The choir anthem will be Offertory by John Ness Beck (1930-1987). I’ve written about Beck before, and so in this article, I would like to focus more on the text of the anthem. Drawn from the book of Micah 6:6-8, these lyrics are set in a lush choral texture replete with a memorable melody for the sopranos and a counter-melody from the organ. At the words, “He has shown you, O man,” the drive of the piece all but stops in an effort to call attention to these words. Perhaps for Beck, this was seen as the pivotal point of the text. What speaks to you the most when you read it? Find the complete text printed below.
With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on High?
Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings,
Shall I come before Him with yearling calves?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgressions,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has shown you, O man; He has shown you what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
The organ prelude will be the Passacaglia in d minor by Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707), a master organist of the North German school of organ playing. Many organists seem almost compulsive in their efforts to impress audiences with how important Buxtehude must have been by constantly bringing up his association with J. S. Bach (1685-1750). As the story goes, young Bach walked 250 miles to visit Buxtehude. While this certainly does seem to be a good endorsement of Buxtehude’s skills, I find myself wondering why he must always ride Bach’s coat tails. Buxtehude was a tremendous composer in his own rite and was also an esteemed church musician, presiding over the his church’s famed Sunday evening concert series, Abendmusik. His Passacaglia that you will hear on Sunday has two main features to listen for. Firstly, by its very nature, the passacaglia is a piece with a repeating bass line. Listen for the theme at the beginning and follow the way the composer writes variations on top of it over the course of the piece. Secondly, this piece is in the form of one giant crescendo. Listen as different parts of the organ are gradually added until the end. With a liturgy as dramatic as ours will be on Sunday, Buxtehude’s dynamic Passacaglia in d minor seems a fitting beginning.