“Hail, true Body, born
of the Virgin Mary,
having truly suffered, sacrificed
on the cross for mankind,
from whose pierced side
water and blood flowed:
Be for us a foretaste [of the Heavenly banquet]
in the trial of death!”
-att. Pope Innocent VI, 14th century
Just like with good food pairings, it is good to match pieces of music with other pieces that compliment them. Sometimes these pieces contrast, highlighting the uniqueness of each, and sometimes they are similar. Sunday’s prelude will be the Adagio from Symphonie No. 3 by French organist and composer, Louis Vierne (1870-1937). The third symphony was dedicated to and premiered by his protégé and friend, Marcel Dupré (1886-1971). There is a sense of warmth and reverie in the Adagio, but it doesn’t become too sentimental. I feel that this movement is in the same world as Mozart’s Ave verum. Listen for the lush string tones juxtaposed against clear flutes throughout the piece. It would be easy for a lesser composer to become carried away in these sweet tones, but Vierne brilliantly adds just enough tension to keep the music from becoming too sweet. It seems that this emotional style, tempered by just enough modernity, was a foundational part of Vierne’s style. After his students had improvised for their exams using particularly jarring (for the time) harmonies, Vierne wrote the following.
“Just for appearances I thought I should lecture them a bit on the difference between excess and propriety. But, deep down, I was laughing with them at the large dose of spicy sauce forced down those gentlemen who were used to listening to sweet tidbits and swooning with delight.”
-Louis Vierne: Organist of Notre-Dame Cathedral, by Rollin Smith
I don’t think you will be subjected to any spicy sauce this Sunday, but Vierne’s music is definitely bold and vividly colored. As we think about Christ as the Lamb of God this week, I hope you will try to hear all the complementary and contrasting ways this idea is expressed in our hymns, anthem, and instrumental music.