De profundis. . .
Alas! And did my Savior Bleed is one of those hymns many of us know from childhood. One of a great many familiar hymn texts by the prolific genius Isaac Watts, it was first published in Hymns and Spiritual Songs (1707). No stranger to colorful turns of phrase, Watts’ original last phrase for stanza one read: "for such a worm as I," but was altered early on to "for sinners such as I." Watts titled the text "Godly Sorrow Arising from the Sufferings of Christ." Martyrdom, the tune with which it is most often paired, was thought to be composed by Hugh Wilson (1766-1824) toward the end of the 18th century. Wilson, born in Fenwick, Scotland, led the psalm singing in the Secession Church. Recent scholarship suggests the melody is actually derived from an old Scottish folk melody. Healey Willan’s beautiful organ prelude brings out the inherent gentleness in this beloved melody.
Ah, Holy Jesus (Herzliebster Jesu) is, like Wondrous Love, a theme of sorts during this Lenten season, particularly as we contemplate the dark events of Holy Week throughout Lent, both on Wednesday evenings in the Lenten study and during Sunday morning worship. There could scarcely be a more perfect expression of the agony of Holy Week, and the continued popularity of Johann Crüger’s wonderful tune bears this out.
Aus tiefer Not is a celebrated Lutheran chorale from 1524, attributed (both text and music) to Martin Luther. With roots firmly entrenched in the rich tapestry of church history, this difficult, many-faceted chorale is one of many time-honored expressions of the De Profundis–Psalm 130–one of the most famous of the Penitential Psalms. Because of their profoundly sorrowful, confessional nature, the Penitential Psalms have long been staples of Lenten / Holy Week worship. Luther’s text is a paraphrase of Psalm 130, and represents his first attempt to make the psalms accessible to Protestant church services in the German language. Aus tiefer Not was first published as one of eight hymns in the very first Lutheran hymnal, the so-called Achtliederbuch (literally translates as the "Eight Song Book"). It is indeed interesting to think about how far we’ve come since 1524: hymnals have ballooned in size from these 8 hymns all the way to the 605 hymns found in our Presbyterian Hymnal! If you find yourself having difficulty with this hymn, please be patient and try nonetheless to open yourself to the experience, to the profound sorrow and discomfort the hymn expresses. To make things even more interesting (or difficult, depending upon your point of view!), the tune is in the old Phrygian mode, which is a particularly difficult-sounding, almost painfully twisted-sounding mode, far different from our modern sense of major or minor, and perfect for expressing the depths of sorrow surrounding the darkest issues we face as human beings, and certainly the darkest hours Christ faced during his final week on earth. This is not meant to be a "feel-good" hymn by any means; in fact, I can’t think of a single hymn further removed from the "feel-good" concept! Aus tiefer Not, due to its rich history and complexity, has appealed to composers for centuries and continues to work its magic. This morning’s preludes and postludes consist almost entirely of Aus tiefer Not settings, spanning the centuries from Samuel Scheidt’s time (late 16th-early 17th-centuries), through Bach, and all the way to the 20th-century composers Marcel Dupré and Randall Thompson.
Richard Farrant (c.1530-1580) was an English composer, choirmaster, and theatrical producer. He was also a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal until 1564, when he became organist and choirmaster to St. George’s Chapel, Windsor. Hide not Thou Thy Face is one of two well-known Farrant anthems (the other is Call to Remembrance), easily accessible to most church choirs, yet beautifully representative of the elegant 16th-century English anthem style. Confessional and pleading in its tone, it is another wonderful expression of the penitential nature of this Lenten season. We hope you enjoy hearing this gem as much as our choir enjoys singing it.
Here is Bach’s wonderful Cantata 38 (Aus tiefer Not). The first chorus (approximately the first 3-1/2 minutes) features the Aus tiefer Not chorale, dressed up as only Bach could do!