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Music Notes for March 15, 2015

Music Notes for March 15, 2015
American composer David Lang. Photo credit: Peter Serling

Music for Sunday
Prelude: Adagio from Trio Sonata 1, BWV 525, Johann Sebastian Bach
Offertory: Sicut Moses, Heinrich Schütz
Communion: God So Loved the World, John Stainer
Postlude: Variations on Wondrous Love, Daniel Pinkham

#323 God Loved the World
#666 What Wondrous Love Is This
#604 O Christ, Our Hope

Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672) is generally considered to be the first great German composer. His work would become a direct influence on that of Johann Sebastian Bach, as well as later German composers such as Brahms and Webern. His setting of “Sicut Moses” comes from his Cantiones Sacrae, a collection of 40 motets and madrigals published in 1625, and features imitative counterpoint and text painting throughout. For example, Schütz uses as rising eighth-note motif at the beginning of the piece to echoe the “rising up” of the bronze serpent referenced in the text.

English Victorian composer John Stainer’s (1840-1901) setting of John 3:16, “For God So Loved the World,” comes from his 1887 oratorio The Crucifixion: A Meditation on the Sacred Passion of the Holy Redeemer, a piece the composer himself is said to have described as “rubbish.” Nonetheless, The Crucifixion remains popular and is widely performed today, especially around this time of year. Stainer’s homophonic setting treatment of “For God So Loved the World” is heartfelt and earnest, underscoring the tension of love and sacrifice found in the text.

This week’s Lenten Meditation at Bach Vespers features the Pulitzer Prize winning little match girl passion (2008), by David Lang. A founding member of the new-music organization Bang on a Can, Lang is one of the most widely performed and recognized American composers writing today. The little match girl passion is based on a children’s story by Hans Christian Anderson, in which a little girl freezes to death on the street selling matches on a cold winter night. Lang, in his program note, writes that he was inspired by both the religious allegory of the story:

What has always interested me…is that Andersen tells this story as a kind of parable, drawing a religious and moral equivalency between the suffering of the poor girl and the suffering of Jesus. The girl suffers, is scorned by the crowd, dies, and is transfigured. I started wondering what secrets could be unlocked from this story if one took its Christian nature to its conclusion and unfolded it, as Christian composers have traditionally done in musical settings of the Passion of Jesus. 

Lang also writes that he was deeply influenced by Bach, particularly the St. Matthew Passion, in writing this piece. The little match girl passion will be performed by the ensemble &, preceded by an organ recital by Mark Bighley.