A bit of background on our joyful Easter music:
Wilbur Held’s organ arrangements beautifully showcase the joy and strength inherent in our most beloved Easter hymns. Held (b. 1914) lives in California and remains active as a composer and organist. For more than 30 years, he was Professor of Music (Organ and Church Music) at Ohio State University in Columbus, where he was beloved by generations of students for his wonderful teaching.
Martin Luther’s famous hymn, Christ lag in Todesbanden, was first included in an Erfurt hymnal of 1524. The tune is a variant of the ancient Christ ist erstanden, a German folk melody with roots deeply imbedded in chant. This dark, powerful tune has spoken to many generations of composers, who to this day remain eager to arrange it for organ, chorus, etc. Though not very well known to American congregations, the tune was particularly recognized and beloved in Bach’s time.
The ancient hymn O Sons and Daughters, Let Us Sing! has lost none of its exuberance over the centuries; a perfect example of a strong, yet dancelike hymn in minor mode, it remains popular with congregations and composers alike. The original text was written by Jean Tisserand, a 15th-century Franciscan monk. The five stanzas presented in our hymnal form a paraphrase of Matthew 28:1-7. Tisserand’s text has been frequently altered since its translation and publication by John Mason Neale in Mediaeval Hymns and Sequences (1851). O Filii et Filiae, a 15th-century French melody, is contemporary with the text and was probably composed as the hymn’s original melody.
The famous hymn Jesus Christ is Risen Today, with its elaborate strings of Alleluias, is perhaps the most popular of all Easter hymns used in American churches today, without which our Easter celebrations would simply not be the same. Its text includes three stanzas translated from the 14th-century Latin text, "Surrexit Christus hodie," first published in John Walsh’s Lyra Davidica (1708). The fourth stanza is a doxology verse by Charles Wesley. Easter Hymn is the only surviving tune from Lyra Davidica.
Christ is Risen! Shout Hosanna!, set to Beethoven’s famous Ode to Joy, beautifully expresses the glory of Easter morning. Brian Wren’s energetic text, written in 1984, was originally paired with a different tune. Wren (b. 1936), an ordained minister in the English Congregational Church (now the United Reformed Church), French language scholar, and poet, has been called the most successful English hymn writer since Charles Wesley.
Two American Hymns, arranged by Alice Parker, are perfect examples of what makes traditional American music so appealing and so richly meaningful. Alice Parker (b. 1925) is an American treasure: a prolific composer, arranger, conductor, and teacher, still going strong with a daunting performing/touring schedule, and possessing the energy of someone many decades younger. Ms. Parker is also the masterful embodiment of what it means to sing joyfully in community. If you ever have an opportunity to experience an Alice Parker SING, you should by all means do so. In these programs, Ms. Parker engages large or small groups in song, empowering them with ability and a variety of singing that goes far beyond what they thought they were capable of.
Good Christians All, Rejoice and Sing is based upon the hymn tune Gelobt sei Gott by Melchior Vulpius (ca. 1560-ca. 1616), a German composer who served as cantor in Weimar from 1602 until his death. Vulpius composed numerous chorales, sacred choruses, a passion oratorio (St. Matthew), and Latin wedding hymns. John Ferguson’s arrangement for brass and organ capitalizes on the glorious majesty of this ancient tune. Ferguson is a noted organist, composer, church music clinician, and professor at St. Olaf College. Hal Hopson brings us an arrangement in which everyone gets to participate-congregation, choir, & instrumentalists. Hopson, formerly at Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church in Dallas, is a well-known composer, arranger, and teacher with more than 1,000 published works to his credit.
In Handel’s oratorio, Judas Maccabeus, the famous tune of our Hymn 122 was the setting for "See, the conquering hero comes." It was first published as a hymn tune in Thomas Butts’ Harmonia Sacra (1760) as the setting for Charles Wesley’s "Christ the Lord is Risen Today!" The tune’s association with Easter celebrations was thus assured. Our hymnal pairs the tune with a French hymn text ("A toi la gloire") written by Edmond L. Budry and published in Chants Evangeliques (1885); it was translated into English by Richard B. Hoyle for the first edition of Cantate Domino (1924).
Mendelssohn’s organ works include six sonatas for the instrument. These have attained an almost mythical status in the literature and include many elements reminiscent of earlier composers, particularly J. S. Bach. The power and brilliance of Mendelssohn’s writing for the organ make some of his sonata movements perfect for joyous feast days such as Easter. Mendelssohn’s homage to earlier composers, as expressed in his sonatas, was quite deliberate. In fact, Mendelssohn’s enthusiasm for the music of Bach was the driving force behind a huge resurgence of interest in Bach’s compositional genius a century after Bach’s death.