This collection of music was chosen to assist us in meditating on the sufferings of Christ on the cross, as presented in John’s Gospel.
The choir will be presenting two texts directly from the Gospel of John. Thomas Tallis’ If Ye Love Me is a sparkling gem of Renaissance polyphony, in which the voices crisscross in a challenging web of overlapping entrances without sacrificing textual clarity or tonal simplicity. Towards the end of the service, John Stainer’s heartfelt God So Loved The World will adorn a text that so many of us have had memorized since childhood with warm, Romantic harmonies.
“The Call”, one of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Five Mystical Songs to poetry by George Herbert, picks up the language of “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” in John 14. The elegant setting for Baritone and Piano manages to convey the tremendous passion and joy of a believer’s encounter with Christ with relatively restrained means.
The text for My Song Is Love Unknown was written in 1664 by Samuel Crossman, an English minister who served both Anglican and Puritan congregations. The poetry traces the Passion narrative from Palm Sunday through Good Friday, and alludes to another of George Herbert’s works, “The Sacrifice.” That poem, written from the perspective of Christ, ends each stanza with a rhetorical question, “Was ever grief like Mine?” Crossman answers, “Never was grief like Thine.” This musical setting was composed in 2013 by Dwight Gustafson, the longtime dean of the School of Fine Arts at Bob Jones University in South Carolina.
While this evening is focused on Christ’s death on the cross, the final musical selection looks forward to His resurrection. William Billings’ Easter Anthem is a rough-hewn tour de force in the style of colonial New England. The vigorous rhythms and stark harmonies end our service on a hopeful note—the Lord has risen indeed, has burst the bars of death, and triumphed over the grave. His is the glory, and ours is the endless bliss.
—Henry C. Haffner