2017-03-19 Notes from the Bench


“O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig” Johann Pachelbel

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



O Lamm gottes, unschuldig
Am Stamm des Kreuzes geschlachtet,
Allzeit funden geduldig,
Wiewohl du warest verachtet;
All Sünd hast du getragen,
Sonst müßten wir verzagen.
Erbarm dich unser, o Jesu.



O Lamb of God, most stainless!
Who on the Cross didst languish,
Patient through all Thy sorrows.
Though mocked amid Thine anguish;
Our sins Thou bearest for us,
Else had despair reigned o’er us:
Have mercy upon us, O Jesu!

trans. Catherine Winkworth


“O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig” is a German hymn appropriate for the season of Lent composed by Nikolaus Decius (1485-1541) shortly before his death. Decius was a German monk, preacher, hymn-writer, and composer. Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706) composed the chorale prelude setting for organ of “O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig” played for today’s postlude.




Pachelbel was south-German composer, organist, and teacher, who enjoyed enormous success and popularity during his lifetime. Today, “Canon in D” written for chamber orchestra is by far is best-known composition. Pachelbel was born in Nuremberg in the German state of Bavaria where he received his earliest musical training. He was later a student at the University of Altdorf and the Gymnasium Poeticum at Regensburg. Over the course of his life, Pachelbel held organist positions at Saint Stephen Cathedral in Vienna, the court of Johann Georg I in Eisenach, the Predigerkirche in Erfurt, the Württenberg court at Stuttgart, and St. Sebaldus Church in his native Nuremberg. Pachelbel composed vocal and chamber works, but the majority of his oeuvre are keyboard works including preludes, fantasias, toccatas, chaconnes and variations, and fugues. However, Pachelbel’s chorale prelude settings constitute the bulk of his organ works; his position in Erfurt required him to regularly compose new chorale prelude settings. His compositional style emphasizes charity of melody accompanied by uncomplicated counterpoint that is less virtuosic and harmonically adventurous than his north-German counterparts. Pachelbel’s chorale preludes are typically a three or four-part cantus firmus setting, a chorale fugue, or a combination of the two types, beginning with a brief fugal section followed a cantus firmus setting, a model he invented. “O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig” is an excellent example of this combined type.



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