Music for Sunday of the Passion | Palm Sunday

Although the two pieces of music selected for this day are from very different periods, they each in their own way represent in powerfully dramatic form

Hosanna to the Son of David– Thomas Weelkes (1576-1623)

Weelkes studied music at New College, Oxford and then was appointed organist of Winchester College in 1598, and Chichester Cathedral from 1601 until his death. This work’s power comes from its rich six-voice texture (unusually, there are two bass parts – in addition to the two soprano lines – which create a thick, sonorous lower register), and the several striking silences in the music. The text is a composite paraphrase of verses from the Gospels of Matthew – in this case chapter 21 from our Liturgy of the Palms – and Luke, detailing Jesus’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem, which ends in the unusual hybrid exclamation, “Hosanna in excelsis Deo.”

Hosanna to the Son of David.
Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna, thou that sittest in the highest heavens.
Hosanna in excelsis Deo.


Christus factus est– Anton Bruckner (1824-1896)

In the classical Roman rite, this text from Philippians 2:8-9, also part of today’s Epistle, was sung as the Gradual at Mass on Maundy Thursday. [The name “Gradual” comes from the fact that a soloist originally chanted the psalm (today’s text, unusually, is not from the psalms) from an elevated place, the step (gradus) of the ambo where the subdeacon had just read the Epistle.] However, since the promulgation of the novus ordoby Pope Paul VI in 1969, it has instead been employed as the Gradual at Mass on Palm Sunday.

Christus factus estappeared in 1884 – the same year as the Te Deumfor chorus, four soloists, organ and orchestra. More than any of Bruckner’s great motets, Christus factus estfollows an almost symphonic path of motivic and harmonic development – a striking parallel to Christ’s journey of “obedience unto death”. All suggestion of triumphalism is avoided in the final quiet, almost mournful reference to the “name which is above all names”.

Christus factus est pro nobis obediens
usque ad mortem, mortem autem crucis.
Propter quod et Deus exaltavit illum et dedit illi nomen,
quod est super omne nomen.

Christ became obedient for us unto death,
even to the death, death on the cross.
Therefore God exalted Him and gave Him a name which is above all names.

Gerald Harder