2014-03-16 Notes from the Bench

“O Mensch, bewein’ dein’ Sünde gross” (O Man, Bewail your Great Sins) by Johann Pachelbel

A commentary on this week’s music by Dr. James T. Gerber, Music Associate

O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde groß,
Darum Christus seins Vaters Schoß
Äußert und dam auf Erden; 
Von einer Jungfrau rein und zart
Für uns er hie geboren ward,
Er wollt der Mittler werden,
Den Toten er das Leben gab
Und legt dabei all Krankheit ab
Bis sich die Zeit herdrange,
Daß er für uns geopfert würd,
Trüg unser Sünden schwere Bürd
Wohl an dem Kreuze lange.

English translation:

O mankind, mourn you great sins,
for which Christ left His Father’s
and came to earth;
from a virgin pure and tender
He was born here for us,
He wished to become our Intercessor,
He gave life to the dead
and laid aside all sickness
until the time approached
that He would be offered for us,
bearing the heavy burden of our sins
indeed for a long time on the Cross.

This week’s postlude, “O Mensch, bewein’ dein’ Sünde gross,” (O Man, Bewail your Great Sins) by Johann Pachelbel, (9:00 and 11:00 am) is based on a German chorale by the same name. The text was written by Sebald Heyden (1499-1561) in 1530, who set it to a melody composed by Matthias Greitter (1495-1550). This Lutheran chorale, suitable for Lent and Passiontide, is better known today via the preludes written for organ rather than the original these works are based on. Johann Sebastian Bach composed a beautiful setting of this chorale (which will be played as the prelude next week) and is the most recognized setting of “O Mensch, bewein.”

Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706) was an organist, teacher, and composer of the middle Baroque era, and an important figure within the south German tradition. Pachelbel’s compositions were influenced by other southern German composers as well as those of Italy and France. During his lifetime, he enjoyed considerable popularity and was a notable composer for the organ, having written over 200 pieces for the instrument that contributed to the development of the chorale prelude and fugue. Today, Pachelbel is best-known for the Canon in D, a work originally written for three violins and basso continuo, which has been arranged for a whole variety of instruments and ensembles and played for a variety of occasions.

Pachelbel was born in Nuremberg, located in the state of Bavaria in southwestern Germany. He received his early musical training from Heinrich Schwemmer (1621-1696) and Georg Caspar Wecker (1632-1695), who served at St. Sebaldus Church in Nuremberg as the cantor and organist, respectively. Additional studies of his include work at the University of Altdorf and the Gymnasium Poeticum at Regensburg where he was accepted as a scholarship student above the school student quota. From 1673 to 1695, Pachelbel’s career as an organist and resident composer included positions he held at Saint Stephen Cathedral in Vienna, the ducal court of Johann Georg I in Eisenach, the Predigerkirche (Preacher’s Church) in Erfurt, the Württenberg court at Stuttgart, and the municipality of Gotha. While in Eisenach, Pachelbel became close friends with the Bach family and taught Johann Christoph Bach (1671-1721), Johann Sebastian’s brother. In 1695, he returned to Nuremberg to accept an appointment as organist of St. Sebaldus Church, succeeding his former teacher, Wecker, where he remained for the rest of his life.

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