Music Notes for April 10, 2022

Hymn of the Day: “Jesus, I Will Ponder Now” ELW 345
Text: Sigismund von Birken (1626-1681)
Music: JESU KREUZ, LEIDEN UND PEIN, Melchior Vulpius (1570-1615)

This is a meditation on Jesus' passion in six German stanzas by Sigismund von Birken, first published in Johann Michael Dilherr’s “Blessed Holy Week," Heilige Karwochen (Nürnberg, 1653). August Crull translated all six stanzas, which are given in the Evangelical Lutheran Hymn Book (1889) at #70, Evangelical Lutheran Worship, like Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), prints an updated
version of four stanzas from Crull's translation. They are 1-3 followed by the first half of 4 elided with the last half of 6 to form the final stanza. Sigismund von Birken was a poet who wrote about fifty hymns, of which this is the best-known. He was the son of a Lutheran pastor, born in Bohemia. When he was three, his father~-with other Lutheran pastors who were also persecuted—was forced to leave Bohemia. They came to Nürnberg. Sigismund studied at the Gymnasium there. In 1643 he went to the University of Jena, where he studied law and theology. Lack of money kept him from finishing his studies at Jena, but, because of his poetic abilities, he was inducted into poetic societies, became a tutor, and in1654 was made a nobleman by Ferdinand III.

This melody is by Melchior Vulpius. It is named for a text by Petrus Herbert for which it was the tune. The marriage of "Jesus, I will ponder now" with this tune is an auspicious one. Walter Blankenburg regards Melchior Vulpius as the most important hymn tune composer of his period and sees him as the link between Martin Luther and Johann Crüger. He was born of poor parents near Meiningen in Germany. He studied there and at Speyer and married in 1589. Though he did not study at a university, he became a cantor and teacher at Schleusingen and then at Weimar~-the latter from 1596 until his death. He was a student of Johann Steurlein, whose late-sixteenth-century tunes were smoother and more regular than the earlier ones by Luther. Blankenburg says Vulpius's originality lay in introducing to hymn tunes the rhythm of the balletto, a sixteenth- and seventeenth-century light-hearted stylized Italian dance, which at the time had a vocal component. His move kept the smoother regularity from becoming stale. Vulpius's tune GELOBT SEI GOTT is more obviously dance-like, because it is faster and more buoyant. JESU KREUZ, LEIDEN UND PEIN has a quieter, slower, and more reflective though still a dance-like quality. Vulpius wrote more than hymn tunes. He was a prolific and popular composer of Latin and German choral music for Lutheran worship. His works include a setting of the St. Matthew Passion.

Choir Anthem: "I See His Blood Upon the Rose", Michael Bedford (1962)

This is a beautiful setting by Michael Bedford of a beautiful poem by Joseph Mary Plunkett (1887 –1916). Michael Bedford was born in Ireland. Joseph Mary Plunkett was an Irish nationalist, poet, journalist, and a leader of the 1916 Easter Rising.

I see his blood upon the rose
And in the stars the glory of his eyes,
His body gleams amid eternal snows,
His tears fall from the skies.

I see his face in every flower;
The thunder and the singing of the birds
Are but his voice—and carven by his power
Rocks are his written words.

All pathways by his feet are worn,
His strong heart stirs the ever-beating sea,
His crown of thorns is twined with every thorn,
His cross is every tree.

Sending Voluntary: “Calvary,” Richard Billingham (1934)

Calvary comes from one of the darkest periods in American culture. By identifying with the pain and suffering of Jesus on the cross (Matthew 27: 32-50), African slaves could also claim hope of salvation and the promise of an afterlife free of pain. Calvary, like many spirituals, works on multiple levels: the recounting of particular Biblical scenes gives insight into the plight of the slave in America’s difficult social history, while testifying that, through the outpouring of song, the human spirit can transcend even inhumane conditions and endure for generations to come.

Richard Billingham worked for many years as Associate Professor of Music at the University of Illinois and Organist at the First Methodist Church, Chicago.