2012-10-07 Notes from the Bench

A commentary on this week’s music by Dr. James Gerber, Music Associate

Two Motets by Anton Bruckner

Two weeks ago, the choirs sang the motet “Christus factus est” by Anton Bruckner. This Sunday, our devotional music during communion includes two other motets composed by Bruckner. He was a devoted Catholic who was often described as a simple and humble man, which is reflected in much of his sacred music, including today’s selections.

“Os justi” (1879)

The mouth of the righteous shall meditate wisdom, and his tongue shall speak justice. The Law of his God is in his heart and his steps shall not falter. Hallelujah. (Psalm 37:30-31)

This psalm setting is among a set of motets dedicated to Ignaz Traumihler (1815-1884), who was music director for Augustinian monastery of St. Florian at the time Bruckner completed this motet. Bruckner had a long association with the monastery, being sent there in 1837, following his father’s death, and served as a choirboy. It was at St. Florian that Bruckner continued his organ studies and received his education. Bruckner held the position of organist for the monastery from 1845-1855.

Traumihler was an adherent of the Cecilian movement, a church music reform movement of the nineteenth century that desired to restore the use of plainchant and Renaissance-style polyphony. “Os justi” reflects the influence of this movement; Bruckner wrote for up to eight separate voice parts, achieved striking harmonic effects within the Lydian mode, and concluded the setting with a plainchant Alleluja.

“Pange lingua” (1868)

Sing, O tongue, the mystery
Of the glorious Body,
And of the precious blood,
Which the King of all nations,
The fruit of a noble womb,
Poured forth as the ransom for the world.

Let us therefore, bowing low,
Venerate so great a Sacrament;
And let the old Law
Give way to the new rite;
Let faith afford assistance
To the deficiency of the senses.

To the Begetter and the Begotten
Let there be praise and jubilation,
Salvation and honor,
And power and blessing;
And to the One proceeding from both
Let there be equal praise.

The text for this motet is three stanzas from the medieval hymn, Pange lingua, written by St. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274) in c. 1264 for the newly instituted feast of Corpus Christi (Body of Christ). The final two stanzas of this hymn are often used as a separate hymn, Tantum ergo Sacramentum (So great a Sacrament) and was sung during the Elevation of the Mass, which follows the consecration of the bread and wine, or during devotional services with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. Bruckner’s chorale-like setting of Pange lingua is composed in the Phrygian mode, also written in a more restrained manner.

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