Music Notes | Second Sunday in Lent

Eric Mellenbruch
Associate Director of Music
and Organist

‘If thou but trust in God to guide thee’ is a fine and much loved example of the hymnody that grew out of the devastation of the Thirty Years’ War in the early 17th century. Both words (seven stanzas in the original) and music were written by Georg Neumark, a German poet and civil servant; the hymn was first published with melody, bass, and Neumark’s own prelude for two violins and accompaniment, forming a piece suitable for domestic music-making or use by a choir such as our own St David’s Singers, which has sung this piece as an anthem in the past.

Many composers have written music such as cantatas and organ preludes based on this graceful melody; both our prelude and our postlude this week are among them. The prelude, by 2oth-century German composer Helmut Walcha, features writing in canon (like a round) in the left hand, at a time-distance that diminishes at more than one point through the course of the piece, while the right hand plays the hymn-tune and a single note is held in the pedal throughout. The entire canon is repeated not only for the repeat of the first part of the melody, but – with barely a modification – it accompanies the last part of the melody as well. The postlude is as extroverted as the prelude is introverted, with jig-like rhythms in two voices beneath the treble melody in longer notes. Its composer, Johann Gottfried Walther, was an important musical lexicographer, composer of many hymn-preludes, and the cousin of J.S. Bach.

The children’s and youth choirs offer a virtual rendition of the popular gospel song ‘This little light of mine’, whose origins are unknown but which can be traced at least to Black churches in the US in the 1930s. The song’s sentiment is appropriate at any time for young people growing up in an uncertain world, and in its implicit reference to Our Lord’s instruction to ‘let your light shine before others, that they may see the good you do and give glory to your Father in heaven’, is appropriate for all Christians, especially in Lent, when we are particularly bidden to works of mercy.

For information about the opening hymn, ‘Blessèd Jesus, at thy word’, see the notes for the 6th Sunday of Easter (17 May), 2020.

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