Music to End the Day Sunday, 7 March 2021
Warm greetings, Friends.
In the Lutheran Church, the singing of a hymn is introduced not by a simple ‘play over’ of the tune, but more often by a complex elaboration of the melody, either composed or improvised. Bach wrote several hundred such chorale preludes,
covering the complete spectrum of the liturgical year. ‘Wenn wir in höchsten Nöthen sein’ is designated for use ‘in times of trouble’ and is based on one of the greatest of the Reformation hymns. A richly embellished version of the melody, projected on solo registers, is set against a simpler three-part counterpoint on a separate manual and pedal. As we listen to Bach’s sublime music let us reflect on those parts of the world where people are suffering oppression and hardship – in Myanmar, Yemen, northern Nigeria, India and Haiti – and the millions across the globe whose lives have been turned upside down by the effects of Covid-19.
This is Catherine Winkworth’s translation of the chorale:
When in hour of utmost need
we know not where to look for aid,
when days and nights of anxious thought
Nor help nor counsel yet have brought:
Then this our comfort is alone,
That we may meet before Thy throne,
And cry, O faithful God, to Thee
For rescue from our misery.
Organ prelude – Wenn wir in höchsten Nöthen sein
The message of Bach’s chorale prelude is developed in a lovely hymn by Alan Gaunt, based on Matthew II, 28–30. For over forty years Gaunt served as a minister in Congregational and URC churches in the North of England, before his retirement in 2000.
He has become well known for his collections of prayers, poetry and hymns. This hymn was introduced by to me by his friend and collaborator Fred Khan when Khan came to Cornerstone to work on a social project with our choir in 1996. It was published the following year.The tune ‘Pastor Pastorum’ is by the German romantic composer Friedrich Silcher, Musical Director of Tubingen University, and a tireless proponent of the values of good choral singing.
1 ‘Come to me’, says Jesus,
‘all who are distressed;
take my yoke upon you,
I will give you rest.
- I am meek and humble,
Find, with me, release
from false airs and graces;
come, and be at peace.’
- Hear the call of Jesus,
come, be deeply blessed;
his the invitation,
you the honoured guest.
4 Here, where bread is broken,
here, where wine is poured,
thankfully receive him,
find your faith restored.
- Pardon, feed and heal us,
humble, courteous Lord,
gracious host, for ever
honoured and adored.
‘Come to me’, says Jesus, ‘all who are distressed’
After the celebration of Christ’s birth and ministry in Part One of ’Messiah’, Handel turns to our Lord’s Passion at the beginning of Part Two. The dramatic opening chorus, with striking dotted rhythms in the French style, sets part of the testimony of John the Baptist in John 1: 29, which in turn recalls words from Isaiah 53. We hear it in a performance by the Cornerstone Chamber Choir and Orchestra, recorded in 2014.
Behold the Lamb of God
that takes away the sins of the world
Behold the lamb of God
We remain in the key of G minor to conclude this sequence with Chopin’s Mazurka op 67 no 2. Chopin developed the mazurka as a stylised form of a triple-time folk dance popular among the Mozur tribes in the Tatre Mountains of Southern Poland. One of the special characterisations of mazurka is a tendency for accents to fall on the second and third beats of the bar. The Mazurka in G minor is in ternary (three-part) form, with a chromatically influenced middle section and a gentle, unassuming link back to the main theme.
Mazurka in G minor (Chopin)
We conclude with the Collect for the Third Sunday of Lent:
We beseech thee, Almighty God,
look upon the hearty desires of
your humble servants, and stretch forth
the right hand of your Majesty, to be
our defence against our enemies;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,