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Musical Musings: Lent

Three Hymns of the Passion

by Gary Penkala

Part I: "All Glory, Laud and Honor"

The events of our Lord's Passion and Death have inspired composers and poets for centuries. Renaissance composers wrote some of their greatest masterpieces on texts from the liturgical season of Passiontide, as seen in Palestrina's Lamentations of Jeremiah. J.S. Bach was most eloquent when he wrote on the theme of death and in particular in his magnificent settings of the Passions according to Saint Matthew and Saint John. The Stabat mater poem was set to music by many composers, including Pergolesi, Rossini and Verdi. In the same way, the following three poets were inspired, and have produced hymn texts which are now common in our churches and have become "symbols" of the Lenten season.

The Latin hymn often translated "All Glory, Laud and Honor" was written by Theodulph, Bishop of Orleans (d.821) and later became the official processional hymn for Palm Sunday. Its text is based on Matthew 21:11-16 and Psalms 118 and 25. According to J. Vincent Higginson in his Handbook for American Catholic Hymnals, "It was customary to have a small group, generally boys, sing the hymn within the church, some churches assigning a special gallery, while the clergy and congregation responded with the refrain outside the doors of the church. The 'locked' doors were opened when struck three times with the foot of the cross. The Ingrediente was sung as the procession entered the church."

There is a story, perhaps unfounded, that Theodulph wrote this hymn as a Palm Sunday procession past the prison where he had been unjustly imprisoned. In any case this hymn is a glorious account of the Lord's triumphal entry into Jerusalem and is as much associated with Palm Sunday as is "Silent Night" with Christmas. It first appeared in this country as a translation by J.M Neale in his Medieval Hymns, 1851.

It has been sung to several tunes since 1851, the most popular being a melody written by Melchior Teschner for the text Valet will ich der geben, which appeared in Leipzig in 1615. This tune's name is commonly given as "Saint Theodulph" in honor of the author to whose words it is usually sung.

 Back to Lent Index

Part II: "O Sacred Head" and "Stabat mater"

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