Simojoki Family Concert

This happened today:

A lunchtime concert at Holy Trinity church in Fareham. Music by Frank Bridge, Joseph Haydn and J.S. Bach.

I’m very proud of the children (not to mention Sarah!), not just for their wonderful playing in today’s concert, but all the hard work that has enabled them to develop their God-given talents.

Hanna – Violin
Daniel – Cello
Elias – Trumpet
Markus – Viola
Sarah – Flute
TS – Piano & Organ

J.S. Bach: Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring (arr. T. Simojoki)

The whole concert (audio only):

Chants for the Reformation Lessons

After the lecture on Music and the Reformation last Friday, we celebrated choral vespers. To get a sense of an earlier time in the Lutheran church, the readings (Epistle & Gospel for Reformation Day) were chanted according to Luther’s directions in Die Deutsche Messe. Here’s the music (text from ESV®).

The Epistle:

image

 

The Gospel:

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Click here for a PDF version

Seven theses on church music

From a presentation I was honoured to give yesterday at Luther-Tyndale Memorial Church in London, as part of their annual Reformation Festival.

I. Music is the chief vehicle for the proclamation of the Word of God in the Church.
II. Therefore, the task of church music is to proclaim the Word of God.
III. As such, the music used to proclaim the Word must be appropriate for the task of proclamation.
IV. There is no one kind of music that is appropriate for the proclamation of the Word.
V. By the same token, not all music is appropriate for proclaiming the Word of God.
VI. What is appropriate at a certain time in a certain place is not necessarily appropriate at all times and in all places. But all times and places should be heard in the Church.
VII. Therefore, church music in all its forms must be judged, and used, in such a way as best to communicate God’s Word to those who hear it—including those who make music.

The purpose of music in the church

Sunday CantataHere’s an extract from the episode of Sunday Cantata on 25 August 2013 on Lutheran Radio UK. You can listen to the whole programme here. The first part of the programme demonstrates how these words apply to the cantata of the day, BWV 33.

One of the important questions for all church musicians—and indeed for clergy and congregations—is: what is the role of music in worship. Of course, much music in the church’s worship is there to set and adorn the text of the liturgy and the hymns and songs of the church. What sort of music ought to be used to set these texts? How should they be accompanied? What about other music? Should there be any other music? What kinds of music are appropriate? Can there be instrumental music? What’s it all there for?
The answer to these questions has varied from era to era and from one Christian denomination to another. It’s not uncommon to go to church services where the congregation is reduced to a concert audience, listening to and hopefully appreciating the efforts of the professionals who do the music making. This phenomenon has occurred across the board—in modern megachurches, in Anglican cathedrals of the last few centuries, in sixteenth-century Roman Catholic city churches. Other churches are so indifferent to the role of music in worship that almost anything goes and little attention is paid to anything other than that the job gets somehow done.

Both of these extremes would have been completely alien to the devout and diligent Lutheran church musician that was Johann Sebastian Bach, and to most of his colleagues. For Bach, music had a very specific task in the church, whether that music was accompanying congregational singing, or playing a chorale prelude on the organ, or performing a cantata. That task was to move the hearers, the congregation. By this, I don’t mean mere emotional manipulation. Rather, the music was there to present the words of the liturgy, the biblical text, the text of a hymn, or the libretto of a cantata, in such a way as to drive them home to the hearts of the hearers. It served as a handmaiden to theology, to assist proclamation and to give added rhetorical force to it.

This is why Baroque composers such as Bach took such pains to find the most appropriate musical expression for the words they were setting. They used all their skill to paint significant words and phrases, to create the right atmosphere and mood for the words with harmony, rhythm and instrumentation, and composed melodies best suited to bringing out the meaning and amplifying it in such a way as to make sure that the hearers, the Christian congregation, were not left untouched by what they heard. The right words combined with the right music—the perfect tool for kindling a response of faith.

This overriding concern in cantata-writing also explains why it made perfect sense to write chorale cantatas. When the words of the hymn were re-cast as poetic paraphrases and re-set as choral fantasias, arias and recitatives, the familiar congregational song was dressed in a fresh garb designed to make a fresh impact on the gathered assembly, to move them in a new way to repentance and to faith.

God Is Gone Up!

Happy Ascension Day!

God is gone up with a triumphant shout!
The Lord with sounding Trumpets’ melodies:
Sing Praise, sing Praise, sing Praise, sing Praises out,
Unto our King sing praise seraphicwise!
Lift up your Heads, ye lasting Doors, they sing,
And let the King of Glory enter in.

Methinks I see Heaven’s sparkling courtiers fly,
In flakes of Glory down him to attend,
And hear Heart-cramping notes of Melody
Surround his Chariot as it did ascend;
Mixing their Music, making ev’ry string
More to enravish as they this tune sing.

Text: Edward Taylor (1646–1729)
Music: Gerald Finzi (1901–56)

An absolute gem…

…from Salomo Franck and J.S. Bach.

I have just finished the script for next Sunday’s Sunday Cantata on Lutheran Radio UK, on Bach’s cantata BWV 132, Bereitet die Wege, bereitet die Bahn, for the Fourth Sunday in Advent. (If you haven’t heard the earlier episodes yet, visit the programme page to catch up! And send me your feedback at info@lutheranradio.co.uk or through Facebook.)

And what a delight it has been to delve into this masterpiece, a perfect marriage of music and theology. Just to think that Bach churned these out first once a month, and then once a fortnight or even weekly, for several years!

I won’t post all the music here, obviously. For that, you need to listen to the programme. Or buy the recordings. I can’t recommend highly enough the set from Bach Collegium Japan used by Lutheran Radio UK.

But do enjoy the start of the first movement, with its brilliant word painting: the soprano’s meandering crooked path (on the word ‘Bahn’)  being made straight as she sings joyfully of preparing for the coming of the Messiah.

[audio:http://simonpotamos.org.uk/audio/BWV-132-I.-Aria-soprano-Bereitet-die-Wege-bereitet-die-Bahn.mp3]

Here are the words in English. Note the wonderfully crafted movement from the promise of Christ’s coming and the need for preparation by faith and life, through the accusation of the Law, the confession of sin, and absolution on the basis of your baptism, to a prayer for God to sanctify the believer. Straight out of the Catechism!

The Cantata is based on the Gospel reading for next Sunday, John 1:19–28.

Prepare the ways and level the path!
Prepare the ways
And make the paths
Of faith and life
Quite even for the Highest.
The Messiah is coming!

If you will call yourself a child of God and Christ’s brother,
you must freely confess the Saviour with your heart and mouth.
Yes, your entire life must bear witness your faith!
If the words and teaching of Christ
Must also be sealed through your blood,
Then offer yourself willingly!
For this is the Christian’s crown and glory.
Meanwhile, my heart, prepare
Even today
The way of faith for the Lord,
And clear away the hills and the mountains
Which stand in the way!
Roll back the heavy stones of sin,
Receive your Saviour,
That He may be united with you in faith!

Who are you? Ask your conscience,
You shall have to, without hypocrisy,
Hear your just sentence, whether you are false or true.
Who are you? Consult the Commandments,
They will tell you who you are,
A child of wrath in Satan’s net,
A false and hypocritical Christian.

I shall, my God, confess to You openly,
I have until now not confessed You properly!
Although my mouth and lips have called You Lord and Father,
my heart has turned away from You.
I have denied You by my life!
How can You give a good testimony of me?
O Jesus, when Your bath of spirit and water
Cleansed me from my misdeeds,
I did in truth swear constant faith to You;
Alas! but alas! The bond of baptism’s bond has been torn asunder.
I rue my faithlessness.
O God, have mercy!
O help me, that with steadfast fidelity
I may always renew through faith the covenant of Grace!

Members of Christ, ah consider
What the Saviour has given you
Through the pure bath of baptism!
At the spring of blood and water
Your clothes become bright,
Which had been stained by misdeeds.
Christ gave you new garments,
Red purple, white silk,
These are a Christian’s garb.

Mortify us through Thy goodness,
Awaken us through Thy grace;
Make the old man sick,
That the new may live well
Here upon this earth,
To direct his mind and desires
And his thoughts towards You.

A Mighty Fortress with a difference

HT: Esgetology

Atheist Song

HT: Rev. Larry Peters

God is gone up!

Anthem for the Ascension of our Lord.

Music by Gerald Finzi (1901-1956). The words are by Edward Taylor (1642-1729), drawing on Ps. 47. Performed by the finest of all English boys’ choirs, the Choir of St. John’s College, Cambridge.

The Finzi anthem is the second on this clip and it starts at 3:20.

God is gone up with a triumphant shout:
The Lord with sounding Trumpets’ melodies:
Sing Praise, sing Praise, sing Praise, sing Praises out,
Unto our King sing praise seraphicwise!
Lift up your Heads, ye lasting Doors, they sing,
And let the King of Glory enter in.

Methinks I see Heaven’s sparkling courtiers fly,
In flakes of Glory down him to attend,
And hear Heart-cramping notes of Melody
Surround his Chariot as it did ascend;
Mixing their Music, making ev’ry string
More to enravish as they this tune sing.

A master on a master

A wonderful little video from BIS on Masaaki Suzuki’s latest offering of Bach’s sacred choral music. It’s a great testimony to the spiritual significance of the music, not only to Bach but to all who hear it.

Enjoy!