Tag Archives: North German

Palm Sunday ~ Sunday of the Passion – 1 April 02

At Communion: Herzlich tut mich verlangen – Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707)

Hymn Prelude: Herzlich tut much verlangen – Johann Gottfried Walther (1684-1748)

By long custom, the organ plays a decreasing role in the successive pre-Easter liturgies of Holy Week until the Solemn Liturgy of Good Friday when the organ falls silent before the mystery of the Crucifixion. After this, it will not be heard again until the announcement of the Resurrection in the celebration of the Solemn Mass at the Great Vigil of Easter.   Although today’s liturgy begins in a celebratory manner with the processional re-enactment of the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem acclaimed by the masses as the Davidic Messiah, the mood of elation quickly sours,  as the story falls precipitously into the recitation of the Markan passion narrative.  In keeping with the increasing solemnity of today’s observance, the incidental organ music today is limited to just two settings of the classic passion hymn, “O Sacred Head” (#168, The Hymnal 1982) traditionally sung to the tune, Herzlich tut mich verlangen, by Hans Leo Hassler (1564-1612).  The text of the hymn we sing today derives originally from a stanza of a long passion poem in Latin that begins with the words “Salve caput crucentatum,” While traditionally attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux, (1091-1153), more recent scholarship has  identified it as work of mediaeval poet, Arnulf of Louvain (d. 1250) a Cistercian and Abbot of Villers in Brabant.

Salve, caput cruentatum,
Totum spinis coronatum,
Conquassatum, vulneratum,
Arundine sic verberatum 
Facie sputis illita.

Hail, head covered in blood,
all crowned with thorns,
battered, wounded,
beaten in this way with a reed,
with your face smeared with spit.

                  –Arnulf of Louvain, Abbott of Villers, d. 1250

This poem was later re-worked into a German hymn by Paul Gerhardt (1608-1676) as O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden.  This well-known hymn has been re-translated many times into English since the 18th century.  The version in use in The Hymnal 1982 is a composite of a translation by Robert Seymour Bridges (1844-1930) for stanzas 1-3 and 5 and James Waddell Alexander (1804-1859) for stanza 4.

O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden
Voll Schmerz und voller Hohn,
O Haupt, zum Spott gebunden
Mit einer Dornenkron;
O Haupt, sonst schön gezieret
Mit höchster Ehr’ und Zier,
Jetzt aber höchst schimpfieret:
Gegrüßet sei’st du mir!
O sacred head, sore wounded,
defiled and put to scorn; 
O kingly head, surrounded
with mocking crown of thorn;
what sorrow mars thy grandeur?
Can death thy bloom deflower?
O countenance whose splendor
the hosts of heaven adore!

                    – Paul Gerhardt, (tr. Robert Seymour Bridges)

The setting heard at the communion was composed by North German organist, Dietrich Buxtehude (c. 1637-1707).  As is characteristic of many of his chorale preludes, the melody, or cantus firmus, appears in the highest voice in a highly ornamented form.  It is accompanied in the manual and pedal in three further parts in a counterpoint and musical imitation.  The second version heard today is a more straightforward composition by Johann Gottfried Walther (1684-1748) in which the melody is accompanied by slow descending triplet (three-note) figures that form, somewhat counterintuitively, a plaintive, limpingly dance-like and ironic background to the chorale melody. This version will be used to introduce the congregational singing of today’s final hymn. Our liturgy today closes with a period of silent contemplation instead of the usual voluntary.

5th Sunday in Lent – 25 March 2012

Opening Voluntary: Kyrie Dominicale 4. Toni – Samuel Scheidt (1587-1624)

At the Communion: “Da Jesus an den Kreuze stund” – Samuel Scheidt (1587-1624)

Closing Voluntary: Selections from “Mein junges Leben hat ein End” – Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562-1621)

Our last stop on our Lenten early organ music tour takes us this week to the protestant northern Netherlands and to north Germany with the works of two musicians: Dutch organist and composer, Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562-1621) and his student, German organist and composer, Samuel Scheidt (1587-1624).  During the difficult early Reformation period, the Netherlands and Germany took different solutions to the use of organ music in the church.  Under the influence of Calvinism, organ music was banned from use during the church service in the Netherlands, but was permitted before and after the service as well as at at other times in musical recitals.  This stands in stark contrast to England which, under similar Calvinist attitudes, ultimately destroyed all of her organs and the situation in Germany where organ music continued uninterrupted as a vital part of liturgical practice.  Although a noted organist and composer in his own right, Sweelinck was perhaps even more profoundly influential as a teacher, particularly of north German students, counting Scheidt, Scheidemann, Seifert and Schildt among his distinguished pupils. Such was his influence in Germany that he was known there as the “maker of organists.” Owing to the peculiarities of practice in the protestant Netherlands, Sweelinck was employed not by the church but by the city magistrates of Amsterdam. This secular employment was perhaps one of the reasons that Sweelinck composed significant amounts of both sacred and secular organ music. It is from his secular compositions for organ that we hear two sections of his “Mein junges Leben hat ein End” (My young life is ending) as our closing voluntary.

My young life is ending, as are also my joy and suffering;

Let my poor soul leave my body quickly.

My life can no longer stand

It is weak and must pass away

and along with it all my suffering. 

The situation was, however, quite different in Lutheran north Germany, where music and the organ continued to be a vital part of liturgical practice.  In this region, one finds a more seamless evolution from music based on Latin chants, such as our Opening-Voluntary Kyrie, to gradually larger numbers of pieces based on vernacular chorale (hymn) tunes, such as the selection at the communion based on the Lutheran chorale, Da Jesus an dem Kreuze stund.

When on the cross the Savior hung.

And that sore load that on Him weighed

With bitter pangs his nature wrung,

Seven words amid his pain He said;

Oh let them well to heart be laid!  – Johann Böschenstein (1472-1540) translation by Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878)

Suggestions for Musical Listening

As you listen today to the selections at the Opening and Closing voluntaries and the music At the Communion, make a mental note of how similar, in many ways, the sounds of these pieces composed for very different purposes, are.  The Kyrie by Scheidt clearly draws inspiration from chant music, but in its imitative form is clearly of a similar style as the early chorale-based piece At the Communion.  Perhaps even more surprising is how “churchy” the secular piece by Sweelinck sounds to our ears.  Just how much “distance” there should exist between music for secular and sacred purposes remains an unanswered, but still oft-debated, question for us today.

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