Music for the Third Sunday of Easter — April 18, 2021

Sehet, welch eine Liebe hat uns der Vater erzeiget (Paulus, Op. 36, No. 43) – Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

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Felix Mendelssohn, in full Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, was a German composer, pianist, musical conductor, and teacher, and one of the most-celebrated figures of the early Romantic period. In his music Mendelssohn largely observed Classical models and practices while initiating key aspects of Romanticism — the artistic movement that exalted feeling and the imagination above rigid forms and traditions. Among his most famous works are Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1826), Italian Symphony (1833), a violin concerto (1844), two piano concerti (1831, 1837), the oratorio Elijah (1846), and several pieces of chamber music.

Felix was born of Jewish parents, Abraham and Lea Salomon Mendelssohn, from whom he took his first piano lessons. Though the Mendelssohn family was proud of their ancestry, they considered it desirable in accordance with 19th-century liberal ideas to mark their emancipation from the ghetto by adopting the Christian faith. Accordingly, Felix, together with his brother and two sisters, was baptized in 1816 as a Lutheran. In 1822, when his parents were also baptized, the entire family adopted the surname Bartholdy, following the example of Felix’s maternal uncle, who had chosen to adopt the name of a family farm.

In 1832 Mendelssohn enlisted the help of pastor Julius Schubring, a childhood friend, to produce the libretto for a new oratorio based on the life and work of St. Paul. For this, he drew on passages from the New Testament, chiefly the Acts of the Apostles, and the old, as well as the texts of chorales and hymns. Composition of the music was started in 1834 and was complete in early 1836. The English premiere was in Liverpool in 1836 in a translation from German by Mendelssohn’s friend Karl Klingermann. To this day, it is performed in both of its original languages.

The chorus heard here is from very near the end of Paulus / St. Paul, in Scene 5, the Farewell of Paul from Ephesus, right before the final scene, the Martyrdom of Paul. It is the first verse of our Epistle reading for this Sunday, 1 John 3:1a.

Sehet, welch eine Liebe hat uns der Vater erzeiget, dass wir sollen Gottes Kinder heißen.

Behold what love the Father has shown us, for us to be called God’s children.


Alleluia, Cognoverunt discipuli – plainsong

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I have pointed out previously that the name “Gradual” comes from the fact that a soloist originally chanted a psalm from an elevated place, the step (gradus) of the ambo where the subdeacon had just read the Epistle. The proper Gradual for the Third Sunday of Easter is this verse from Luke 24:35. Of particular note in the ancient chant heard here are the extensive Easter alleluias surrounding the verse.

Alleluia. Cognoverunt discipuli Dominum Jesum in fractione panis.

Hallelujah. The disciples knew the Lord Jesus in the breaking of bread.


Fantasy on “Easter Hymn” – Sir William Harris (1883-1973)

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The name Sir William Harris, KCVO, MA, DMus, FRCM, FRCO conjures up images of grand Royal state occasions at Windsor, coronations in Westminster Abbey and “pomp and circumstance” in general. To many church musicians his name also brings to mind the eight-part anthem Faire is the Heaven, surely one of the greatest pieces of Anglican church music of the last century. A man who was humble, mild-mannered, humorous, deeply spiritual, dedicated to his church work, loyal to his friends, restrained in his organ accompaniments and, sadly, impoverished in his later years hardly seems to be a description of the same man, yet they were indeed one and the same.

This “Fantasy”, a musical composition with roots in improvisation, unbound by strict form, is based on the familiar tune Easter Hymn. Played brilliantly here by Daniel Cook, Master of the Choristers and Organist of Durham Cathedral, it showcases the splendid Tuba stop of the renowned “Father” Willis organ. Yours truly typically plays this piece at St. James’ as a postlude at some point during the Easter season.

Gerald Harder