Ash Wednesday and the First Sunday of Lent

February 26, 2020

Enjoy a taste of the choral music you will hear from St. Matthew's Schola Cantorum (Latin for “School of Singers” at the 10am and 11:30am Masses this Sunday, courtesy of St. Matthew's Office of Music Ministries.

Visit our past choral highlights archive for music from previous Sundays in the current liturgical year (Cycle C) and going back to 2016.

Ash Wednesday

12:10 pm Mass, The Choral Motets

The themes of the motets at this Mass reflect the readings of the day and the season of Lent. We hope that their use in the liturgy inspires the assembly to a more profound entrance into this penitential season of charity, fasting and prayer. Ash Wednesday marks the end of the Winter Ordinary Time hiatus for the Schola Cantorum. The Cathedral’s principal choir will sing each Sunday from the first Sunday of Lent through June 14, the Feast of The Body and Blood of Christ.

Choral Prelude: In Jejunio et Fletu – Thomas Tallis (1505 -1585)

This setting by Tallis quotes the first reading of today’s Mass from the post-exilic prophet Joel. “Between the porch and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep, and say, ‘Spare, O Lord, your people, and make not your heritage a reproach, with the nations ruling over them!’” The work was first published in 1575 in Cantiones Sacrae,a collection of works in which he collaborated in equal number with William Byrd to create a total of 34 motets.

To hear a version, click below:

Distribution of Ashes: Emendemus in Melius – William Byrd (1539-1623)

This motet is from the collection Cantiones Sacrae,1575. The motets in this set were composed by William Byrd and Thomas Tallis and were dedicated to Queen Elizabeth. Emendemus in Meliusis unique in Byrd’s catalogue for its ubiquitous homophonic part writing. The first part of the motet is conservative in its harmonic language, with minor flourishes at the ends of phrases interrupting the calmness. Near the end of part one, the lines become more declamatory as the choir sings, “Hear O Lord, and have mercy.” The second part, whose text implores God to help us and deliver us, permits more dissonance than in the first, including an extremely “modern” moment on the word nominis (meaning, “name”) where the partial harmonies of A minor and B flat major occur at once. The text is taken from the Matins’ Responsory for the first Sunday of Lent, and also appears as an option for the Distribution of Ashes in the Missal. 

To hear a version, click below:

Preparation of the Gifts, "Within the Vale of Eden" – James E. Clemens (b. 1966)

The musical material for this motet comes from the French Christmas carol, Nous voici dans la Ville,which sets the story of Mary and Joseph seeking shelter on the first Christmas in a somber and sparse texture. Clemens utilizes the bleak quality inherent in the melody, to adapt it with Anthony G. Petti’s translation of the old Provençal carol Adam e sa coumpagno.This carol describes the fall of the first parents in the garden of Eden and of Christ coming for the redemption of humanity.

Communion Motet, Parce, Domine – Felix Nowowiejski (1877-1946)

Felix Nowowiejski studied music in Berlin and Prague before returning to his native Poland to direct the Krakow Musical Society. This motet, taken from his oratorio Kreuzauffindung (The Finding of the Cross) is a romantic setting of the traditional Lenten antiphon:

Parce, Domine, parce populo tuo: ne in aeternum irascaris nobis.
Spare, O Lord, spare your people: do not hold your anger towards us eternally.

This text, adapted from the book of Joel, is set in a harmonically rich and profound musical setting.

To hear a version, click below:

10am Mass, Preparation of the Gifts “Scapulis suis” G. P. da Palestrina (1525 – 1594)

“He shall cover you with his pinions, and you shall find refuge under his wings. His faithfulness shall be a shield and buckler.” (Psalm 91:4-5) The First Sunday of Lent is unique in that the text for both the Offertory and Communion chants use the identical verses of Psalm 91. This unusual choice is even more noteworthy as it is the same citation used by the devil in today’s Gospel to tempt Jesus to test God’s constancy and steadfastness. Palestrina was an Italian Renaissance composer and the best-known sixteenth century representative of the Roman School of musical composition. He had a lasting influence on the development of church music, and his work has often been considered the epitome of the genre. His setting is taken from the collection Offertoria Totuis Anni from 1593. This polyphonic motet uses lengthy phrasal imitation and weakened cadential arrangements, creating an uninterrupted effect through the text.

To hear a version, click below.


First Sunday of Lent
March 1, 2020

11:30am Mass, Choral Prelude “Schaffe in Mir Gott” Johannes Brahms (1833 – 1897)

The late-German Romantic composer Johannes Brahms composed this setting of three verses from Martin Luther’s translation of Psalm 51 (this Sunday’s Responsorial Psalm) in 1860 as part of his Opus 29, Zwei Motetten (Two Motets). The work is divided into three unique sections, each one corresponding to a verse of the Psalm. The first section, which speaks of our desire for forgiveness and redemption, is set in a rich and enveloping harmonic texture that captures the peaceful, yet eternal longing for the infinite goodness and mercy of the Creator. The second section is more animated, expressed in a chromatic fugal section. The notion of being abandoned by God is ominously suggested. The third section, not performed this Sunday because of its length, reassures the soul by beginning with the word troeste (comfort), and initiates a harmonic and textual intermezzo that leads into an uplifting finale, where the light-hearted choral treatment rejoices in the freudige Geist (joyful Spirit) that God sends to sustain his people.

To hear a version, click below.

10am Mass, Preparation of the Gifts “Scapulis suis” G. P. da Palestrina (1525 – 1594)

“He shall cover you with his pinions, and you shall find refuge under his wings. His faithfulness shall be a shield and buckler.” (Psalm 91:4-5) The First Sunday of Lent is unique in that the text for both the Offertory and Communion chants use the identical verses of Psalm 91. This unusual choice is even more noteworthy as it is the same citation used by the devil in today’s Gospel to tempt Jesus to test God’s constancy and steadfastness. Palestrina was an Italian Renaissance composer and the best-known sixteenth century representative of the Roman School of musical composition. He had a lasting influence on the development of church music, and his work has often been considered the epitome of the genre. His setting is taken from the collection Offertoria Totuis Anni from 1593. This polyphonic motet uses lengthy phrasal imitation and weakened cadential arrangements, creating an uninterrupted effect through the text.

To hear a version, click below.

11:30am Mass, Preparation of the Gifts “Hide Not Thou Thy Face” Richard Farrant (1525 – 1580)

Richard Farrant was a sixteenth century English composer and member of the Chapel Royal for twelve years before taking the position of organist for St. George’s Chapel, Windsor. This motet quotes verses from Psalm 27 and is set in a declamatory, homophonic style in which the text is sung at the same moment in all parts, as opposed to a polyphonic style, such as that heard in the Palestrina selection at the 10:00am Mass today. The text pleads to God that he might turn his merciful face toward us, even as we expose ours sin and selfishness and admit to our unworthiness to receive his mercy.

To hear a version, click below.

11:30am Mass, Communion Antiphon “Scapulis suis” Robert Kreutz (1922 – 1996)

Robert Kreutz (1922-1996) was a twentieth century American composer of liturgical music. Mr. Kreutz studied composition at the American Conservatory in Chicago and at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is best known for his hymn collaboration with Omer Westendorf in their “Gift of Finest Wheat,” composed for the Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia during the U.S. Bicentennial celebration in 1976. Kreutz sets Psalm 91, verses 4-5 in a modern aesthetic with expressive word painting as in the opening gesture where voices are successively layered, one upon the other.

To hear a version, click below.

10am Mass, Communion Motet “Miserere Mei, Deus” Alonso de Tejeda (1540 – 1628)

De Tejeda was a 16th century Spanish composer who succeeded Alonso Lobo at the Cathedral of Toledo as its Chapel Master. His setting of Miserere Mei, unlike Gregorio Allegri’s more famous setting, uses only the first three verses of Psalm 51. It bears similarities to Antonio Lotti’s setting, written one century later. The part writing is closely imitative, to the degree that one part may still be on one syllable of a word while another part begins the imitation. The text is taken from this Sunday’s responsorial Psalm and reminds us of the redemptive power of God’s mercy for the sinner.

To hear a version, click below.

11:30am Mass, Communion Motet “Adam Lay Ybounden” Joel Martinson (b.1960)

Joel Martinson is a contemporary American composer and currently serves as Director of Music and Organist for Transfiguration Episcopal Church in Dallas, Texas. The anonymous 15th century carol ‘Adam Lay Ybounden’ has become associated with the Service of Lessons and Carols as it is traditionally paired with the first lesson from the Book of Genesis, which is today’s first reading. The text speaks of the curse that befell humans from Adam’s fall “four thousand years” before Christ’s coming. The carol is also an exposition of the notion of the ‘felix Culpa’ or ‘happy fault’ relating to the early Christian understanding of the fall and curse of Adam as a cause for joy, for without them, the redemption that Christ brings would have been superfluous. Martinson composes with a rich harmonic palate, and the motet recalls Warlock’s setting of this carol.