Music Notes for Palm Sunday — March 24, 2024

What Wondrous Love Is This – American folk hymn / arr. Robert Scholz (1939-2021)

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The author of the text of this morning’s communion motet remains anonymous, but it’s known as a traditional American folk song, first published in 1811. It can be found in our Common Praise hymnal at 400. The text has remained essentially untouched since it was first made popular by the Sacred Harp shape singers in 1844. Some hymnals leave out the stanza: “When I was sinking down”. Others include a verse that repeats the first verse with the last two lines “That Christ should lay aside his crown for my soul –What wondrous love is this, O my soul!”, thereby solidifying its profound connection with this morning’s epistle reading from Philippians 2.

The tune Wondrous Love was first set to this text in the second edition of Southern Harmony. The eminent hymnologist Erik Routley described this tune as “incomparably beautiful.” This morning the choir sings a moving and sensitive arrangement of this tune by the American choral conductor, musicologist, and composer Robert Scholz.

What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
to bear the dreadful curse for my soul!

When I was sinking down, sinking down,
When I was sinking down beneath God’s righteous frown,
Christ laid aside his crown for my soul.

To God and to the Lamb I will sing;
to God and to the Lamb, who is the great I AM
while millions join the theme, I will sing.

And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on.
And when from death I’m free I’ll sing and joyful be,
and through eternity I’ll sing on.

Gerald Harder