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,
Arundine sic verberatum
Facie sputis illita.
Hail, head covered in blood,
all crowned with thorns,
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.