me,
And death is but a slumber.
Martin Luther (1483-1546)
Opening Voluntary: Prelude on Aus tiefer Not – F. W. Zachow (1663-1712)
At the Communion: Prelude on Aus tiefer Not – Marcel Dupré (1886-1971)
Closing Voluntary: Variation on Mit Freuden zart – Scott Withrow (1932-1993)
Both the opening voluntary and the music at the communion are based on the German chorale, Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir, sung today as our offertory hymn, #151, and which was written by German reformer and musician, Martin Luther (1483-1546). A metrical version of Psalm 130, this was one of the earliest hymns written by Luther, dating to about the year 1523. Although suspected to have been initially published as a “broadside,” its first known printing was in the first German reformation book of hymns, the Achtliederbuch (Literally, “Eight-Song Book”) published in Nuremberg in 1524. Psalm 130, De profundis, (BCP p. 784) is one of the so-called “Seven Penitential Psalms,” a selection known from the 6th century from the commentaries of Flavius Cassiodorus (c. 485-c.585) and which included Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130 and 143. In Lutheranism, the metrical version of this penitential psalm became associated with one of the six sections of Luther’s catechism (the section on penitence). This, along with its frequent usage in German post-reformation funerals, led to many musical compositions based on the tune with which it is most commonly associated and which was likely composed by Luther himself.
The Chorale Prelude on Aus tiefer Not at the opening voluntary was composed by Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow (1663-1712). Zachow was cantor and organist of the Market Church in Halle and was particularly known for his cantata compositions. He was criticized, however, by the community’s pietists for his “excessively long and elaborate” music that could be appreciated only by “other organists and cantors.” He is chiefly remembered today as the first teacher of music to Georg Frideric Händel (1685-1759). The short setting of Aus tiefer Not played at the communion is by the famous French organist and composer, Marcel Dupré (1886-1971) and is from his Seventy-Nine Chorales for the Organ of 1932. Intended primarily as an educational work to assist the organist in preparation for studying the chorale settings of J. S. Bach, it was conceived with a view to “making the student familiar with the magnificent melodies of the Chorales.” Although quite brief, its dissonant harmonization beautifully sets this famous hymn tune.
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.