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Music for the Visitation

The Visitation
The Visitation

My soul doth magnify the Lord; My spirit hath rejoiced in God, my Savior.   In Latin, Mary’s Song in St. Luke 1 is called by its first word: Magnificat (“My soul magnifies…”).  Mary’s Song is the canticle at Vespers, the church’s evening office of prayer and psalms.  The HYMN OF THE DAY, “My Soul Now Magnifies the Lord” is a translation by John Theodore Mueller of a German metrical paraphrase of the Magnificat.  He served as professor of dogmatics at Concordia Seminary—St. Louis.  The introduction is by J. C. Bach.

The PRELUDE is a setting of the Magnificat by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) (BWV 733).  The theme, which is presented as a fugue, is based on the tonus peregrinus.  Beyond the eight standard plainsong tones, there is the tonus peregrinus, the so-called “ninth tone.”  It is also known as the “wandering tone” because the reciting tone for the second half of the psalm tone is a different pitch from the first half.

In churches of the Reformation, the tonus peregrinus began to be associated with the singing of the Magnificat on Sunday at Vespers.  Sunday Vespers was a regular part of the church’s liturgical life.  Over time, composers began to set this tone to the text of the Magnificat for choir, organ, and other instruments.

The ALLELUIA is a setting by Heinrich Isaac (1450-1517).  The alleluia is from his collection known as Choralis Constantinus, which included over 350 chant-based motets of the propers of the Mass.  Isaac was assisted in this project by his pupil Ludwig Senfl (1486-1543), who compiled the complete collection after Isaac’s death.  The majority of this collection was commissioned by Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I for the cathedral at Constance, a city in southern Germany.

The alleluia is sung in Latin; the translation:

Alleluia, alleluia.                                                Alleluia, alleluia.
Magnificat anima mea Dominum                     My soul doth magnify the Lord
et exultavit spiritus meus                                  and my spirit hath rejoiced
in Deo salutari meo.                                          in God my Savior.

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