Easter from King's programme information
The music and readings for you to follow along with the programme.
There Is A Green Hill
There Is A Green Hill Far Away is a Good Friday hymn written by (Mrs) Cecil Frances Alexander, the Irish poet and hymn-writer who became an associate of members of the Oxford Movement. One prominent among that movement, John Keble, wrote an introductory note to her collection Hymns for Little Children. The collection includes this hymn as well as Once in Royal David’s City, which traditionally begins the companion televised service, Carols from King’s. Although intended as hymns for children, both have become longstanding favourites for people of all ages. The hymn tune is by William Horsley (1774-1858).
His setting of Psalm 51, Miserere mei is the most famed composition of Gregorio Allegri (c. 1582 - 1652) and one of the most beautiful and best-known works associated with Holy Week. The work has acquired a status of mystery and intrigue which could almost be regarded as the musical equivalent of the Turin Shroud. It was closely guarded for exclusive use within the Sistine Chapel and copies were prohibited on penalty of excommunication. Mozart is said to have heard it performed there, however, and was able to memorize it and write it down once outside the chapel, his transcription becoming the first unauthorized copy. The extremely high treble notes, for which it is famed, appear not to have been part of the original composition and the circumstance of their addition is unknown. Here, the work is sung in a shortened form.
Reading 1: Mark 11: Christ's Entry
Hosianna dem Sohne Davids (Gesius)
The text of this short anthem translates: Hosanna to the Son of David. Praise him who has come, Saviour of all. Sing hosanna in the highest! The music is by Bartolomäus Gesius (c.1560-1613) and the anonymous German text reflects Matthew 21, verse 9, the gospel writer’s account of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. It is this event which is remembered on Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week.
Reading 2A: Upon the Asse
Ride On, Ride On In Majesty
Ride On, Ride On In Majesty is a hymn by H. H. Milman (1791-1868) and sung to the tune Winchester New. It is used here as a processional hymn during which the choir and clergy move from the east end of the chapel into the choir stalls. This processional treatment and the upbeat nature of the music reflect the procession and clamour that accompanied Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, only days before his death. After Palm Sunday, the mood of Holy Week changes markedly, as the events unfold that lead to Jesus’s Crucifixion.
Reading 3: Mark – The Last Supper
Panis Angelicus (Franck)
The text for this piece is taken from the hymn Sacris Solemnis by the Mediaeval Scholastic philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas. He was asked by Pope Urban IV (1261-1264) to compose the work for the feast of Corpus Christi in 1264, which had just been established by the Pope. The text translates as “The bread of Angels has become the bread of man” and it refers to the Eucharist as being able to nourish those who consume it. It is appropriate, therefore, that the French composer César Franck (1822–90) included the piece in the 1872 revision of his Messe à trois voix op.12 (1860). It was originally intended as a motet to be sung during the part of the Mass in which the priest elevates the host (the consecrated bread) and the chalice. It has become one of Franck’s best known compositions and is still a firm favourite in the church and concert repertoire for choirs and soloists alike. Here the text calls to mind the events of the Last Supper in which Jesus institutes the Eucharist by breaking the bread and giving it to his disciples with the words “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
Ave Verum Corpus (Byrd)
The text for Ave Verum Corpus comes from Late Mediaeval Latin hymn, which was originally sung as plainsong, but it has also been set by numerous later composers. The opening phrase translates as “Hail, true body” and here we see another hymn that expresses devotion to the Host (the bread which is consecrated in the Eucharist) as the literal body of Christ. This Catholic belief was important to the English renaissance composer William Byrd (1543-1623). His opening phrase has been written to highlight the word “verum” meaning “true”. Within Byrd’s lifetime, he was caught up religious tension between Protestants and Catholics after the Reformation. Here, Byrd affirms the Catholic doctrine that the Host becomes the true body of Christ during the Mass, as opposed to it being a symbolic gesture. The final lines of the Byrd Ave Verum, "O Dulcis, O pie, O Jesu fili Mariae, miserere mei" mean "O sweet, O merciful, O Jesus, Son of Mary, have mercy upon me"; a personal and heartfelt addition to the prayer of adoration.
Reading 4: Mark - The Agony
Ah Holy Jesu
Ah Holy Jesu hymn calls to mind Christ’s suffering as payment for the sin of man. It was written in German by Johann Heerman (1616-1648) and first appeared in a collection called Devoti Musica Cordis (1630). Heerman based his verses on an earlier Latin hymn, which is attributed to an 11th Century Abbot, Jean de Fecamp. The German title for the hymn is Herzliebster Jesu and a tune of the same name by J. Cruger appeared ten years later. This is the tune that is used today. The English text we use is a translation of the German by Robert Bridges. The text is filled with biblical references but it particularly takes ideas from Isaiah 53, a passage which describes the suffering Servant who “was despised, rejected, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” (King James Bible)
Mozart’s Requiem in D-Minor (K.626), from which this piece is taken, was originally commissioned in 1791 by Count Walsegg-Stuppach, who anonymously requested it to be written for the anniversary of his wife’s death. However, Mozart was not to finish the work, as he died in December of that year. Of the Lacrimosa, Mozart had penned only the first 8 bars of the vocal parts. The work was completed by his associate, Franz Xaver Süssmayr, and went on to become one of the greatest choral works in the repertoire.
The text is taken from the Dies Irae sequence of the Requiem Mass; the portion of the Mass for the dead speaks of the Apocalyptic Day of Judgment. It closes with the Lacrimosa which describes the tears which are shed as souls are judged by God. Mozart perfectly encapsulates this sense of weeping and mourning in a powerful way.
Reading 5: Mark – Crucifixion
Crux Fidelis (John IV)
The remarkable text for this work is thought to have been composed in the 6th Century by the Christian poet St. Venantius Fortunatus. It is taken from his Latin poem, Pange Lingua Gloriosi Proelium Certaminis, a hymn of praise for Christ and his passion,which is still used in churches throughout the world during Holy Week and especially on Good Friday. The final stanzas, which begin Crux Fidelis, describe the incomparable beauty of the cross on which Jesus was crucified. Using the imagery of the tree we hear:
Crux fidelis, inter omnes
arbor una nobilis
nulla silva talem profert
fronde, flore, germine.
Above all other
None in foliage
leaf, flower and seed.
The text was set to music by John IV, King of Portugal (1603-1656) - a great patron of the arts and a composer who kept a magnificent library of church music which was destroyed by an earthquake in 1755.
O Saviour Of The World (Ouseley)
Sir Frederick Ouseley (1825-1889) was an organist, composer and priest. He began composing at the age of three and became one of the leading sacred composers of his day. It has been suggested that his influence played a major part in establishing the English Choral Tradition we see today. He maintained a devout faith, which we see revealed through his music; he was anxious not to include secular influences within his compositions. O Saviour Of The World possesses a timeless quality which could be seen as being more closely aligned to his Renaissance predecessors (e.g. Thomas Tallis) than his contemporaries. The simplicity of the music allows the words to speak clearly, whilst the yearning quality betrays a heartfelt response to Christ’s sacrifice.
Hymn: When I Survey (verses 1,3,5)
Isaac Watts (1674-1748) is known as one of England’s most prolific hymnwriters. He was brought up a Non-Conformist (Protestants who dissented from the Anglican Church) and became an Independent Minister. This hymn originally appeared in Hymns and Spiritual Songs (1707)and it is clear that Watts intended it to be a Communion hymn. It expresses a deeply personal and experiential response to the sight of the crucified Christ. Remarkably, it is the first known hymn in the English Language to use the personal pronoun “I”. Watts’ powerful imagery of the physicality of the body, the head, the hands, the feet, paints a vivid picture of the Crucifixion. Another great hymnwriter, Charles Wesley, is reported to have said that he would give up all of his own hymns to have written this one.
The tune here is Rockingham which was adapted from an earlier tune by Edward Miller, who names it in honour of his patron and friend, the Marquis of Rockingham - who was twice Prime Minister of Britain.
Reading 6: Good Friday 1613
Christe, Adoramus Te (Monteverdi)
Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) was one of the most influential musicians of 16th and 17th Centuries. He composed both sacred and secular works and excelled in vocal music. As maestro di cappella at St. Marks in Venice he was required to compose new works for the Feast of the Holy Cross and it is likely that Christe, Adoramus Te was produced for this reason. In the 1620 Monteverdi’s colleague and former student Giulio Cesare Bianchi published an anthology of sacred music entitled Libro primo de motetti (Book of First Motets) which included four of Monteverdi’s compositions including Christe, Adoramus Te. Within the piece, we hear various combinations of voices used to great effect; there are distinct polyphonic choral passages and moments in which one voice emerges from the texture or appears in isolation. The result is an ecstatic and glorious hymn of praise and thanksgiving for the redemption brought by Christ’s death on the cross.
Were You There?
The moving Passiontide hymn, Were You There? is derived from an American Folk Hymn. The exact origin is unknown, as it emerged from the oral tradition. Its roots lie in an African American spiritual that pre-dates the American Civil War but it was also sung in white communities at the time. It first appeared in William Barton’s Old Plantation Hymns in 1899. Many adaptations of this hymn exist using various combinations of verses. This adaptability means that it is popular across different traditions. Here we finish with the glorious “Were you there when he rose up from the grave?” - a beacon of hope bringing us from Passiontide to Easter. Arranged by James Whitbourn (b.1963) for King’s College Choir.
Reading 7: Luke - Easter
This Joyful Eastertide (Wood)
We arrive at Easter with the Irish composer Charles Wood’s (1866-1926) arrangement of This Joyful Eastertide. The text is by George R. Woodward (1848-1934), an Anglican priest who wrote religious verse and translated many hymns into English. He would set these to older melodies and often ask his collaborator and friend, Charles Wood, to harmonise them. In 1894, Woodward published Carols for Easter and Ascensiontide, which included one original composition: This Joyful Eastertide. Here the hymn tune is taken from the Dutch Melody, Vruechten, taken from the anthology of hymns, David's Psalmen, published in Amsterdam in 1685 and arranged by Wood.
Hallelujah Chorus (Handel)
Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus, taken from his oratorio, Messiah (1741), is perhaps the most popular piece of choral music ever written and it is easy to see why.
Although the work is usually associated with Christmas, it is far more appropriate to hear it during Passiontide and Easter. In fact, it was the original intention of the librettist, Charles Jennens, that the work should be performed to a theatre audience during Holy Week, in an attempt to entice the London’s bawdy theatregoers away from that sordid world and back to the pews by reminding them of the doctrine of the Anglican Church.
As many Christian traditions avoid the use of the word “Alleluia” during the season of Lent, it is even more fitting that the piece should be included in an Easter service. The Hallelujah Chorus provides a glorious climax to Part II of Messiah; it marks the end of the portion dealing with the death of Christ and the beginning of the portion dealing with his resurrection and second coming. During a performance in London in 1743, King George II rose to his feet as the chorus opened, causing the whole audience to rise and stand to the end, establishing a tradition that endures to this day.
Reading 8A: I Got Me Flowers
Reading 8B: Everyone Sang
Let All The World (Vaughan Wiliams)
Let All The World is the final movement of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ (1872 – 1958) The Five Mystical Songs, settings of four poems by seventeenth-century Welsh-born poet and Anglican priest George Herbert (1593–1633). Herbert was a younger contemporary of William Shakespeare, living at a time of great religious tension. We have just heard Herbert’s “I Got Me Flowers”, which comes from the poem Easter and provides the text for the second movement in Vaughan William’s work.
The Five Mystical Songs were written between 1906 and 1911 and at the time of composition, Vaughan Williams was an atheist. This did not prevent him from setting many religious texts to music. The work was premiered at the Three Choirs Festival in Worcester in 1911 under the baton of Vaughan Williams himself. The work is written for Baritone soloist and, at the premier, it was accompanied by orchestra and SATB chorus. The fifth and final movement, Let All The World, is the only movement within the piece that is designed to be sung by either the soloist or the choir alone. The choral version is a favourite in the repertoire and it is performed here as a triumphant and jubilant anthem for choir and organ.
Jesus Christ Is Risen Today
Jesus Christ Is Risen Today originates from the 14th Century, as a Bohemian Latin hymn Surrexit Christus Hodie. It has been translated into English by numerous authors, firstly by John Baptist Walsh in 1708 who included it in his Lyra Davidica and set it to the tune Easter Hymn, which was later arranged by William Henry Monk (1823-1889). It was later adapted by various hymnwriters including Charles Wesley in 1740 who added a fourth verse. The repetition of the word “Alleluia” at the end of every line reminds us that we have passed from the penitent season of Lent to the glorious celebration of Easter.
Ian C. Bradley (Ed) , The Penguin Book of Hymns, Penguin Books Ltd (15 Oct 1990)