Saturday, April 11, 2020

Easter Vigil

No. 336 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at

I delayed this week’s Blog and Podcast to better fit the Lenten calendar, and not rob the solemnity of our daily share for Good Friday.

Among liturgical western churches including the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion, and Lutheran churches, Easter Vigil, is observed in traditional Christian churches as the first official celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus. Historically, it is during this liturgy that people are baptized and that adult catechumens are received into full communion with the Church. It is held in the hours of darkness between sunset on Holy Saturday and sunrise on Easter Day – most commonly in the evening of Holy Saturday or midnight – and is the first celebration of Easter, days traditionally being considered to begin at sunset.

The three works I assembled for this Easter Vigil montage provide the spectrum of Darkness – with a pair of works inspired by the Passion – and Light - with a sacread cantata associated with Easter morning.

As with most of the nicknames that have become attached to Haydn's symphonies, that of Haydn’s Symphony no. 49 did not originate with the composer himself. It was long believed that the nickname "La passione" or The Passion derived from the nature of the music itself: the slow opening movement of the sinfonia da chiesa, its minor key modality and its association with the Sturm und Drang period of Haydn's symphonic output. However, the nickname can be traced back to a single source from a performance given during Holy Week in the Northern German city of Schwerin in 1790, where secular music was banned from performance between 1756 and 1785. This suggests that the name was derived circumstantially and not thematically and that reading the symphony as having a Passion-related motif is post-facto interpretation.

French organist and composer Marcel Dupré made the first of his many visits to America in 1921. He refers in his memoirs to the evening of 8 December when, at a recital he was giving on the Wanamaker Grand Court Organ in Philadelphia, he was offered several liturgical themes on which to improvise—Iesu redemptor omnium, Adeste fideles, Stabat mater dolorosa and Adoro te devote. He instantly decided to improvise an organ symphony in four movements which depicted in music the life of Jesus: ‘The world awaiting the Saviour’, ‘Nativity’, ‘Crucifixion’ and ‘Resurrection’. This improvisation became the basis of his Symphonie-Passion, Op 23, which he began to compose on his return to France.

Christ lag in Todes Banden ("Christ lay in the snares of death") is a chorale cantata, a style in which both text and music are based on a hymn. In this instance, the source was Martin Luther's hymn of the same name, the main hymn for Easter in the Lutheran church. The composition is based on the seven stanzas of the hymn and its tune, which was derived from Medieval models. This cantata is one of J. S. Bach’s earliest church cantatas. It is agreed to be an early work partly for stylistic reasons and partly because there is evidence that it was probably written for a performance in 1707. Bach went on to complete many other works in the same genre, contributing complete cantata cycles for all occasions of the liturgical year.

I think you will love this music too

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