Music to End the Day Sunday, 21 March 2021
Warm greetings, all.
I have crafted this offering of music around the key of F (major and minor), which I hope will lend unity and integrity to the sequence as a whole.
We begin with one of the beautiful chorale preludes from Bach’s Orgelbüchlein, written for the Church in Weimer around 1716. The chorale melody, gently elaborated, is projected over an arpeggiated semiquaver counterpoint in the left hand and gently moving pedal. The mood is prayerful and tranquil:
Lord, hear the voice of my complaint,
to thee I now commend me;
let not my heart and hope grow faint,
but deign thy grace to send me;
true faith from thee, my God, I seek,
the faith that loves thee solely,
keeps me lowly
and prompts me to aid the weak,
and mark each word that thou dost speak.
Translation by Catherine Winkworth
Chorale prelude for Passion Sunday: Ich Ruf Zu Dir Herr Jesu Christ
Words written by Johann Agricola in 1529, set to a melody composed by Johann Sebastian Bach in 1732. Recorded before the closure of church buildings was announced.
Following the restoration of Charles II to the English throne in 1660, the so-called Savoy Conference sought to effect a reconciliation between rival factions within the Church of England. It led to the Act of Uniformity in 1662. Suffolk minister Samual Crossman, who attended the conference, was ejected from the Church of England when he opposed the Act. During his exile he wrote the lovely poem ‘My Song is Love Unknown’. It was published as an Anglican hymn twenty years later after Crossman had re-joined the Church, and two years after his death. The last verse was written as an imitation of George Herbert’s ‘The Temple’ as a tribute to Herbert. The tune most commonly used for this hymn is John Ireland’s ‘Love Unknown’, but in this sequence we hear it in a more recent setting by Malcolm Archer. Nearly thirty years ago, Malcolm and I attended the same round of interviews for musical positions within the church. Malcolm went to St Paul’s Cathedral, and I came to Milton Keynes to establish a musical tradition at Cornerstone.
My song is love unknown,
my Saviour’s love to me,
love to the loveless shown,
that they might lovely be,
O who am I,
that for my sake
my Lord should take
frail flesh, and die?
He came from his blest throne,
salvation to bestow;
but men made strange, and none
the longed-for Christ would know
But O my Friend,
my Friend indeed,
who at my need
his life did spend!
Sometimes they strew his way,
and his sweet praises sing;
resounding all the day
hosannas to their King,
Is all their breath,
and for his death
they thirst and cry.
Here might I stay and sing:
no story so divine;
never was love, dear King,
never was grief like thine!
This is my Friend,
in whose sweet praise
I all my days
could gladly spend.
Hymn for Passion Sunday: My Song Is Love Unknown
Words written by Samuel Crossman in 1664, set to melody composed by Malcolm Archer in 1987. Recorded before the closure of church buildings was announced.
The communication power of Handel’s Messiah, fuelled by the oratorio’s expressive variety, connects words and music directly to listeners in a secular age, believers and unbelievers alike. For me, one of the greatest moments of the work is the sequence of choruses dealing with the Messiah’s intercession for the sins of mankind. Based on Isaiah 53, the music drives forward with great urgency and increasing contrapuntal complexity towards Handel’s theatrical and theological masterstroke: a stripped-down setting of Isaiah’s prophecy: ‘And the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.’
Surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.
He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities,
the chastisement of our peace was upon him.
And with His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray,
We have turned every one to his own way,
And the Lord hath laid on Him the
iniquity of us all’.
Part II, Scene 1: Christ’s Passion
Words based on Isaiah 53:6 from oratorio Messiah, HWV 56. composed by Georg Friederich Händel in 1741. Performed by the Cornerstone Chamber Choir and Orchestra conducted by Adrian Boynton.
We conclude this sequence of music for Passion Sunday with the famous Intermezzo from Pietro Mascagni’s ‘Cavalleria Rusticana’, played in the opera just before worshippers leave the church. In a few weeks’ time we will be able to enjoy the wonderful Easter Hymn from this same great work.
Postlude: Intermezzo (andante sostenuto)
from opera ‘Cavalleria Rusticana’ composed by Pietro Mascagni in 1890.
To conclude, a prayer for Passion Sunday:
Merciful Father, your Son endured betrayal, mockery, injustice, suffering and death to deliver us and save us. In your unfailing love hear our cries for mercy and fill us with your love, that we become strong in heart, and hope in you in good times and bad; through Jesus Christ our Lord.