Sunday, March 17, 2024

Music for Meditation: “My Song is Love Unknown” (Charles Callahan)

One of the loveliest texts associated with Passiontide is “My Song is Love Unknown,” by the seventeenth century poet Samuel Crossman. It is most often sung to an equally beautiful melody, “Love Unknown,” by the English Romantic composer John Ireland. Charles Callahan’s two short arrangements of this melody are heard as this Sunday’s Music for Meditation. Here is the complete text of “My Song is Love Unknown”:

My song is love unknown,
My Savior’s love to me,
love to the loveless shown
that they might lovely be.
O whom am I
that for my sake
my Lord should take
frail flesh, and die?

He came from his blest throne
salvation to bestow,
but men made strange, and none
the longed-for Christ would know.
But O my friend,
my friend indeed,
who at my need
his life did spend.

Sometimes they strew his way,
and his strong praises sing,
resounding all the day
hosannas to their King.
Then “Crucify!”
is all their breath,
and for his death
they thirst and cry.

Why, what hath my Lord done?
What makes this rage and spite?
He made the lame to run,
he gave the blind their sight.
Sweet injuries!
Yet they at these
themselves displease,
and ‘gainst him rise.

They rise, and needs will have
my dear Lord made away;
a murderer they save,
the Prince of Life they slay.
Yet steadfast he
to suffering goes,
that he his foes
from thence might free.

In life no house, no home
my Lord on earth might have;
in death no friendly tomb
but what a stranger gave.
What may I say?
Heaven was his home;
but mine the tomb
wherein he lay.

Here might I stay and sing,
no story so divine:
never was love, dear King,
never was grief like thine,
This is my friend,
in whose sweet praise
I all my days
could gladly spend.

– Samuel Crossman (1624-1683), alt.

Offertory: Reflection on “Wondrous Love” (Louie White)

The American composer Louie White (1921-1979) included a setting of the famous Southern folk melody for the text “What Wondrous Love is This” in his three “Reflections on Southern Hymn Tunes,” published in 1976. Slow and serene, the Reflection on “Wondrous Love” is unusual in that, while the melody is presented throughout the piece in its original minor mode (here, the key of F# minor), the accompaniment is in a major key – in this case, E major. This imaginative harmonic treatment is further enhanced by some subtly jazz-influenced chords that appear in the middle of the setting.

Postlude: Fugue in G minor (Dietrich Buxtehude)

Dietrich Buxtehude (c.1637-1707) was one of the most famous North German composers in the generation before J.S. Bach. Organist of the Marienkirche (Church of St. Mary) in Lubeck, Buxtehude’s music was a profound influence on the young Bach. The Fugue heard as today’s postlude is the final portion of a larger work, the Praeludium in G minor (BuxWV 149); its main melody (or subject) is a stately, noble theme that sounds somewhat like that of the chorus “And With His Stripes” from Handel’s oratorio Messiah.

– Charles

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