The organ prelude, Ach Gott! erhor mein Seufzen (Give ear, O Lord), comes to us from the German composer, Johann Ludwig Krebs (1713-1780). A student of Johann Sebastian Bach (as was his father, Johann Tobias), Krebs’ compositions are of a comparable quality to those of Bach. Sadly, because the complex music of the Baroque period was considered passé toward the end of Bach’s life and after his death, Krebs and many like him suffered poverty and anonymity. Thus was the penalty for not writing in the new styles which ushered in the Classical era. Krebs, who worked for food rather than a salary, is only now beginning to be widely appreciated in the musical world. Listen to the beautiful way he sets the German hymn, Give ear, O Lord, as the prelude this week. Listen to the upward moving harmony, so evocative of imploration, in the left hand and pedal.
A brief word on our hymns this week: Our processional hymn, God of grace and God of glory, is set to the tune Cwm Rhondda by John Hughes (1873-1932). The Welsh tune is one of the most celebrated and widely used tunes from that country. The hymn is named for the Rhondda Valley in Wales. Our sequence hymn is God, the Omnipotent!, set to a tune by Alexei Lvov (1798–1870). The tune, Russia, was originally written as the Russian national anthem during the 19th century, God Save the Tsar!. After the overthrow of the monarchy, the tune fell out of use as a national song and has since become popular as a Christian hymn. Fairest Lord Jesus, our 2nd communion hymn, is set to the tune St. Elizabeth, also known as Crusader Hymn. Although the story is almost certainly a flight of fancy, there are several legends asserting that this tune originated as a song sung by 12th century crusaders. The tune’s current title, St. Elizabeth, has its roots in The Legend of St. Elizabeth, an oratorio (large choral work) by Franz Liszt (1811-1866). Liszt used the tune as a crusader march in his oratorio.
On Sunday, The Cathedral Choir will sing an a cappella rendition of the spiritual, Give Me Jesus. This piece is of African American origin either before or just after the Civil War. The richness and sincerity of this simple piece, which asks for Jesus above and beyond all else, is like a rich African tapestry. Although the piece may appear simple from simply listening, Give Me Jesus uses repeated words and phrases to create a powerful space for meditation and prayer. Much like the ostensibly simplistic or even odd looking icons of the middle ages, this African-American spiritual will draw you into a different world. This is not a beauty that comes from formal training, but rather from absolute honesty and an indomitable faith amidst oppression. We hope that you can identify with this piece and make it a part of your prayer this week.
In closing, I’d like to leave you with a feeling of excitement for all we have coming up this Sunday. The Cathedral Handbell Choir will offer a beautiful piece during communion, Beside Quiet Waters. It has been a pleasure preparing them for this. Our music comes from many diverse places, people, and situations. Join us this week as we come from many places to worship together in the splendor of our building, with the ardor of sincerity, and in the beauty of holiness.