Music for the First Sunday in Lent — February 21, 2021

Qui habitat á 24 – Josquin des Prez (c. 1440-1521)

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Josquin des Prez, often referred to simply as Josquin, was a Franco-Flemish composer of the Renaissance. He was the most famous European composer between Guillaume Dufay and Palestrina and is usually considered to be the central figure of the Franco-Flemish School. Josquin is widely considered by scholars to be the first master of the high Renaissance style of polyphonic vocal music that was emerging during his lifetime.

Josquin chose to score this setting of Psalm 91 as four simultaneous six-voice canons, or in other words, twenty-four independent parts, bringing to mind his slightly later English counterpart Thomas Tallis, with his forty-part motet Spem in alium. Psalm 91 serves as the basis for three of the proper chants for the First Sunday in Lent: the Tract, which replaces the Gospel Alleluia in Lent (Qui habitat), the Offertory (Scapulis suis), and the Communion (Scapulis suis).

Qui habitat
in adjutorio altissimi
in protectione Dei
Dicet Domino: Susceptor meus es tu,
et refugium meum:
Deus meus sperabo in eum.
Quoniam ipse liberavit me
de laqueo venantium
et a verbo aspero.
Scapulis suis obumbrabit tibi:
et sub pennis ejus sperabis.
Scuto circumdabit te veritas ejus:
non timebis
a timore nocturno,
a sagitta volante in die
a negotio perambulante
in tenebris
ab incurso
et daemonio meridiano.
Cadent a latere tuo mille,
et decem milia a dextris tuis:
ad te autem non appropinquabit.
Verumtamen oculis tuis considerabis:
et retributionem peccatorum videbis.

He that dwelleth
in the secret place of the Most High
shall abide under the shadow
of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord: He is my refuge
and my fortress:
my God; in Him will I trust.
Surely He shall deliver thee from the snare
of the fowler,
and from the noisome pestilence.
He shall cover thee with His feathers,
and under His wings shalt thou trust:
His truth shall be thy shield and buckler.
Thou shalt not be afraid
for the terror by night;
nor for the arrow that flieth by day;
nor for the pestilence
that walketh in darkness;
nor for the destruction
that waste at noonday.
A thousand shall fall at thy side,
and ten thousand at thy right hand;
but it shall not come nigh thee.
Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold
and see the reward of the wicked.


A mighty fortress is our God – Text: Martin Luther (1483 -1546); tr. Frederic Henry Hedge (1805-1890); based on Psalm 46 / Music: Martin Luther

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Martin Luther was born on November 10, 1483 in Eisleben, Saxony, Germany. He was educated at the University of Erfurt, later taking the orders of an Augustinian monk, teaching philosophy and theology at the University of Wittenberg. He had strong convictions about the use and power of sacred music. He expressed his conviction in this way, “If anyone despises music, as all fanatics do, for them I have no liking; for music is a gift and grace of God, not an invention of men. Thus, it drives out the devil and makes people cheerful. Then one forgets all wrath, impurity and other devices.” Again, “The Devil, the originator of sorrowful anxieties and restless troubles, flees before the sound of music almost as much as before the Word of God.”

The first line of this hymn, perhaps the single most notable musical emblem of the Protestant Reformation, is inscribed on the Luther’s tomb at Wittenberg. For Luther, its themes of struggle between the ancient foe and the truth of God, between the prince of darkness and the light of God, are our struggles, and like Jesus in the wilderness in this Sunday’s Gospel, we prevail through the power of the Spirit.

A mighty fortress is our God,
a bulwark never failing;
our helper he, amid the flood
of mortal ills prevailing:
for still our ancient foe
doth seek to work us woe;
his craft and power are great,
and, armed with cruel hate,
on earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide,
our striving would be losing;
were not the right man on our side,
the man of God’s own choosing:
dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is he;
Lord Sabbaoth, his Name,
from age to age the same,
and he must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God hath willed
his truth to triumph through us;
the prince of darkness grim,
we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure,
for lo! his doom is sure,
one little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers,
no thanks to them, abideth;
the Spirit and the gifts are ours
through him who with us sideth:
let goods and kindred go,
this mortal life also;
the body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still,
his kingdom is forever.

Gerald Harder