Light, in both science and scripture is the source of both knowledge and life. In the first set of our program, we examine darkness, suffering, and death before finding light, hope, and life. The boisterous madrigal, Vecchie Letrose (“Spiteful old hags”), uses disjunct driving rhythms to jeer at the “murderous and mad” nature of “spiteful” people. Then, the suffering and existential crisis of the book of Job is expressed through the sparse harmonies of Morales’ Parce Mihi Domine.
Brahms’ masterful motet, Warum ist Das Licht Gegeben, then continues with text from Job; the first movement marked by cries of “Warum?” (“Wherefore?”), asking the reason why light and life are given to those who suffer in darkness and long for death, the second movement Lasset Uns Unser Herz then suddenly shifts to a rejoicing fugue. That leads to the third movement that peacefully recounts “the patience of Job” from the first movement, which closes with a restatement of the second movement’s joyful fugue. The fourth movement closes in the style of a Bach chorale with Martin Luther’s poetic interpretation of the ‘Nunc Dimittis,’ with the reassurance “As God has promised, death has become but a sleep to me.”
Next, two elaborations of J.S. Bach’s Komm süßer Tod (Come Sweet Death) reflect on the hope for rest and peace in death; first Virgil Fox’s iconic setting for solo organ, followed by Knut Nystedt’s Immortal Bach, which sets the choir in multiple staggered groups singing each phrase at their own tempo-creating a disorienting wash of dissonance which journeys towards the peaceful resolution found at the end of each phrase. The first set then closes with Jonathan Dove’s Seek Him that Maketh the Seven Stars, which uses the organ to paint the heavens in their twinkling splendor as well as their terrifying majesty; the text repeats emphatically “Seek Him-that maketh the seven stars and Orion, and turneth that shadow of death into morning,” rejoicing in the hope that darkness and death will turn to light and life.
The second set opens with the jovial yet warlike Tourdion, raucously saying to “forget our sorrows…and wage war on this bottle.” The hymnlike Heyr Himna Smiður then uses an ancient Icelandic text, which asks God (“The Smith of heavens”) to hear, heal and guard the poet on his deathbed. Charles Wood’s anthem O Thou the Central Orb, speaks of God’s “righteous love,” and “radiance bright” which “give measur’d grace to each, Thy power to prove.” Next, Rutter’s Hymn to the Creator of Light, paints a picture of light through stained glass, first in its blazing glory and then its warm comfort. Paulus’ Hymn to the Eternal Flame comes from the oratorio “To Be Certain of the Dawn” written the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camps.
Kenneth Jennings’ The Lord is the Everlasting God asks the question “Have you not known, have you not heard…?” first with the terrifying majesty of the one “Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain…” asking dreadfully, “To whom then will you compare Me, or who is My equal?” Then the second movement continues with strengthening promise that even through suffering and darkness: “those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint…” lovingly re-asking the question, “Have you not heard? Have you not known?”
Bairstow’s anthem I Sat Down Under His Shadow uses powerful shifting harmonies to depict the grandeur and intimacy of the allegorical text of Song of Songs-speaking of the love of a King and his beloved as an image of the love of God and His people. Finally, we close with an image of the heavens coming down to renew the Earth in New Jerusalem from The Sacred Harp.