Music for the Baptism of our Lord — Sunday, January 8 2023

Jesu, the very thought – Charles Wood (1866-1926)


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The Latin hymn Jesu, dulcis memoria has long been ascribed to St. Bernard of Clairvaux (c. 1090-1153), but the real author appears to be an anonymous Cistercian who lived at the close of the 12th century. It has been called “the sweetest and most evangelical hymn of the Middle Ages.” This hymn appears in our Common Praise hymnal in a translation by Edward Caswell. John Mason Neal, the other prolific English translator of Latin hymns, provided another translation, taken up by the composer Charles Wood to produce this Sunday morning’s communion motet in church.

Charles Wood (1866-1926) was an Irish composer and teacher; his students included Ralph Vaughan Williams at Cambridge and Herbert Howells at the Royal College of Music. He is primarily remembered and performed as an Anglican church music composer, but he also wrote songs and chamber music, particularly for string quartet. All Wood’s a cappella music demonstrates fastidious craftsmanship and a supreme mastery of the genre; this Sunday’s concise, beautifully crafted communion motet is no exception.

Jesu! the very thought is sweet;
In that dear name all heart-joys meet;
No word is sung more sweet than this,
No sound is heard more full of bliss,
Than Jesus, Jesus, Son of God most high.

Gerald Harder