Ego sum panis vivus – Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (c. 1525-1594)
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Palestrina’s four-part motet Ego sum panis vivus, one of the many gems in his repertoire, was published in the Motectorum Quatuor Vocibus Liber Secundus in 1584, the text taken from the Gospel of John 6:48-50. Palestrina’s setting is, in effect, a high enactment of Jesus’ words in this passage. In the initial dialogue, the entry of the first two voices that converse by exchanging the melody, we observe two dynamics, a descending sequence followed by a rapid ascending on the word “panis”, a perfect representation of the incarnation which lowers itself to elevate us. We see this low and high dynamic in action throughout the motet, as in the treatment of the phrase “Hic est panis de coelo descendens”, with a melodic leap over the word “coelo”. Perhaps this intimate connection between text and music should not come as a surprise; the source of Palestrina’s art is the word, felt in all its possible potential.
Ego sum panis vivus.
Patres vestri manducaverunt manna in deserto, et mortui sunt.
Hic est panis de coelo descendens: si quis ex ipso manducaverit, non morietur.
I am the bread of life.
Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.
This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.
Guide me, O thou great Redeemer – Text: William Williams (1717-1791) / Music: John Hughes (1873-1932)
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William Williams, called the “Watts of Wales,” was born at Cefn-y-coed, near Llandovery, Carmarthenshire. He originally studied medicine but abandoned it for theology. He was ordained a deacon in the Church of England, but was refused priest’s orders, and subsequently associated with the Methodists. He was held in great esteem as a preacher, and for half a century he served as circuit-riding preacher in Wales. Williams composed his hymns chiefly in the Welsh language; they are still largely used by various religious bodies in the principality. Many of his hymns have appeared in English; Guide me, O thou great Redeemer was translated by Peter Williams (1723-1796). Since Williams wrote it, this hymn has been translated into seventy-five languages.
There are a few textual differences between versions. The editors of many hymnals have changed the name of God in the first line from Williams’ original “Jehovah” to “Redeemer,” to reflect the change in modern scholarship that does not accept “Jehovah” as a credible name for God, since it stems from a mistaken medieval interpretation of the Hebrew names “YHWH” and “Adonai.” In Britain the term “Redeemer” is most common (see The New English Hymnal 368), while in North America the name “Jehovah” is seen most often (see Common Praise 565). Williams often used the metaphor of “pilgrimage” in his hymn texts, and this is no exception. The general theme of the song is an allusion to the Israelites’ journey through the desert to reach the promised land.
Guide me, O thou great Redeemer,
Pilgrim through this barren land;
I am weak, but thou art mighty,
Hold me with thy powerful hand:
Bread of heaven,
Feed me till I want no more.
Open now the crystal fountain
Whence the healing stream doth flow;
Let the fire and cloudy pillar
Lead me all my journey through:
Be thou still my strength and shield.
When I tread the verge of Jordan,
Bid my anxious fears subside;
Death of death, and hell’s Destruction
Land me safe on Canaan’s side:
Songs of praises
I will ever give to thee.