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Music for Wednesday of Lent V

The seven last words of Christ have served as a focus for a number of composers for musical settings over the centuries.

  • Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.
  • Today you will be with me in paradise.
  • Behold your son: behold your mother.
  • I thirst.
  • My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
  • It is finished.
  • Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.

In that tradition, a hymn focuses on these seven last phrases of Our Lord on the cross: “Our Blessed Savior Seven Times Spoke” (The Lutheran Hymnal # 177), or the more literal translation:

As Jesus hung upon the cross and His body was wounded with such bitter pain,

consider in your heart the seven words that He spoke there.

Author Johann Boschenstain (1472-1539/40) was a priest who was known as an expert in the Hebrew language, serving as professor in Wittenberg and Augsburg.  He was the author of a Hebrew grammar as well as four hymns.

The hymn was printed in 1515 in nine stanzas, and enlarged to ten for the 1646 Hanover Gesangbuch.

The PRELUDE is multiple variations of this hymn tune by Samuel Scheidt, who died on this day in 1654.  The editor of this version, Walter E. Buszin (1899-1973), writes this introduction in his publication in 1954:

“Samuel Scheidt was born in Halle, Saxony in 1587.  Since it has been recorded that he was baptized on November 4, it is likely that November 3 is the day of his birth.  He became a pupil of Jan Pieters Sweelinck (1562-1621) who, in turn, was a product of Gioseffo Zarlino of Venice.  After his return from Amsterdam to Halle, Scheidt became organist of the Moritzkirche and at the same time served as organist for Margrave Christian Wilhelm of Brandenburg.

His Tabulatura Nova, published in Hamburg in 1624, must be counted among the monuments of organ literature.  In it he followed new paths and became “the father of the chorale-prelude.” His Gorlitzer Tabulaturbuch of 1650 has likewise served to immortalize Samuel Scheidt.  It was the first collection of hymn accompaniments (Choralbuch) published for organists.  Its harmonizations are so striking and significant that Hans Joachim Moser, in his Musik Lexikon (Hamburg, 1951), does not hesitate to say they are the most virile written between Hassler and Bach.

As may be seen from his [“Our Blessed Savior Seven Times Spoke”], Scheidt’s choral variations are in reality chorale preludes.  Manfred Bukofzer, in his Music in the Baroque Era (New York, 1947, p. 105), states that “Scheidt’s chorale variations are literally ‘elaborations,’ since ceaseless ‘labor’ in the service of God was regarded as the measure of devotion.”

It is self-evident, of course, that these impressive preludes by Samuel Scheidt may be played on numerous occasions.  They breathe a spirit which is indeed profoundly religious and devotional.  They are church music in the best sense of the term.  Even their utter simplicity compels us to recognize the genius of their composer.

Samuel Scheidt died in the city of his birth three hundred years ago, on March 24, 1654.”

A recording of Scheidt’s variations: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rPMcbRxSwTQ

The text of the hymn from The Lutheran Hymnal 177:

177 Our Blessed Savior Seven Times Spoke

1 Our blessed Savior sev’n times spoke
When on the cross our sins He took
And died lest man should perish.
Let us His last and dying words
In our remembrance cherish.

2 “Father, forgive these men, for, lo,
They truly know not what they do.”
So far His love extended.
Forgive us, Lord, for we, too, have
Through ignorance offended.

3 Now to the contrite thief He cries:
“Thou, verily, in paradise
Shalt meet Me ere tomorrow.”
Lord, take us to Thy kingdom soon
Who linger here in sorrow.

4 To weeping Mary, standing by,
“Behold thy son!” now hear him cry;
To John, “Behold thy mother!”
Provide, O Lord, for those we leave:
Let each befriend the other.

5 The Savior’s fourth word was “I thirst!”
O mighty Prince of Life, Thy thirst
For us and our salvation
Is truly great; do help us, then,
That we escape damnation.

6 The fifth, “My God, My God, oh, why
Forsake Me?” Hark. the awe-full cry!
Lord, Thou wast here forsaken
That we might be received on high;
Let this hope not be shaken.

7 The sixth, when victory was won,
“‘Tis finished!” for Thy work was done.
Grant, Lord, that, onward pressing,
We may the Work Thou dost impose
Fulfil with Thine own blessing.

8 The last, as woe and sufferings end,
“O God, My Father, I commend
Into Thy hands My spirit.”
Be this, dear Lord, my dying wish;
O heav’nly Father, hear it.

9 Whoe’er, by sense of sin opprest,
Upon these words his thoughts will rest,
He Joy and hope obtaineth
And, through God’s love and boundless grace
A peaceful conscience gaineth.

10 O Jesus Christ, Thou Crucified,
Who hast for our offenses died,
Grant that we e’er may ponder
Thy wounds, Thy cross, Thy bitter death,
Both here below and yonder.

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