Music Notes | Third Sunday After Pentecost

Eric Mellenbruch Associate Director of Music and Organist

The assignment of the changeable chants of the Mass (at the Entrance, Offertory, and Communion processions, and between the Lessons) to particular liturgical days took place over some period of time, probably culminating in the seventh century. Some minor reorganization and provision of additional options was done after the creation of the modern three-year Mass Lectionary, but these chants perhaps never had all that much to do with the Lessons, especially in Ordinary Time, and indeed here and there, particularly in the Entrance chants (Introits) of the Sundays after Pentecost, can be discerned traces of simple numerical sequences of Psalms (an idea which the first Book of Common Prayer of the reformed Church of England returned to). Thus this week’s Introit, like the one historically appointed for last Sunday, comes from Psalm 27, while next week’s is taken from Psalm 28. Both are psalms of trust in God and celebrations of divine providence for both the individual and the community who are devoted to the LORD; both refer (Psalm 28 in passing, Psalm 27 more fully) to acts of devotion in the House of God, in verses which we have chosen to accompany the antiphon, reflecting the liturgical use of the Introit. Today’s Introit verse is particularly appropriate (and self-referential):

I will offer in his dwelling an oblation with sounds of great gladness;

I will sing and make music to the LORD.

Our opening hymn is ‘All glory be to God on high’ [421], Bland Tucker’s metrical version of the  Gloria in excelsis. This text is set to Nicolaus Decius’s tune for his own adaptation of the Gloria, ‘Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr’, which tune was cleverly derived from part of the tenth-century melody for the Gloria traditionally appointed for Eastertide; indeed ‘Allein Gott’ was first sung on Easter Day in 1523. (Others, including Luther, also made Gloria translations and adaptations of this same tune, but Decius won out.) The original Low German version of Decius’s text, ‘Allene Godt yn der höge sy eere’, was first published in 1525 without the music, while a High German translation appeared with the tune in 1539. But the tune’s first appearance in print was in Myles Coverdale’s Goostly psalmes and spirituall songes (1535), with Coverdale’s own English Gloria paraphrase. 

In the Hymnal 1982, Tucker’s text is called a translation of Decius’s, but it is closer to the Gloria itself than to Decius – and in a couple of ways closer than the contemporary-language (‘Rite II’) prose version of the Gloria found in the Book of Common Prayer and Hymnal (which we also sing this season, in Robert Powell’s enduring setting). Though historically connected to Eastertide and appropriately sung then, as it has been sung at St. David’s in recent years, it makes a fitting hymn of praise at any time such is called for.

‘Allein Gott’ is also heard this week in two organ settings: one possibly by the late-17th-century North German composer Christian Geist, in which the somewhat decorated melody is heard in dialogue between the treble and bass voices accompanied by motivic snippets of the tune in the middle voices; and another by 20th-century French composer Jean Langlais, in which the unadorned melody is heard in canon (like a round) between treble and bass, with a more atmospheric accompaniment and interludes.

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