We will start the service with a prelude, the Andante from the Piano Trio in g minor by Clara Wieck-Schumann (1819-1896), the wife of composer, Robert Schumann, and friend to Johannes Brahms. Clara was a tremendous figure in the musical scene of her day, and she highly influenced both Robert and Brahms from directly musical, emotional, and intellectual perspectives. Many have remarked that Clara was indeed the "real genius" behind these great composers, and perhaps that is true. Being a woman, however, Clara was not able to achieve the same stature as a composer as her contemporaries - a sad but all too real fact of life for most women composers then and now. The Andante we will hear on Sunday is one of my favorite pieces of chamber music, and its wistful, tempered passion speaks to the themes of remembrance found in our service this week.
Our hymns will be very familiar and will feature favorites for All Saints' Day. Among them, we will sing, For all the saints, I sing a song of the saints of God, and Ye holy angels bright. All of these texts speak of the trials of earthly life and the triumph of the saints of God in the afterlife. In short, they highlight the joyful, celebratory aspects of All Saints'.
Sunday's offertory still speaks of the hope of eternal life, but it is presented in a context that addresses the more tender aspects of grief. Mark Schweizer (b. 1956) has set the traditional Latin text, Justorum animae, assigned to the offertory for the All Saints' Day mass in the Graduale Romanum (Roman Gradual). Schweizer also includes the English lyrics in the piece, and he weaves the two together in a mystical, Gregorian-influenced sound world. The words come to us from the book of Wisdom. "The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and the torment of death shall not touch them for they are in peace." The piece begins and ends in what I call a "Gregorian cloud," and in the middle, the English rings out in a fortissimo contrast to the quiet sections surrounding it. In this way, the piece draws one in, makes a profound point, and gives one some time to think about it.
During communion, my own Agnus Dei for two sopranos will be sung. While not directly associated with All Saints' Day, the text expresses the heart of our Christian hope for eternal life - the death of Christ to redeem the world. The lyrics address Christ as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, and it ends by asking God to grant us peace. In the end, perhaps that is a major part of what our All Saints' celebration is all about - finding peace with the idea of death.
Back to the beginning of the service. The introit for this Sunday points directly to the celebration that will happen after our liturgy concludes - it gives us a powerful text to inspire our eventual joy. The text was written by John Donne (1573-1631) centuries ago, and yet it speaks as powerfully and clearly as ever today. "Death, be not proud, though some have called thee mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so; one short sleep past, we wake eternally and death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die."