Music for the Fourth Sunday of Easter — April 25, 2021

The Lord is my shepherd – Howard Goodall (b. 1958)

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The Fourth Sunday of Easter is sometimes called Good Shepherd Sunday because in each of the three lectionary cycles, the Gospel reading invites us to reflect on Jesus as the Good Shepherd. In each cycle the reading is from the tenth chapter of John’s Gospel, which sets the framework for Jesus’ teaching about himself as the Good Shepherd. In addition, the appointed psalm is Psalm 23 regardless of the lectionary year.

Howard Goodall CBE is one of Britain’s best-known composers of choral music, stage musicals, TV and film scores. He is also a distinguished music historian and broadcaster. His choral music has been commissioned to mark many national ceremonies and memorials. Goodall’s setting of Psalm 23, the theme to the TV series The Vicar of Dibley, has proved to be an extremely popular piece of music in its own right. Howard’s intention in writing the theme had always been to write a piece of church music which could have a life of its own, beyond the series, and this has certainly been fulfilled in this work. This setting was sung most recently by the St. James’ choir on the Fourth Sunday of Easter 2019.

The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want,

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures,

He leadeth me beside the still waters.

Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil,

For you are with me,

You will comfort me.

Surely goodness and mercy,

shall follow me all the days of my life,

and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.


Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt (BWV 112) Versus I: Chorale – J.S. Bach (1685-1750)

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Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt (The Lord is my faithful Shepherd) is the last of three set on the theme of the Good Shepherd. Bach wrote this cantata for the Second Sunday of Easter; in Lutheran Germany of his day, the prescribed readings were from 1 Peter 2 and John 10, very much centred around Christ as Shepherd.

The cantata assumes a tone that is sometimes surprising, especially for English-speaking people who have grown up with a rather sentimental idea of Psalm 23. The opening chorus, heard here, is one of Bach’s finest; there’s an almost hypnotic figure played by the horns that introduces a melody that remains familiar to Lutherans: Decius’s Allein Gott in der Hoh sei ehr.

Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt,
Hält mich in seiner Hute,
Darin mir gar nichts mangeln wird
Irgend an einem Gute,
Er weidet mich ohn Unterlaß,
Darauf wächst das wohlschmeckend Gras
Seines heilsamen Wortes.

The Lord is my faithful Shepherd,
He keeps me in His protection,
within which nothing can be lacking for me
even to a single good,
He pastures me continually,
for which purpose the delicious grass
of His holy Word grows.


Erstanden ist der heilige Christ (BWV 628) – J.S. Bach

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The Orgelbüchlein (Little Organ Book) BWV 599−644 is a set of 46 chorale preludes for organ by J.S. Bach. All but three were written between 1708 and 1717 when Bach served as organist to the ducal court in Weimar; the remainder and a short two-bar fragment came no earlier than 1726, after the composer’s appointment as cantor at the Thomasschule in Leipzig.

The plan was for a collection of 164 settings of chorale tunes sung during the Church year so that each part of the year was represented. Although this number was not to be, the Orgelbüchlein does span the calendar and more importantly signals a maturity and new breadth in Bach’s compositional style. Each setting takes an existing Lutheran chorale, adds a motivic accompaniment, and quite freely explores form.

This chorale prelude is based on the early Reformation hymn Erstanden ist der heil’ge Christ (Arisen is the holy Lord Christ), itself based on a 1372 German translation of the traditional Easter carol Surrexit Christus hodie. The German text and a paraphrased English translation are included below. This brief work features resurrection word painting, with relentless rising scale patterns woven between the cantus firmus (melody) in the top voice and an anchoring pedal line.

Erstanden ist der heilge Christ, alleluia

der aller Welt ein Tröster ist alleluia.

Und wär er nicht erstanden, alleluia

so wär die Welt vergangen, alleluia.


Christ our Lord is Risen to-day, Hallelujah

Christ, our Life, our Light, our Way, Hallelujah.

The object of our Love and Faith, Hallelujah

Who but died to conquer Death, Hallelujah.

Gerald Harder