Music to End the Day, Sunday 25 April 2021
The fourth Sunday of Easter is often known as ‘Good Shepherd Sunday’,
so all our music in today’s sequence is related to this theme.
We begin with an arrangement for piano solo of Bach’s ‘Sheep may safely graze’.
In its original form this is a soprano aria from the composer’s 1713 ‘Hunting Cantata’
(Was mir behagt, its our die muntre Jagd).
The cantata was written for a birthday celebration of Duke Christian of Saxe-Weissenfels,
a close neighbour to the court of Weimar, where Bach was based.
It appears that musicians from both courts joined in the first performance.
Sheep may safely graze
Handel uses the imagery of shepherds and sheep extensively in his Messiah.
Following the birth narrative of Part 1,
Part 2 features the dramatic contrapuntal chorus ‘All we like sheep are gone astray’, based on Isaiah 53,
while Part 3 concludes with the monumental chorus ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slain’, using a text from Revelation 5.
Today we hear the beautiful aria from Part 1, ‘He shall feed his flock like a shepherd’,
based on Matthew 51, echoing words from Isaiah 40.
The version that we hear is almost unique among Handel’s output
in that it is shared between alto and soprano soloists.
The musical argument is presented by the alto in the warm key of F major.
A contrast ritornello leads in the key of B flat,
whereupon soprano presents the aria a fourth higher in the new key.
Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened – He shall feed His flock like a shepherd
Performed by Elizabeth Weisberg (soprano), Kate Symonds-Joy (contralto), Cornerstone Chamber Orchestra conducted by Adrian Boynton.
We end this sequence with John Rutter’s inspirational setting of the 23rd Psalm.
It was completed in 1978 during his tenure as Director of Music at Clare College, Cambridge.
Several of Rutter’s early works were written for American choirs;
this one is dedicated to Mark Olson and the Chancel Choir of the First United Methodist Church, Omaha, Nebraska.
Later, in 1985, Rutter incorporated the setting into his Requiem and orchestrated it.
Rutter’s music gives the words an inspirational quality, especially at the climax
‘And I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.’
The Lord is my shepherd [Rutter]
The Lord is my shepherd: therefore can I lack nothing.
He shall feed me in a green pasture:
and lead me forth beside the waters of comfort.
He shall convert my soul:
and bring me forth in the paths of righteousness
for his Name’s sake
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
I will fear no evil:
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff comfort me.
Thou shalt prepare a table before me against them that trouble me:
thou hast anointed my head with oil and my cup shall be full.
But thy loving-kindness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
To end, a Prayer for Good Shepherd Sunday, based on the Venite, Psalm 95.
You are my God O Righteous One!
We are the people of your pasture and the sheep of your hand.
Thank you for taking us to your fields of joy and peace, near the streams of blessings.
Your flock adore you because you always ensure that we experience the best
if we hear your voice and follow you.
Lord, there is no one like you, there is no greater shepherd.
Good night, everyone.