Looking for a sacred bassoon solo? Well, you’ve found it! Utilizing the melody from Morning Has Broken(the traditional Gaelic tune BUNESSAN) A Hymn of Beginnings presents a familiar yet fresh treatment of the tune in this setting for solo bassoon and piano. Suitable as a prelude, postlude, offertory, meditative, or other functions in a sacred service it is also at home in a recital or concert program.
This fresh setting of the Welsh tune, HYFYRDOL, works perfectly for an offertory, prelude, or devotional function. Although written for the Advent season, the multiple familiar hymns set with this tune (e.g., Jesus, What a Friend for Sinners; Love Divine, All Loves Excelling; Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus; etc.) make the piece suitable throughout the church year. It is readily performed by high school or higher musicians yet still contains sufficient variety and artistic expression to be rewarding for even advanced performers. The familiar melody is stated clearly throughout and accompanied with interesting and sonorous harmonies so as to be accessible to all audiences.
Although the familiar melody is ever-present in this setting of “O, Sacred Head Now Wounded” it will sound very foreign to most ears. In acknowledgment of the atonal origins of the pierrot ensemble, this arrangement embraces dissonance and chromaticism and avoids clear statements of conventional harmony without, however, being altogether atonal. Thus, it is a most unusual setting of the tune, but one that poignantly paints the deep anguish expressed in the hymn text, which is the anguish of the crucifixion’s witnesses. The music is simultaneously shocking and familiar, which seems a fitting way to present this familiar story in all its appalling horror.
The music may be successfully performed with advanced high school or later musicians. It is not excessively demanding technically but will require artistic taste and expressiveness and good counting skills. It is well suited for recital or chamber ensemble concert in either secular or sacred venue.
Ponder: to think about carefully, especially before making a decision or reaching a conclusion.
Anew: In a new or different and typically more positive way.
These two words come from the third stanza of Joachim Neander’s perennially popular hymn, “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.” And just as this stanza invites us to “Ponder anew what the Almighty can do,” this orchestral hymn invites us to consider afresh the attributes and works of Almighty God. Ponder Anew is purely an instrumental work but the text and tune are so familiar that the words will spontaneously spring to mind as the theme unwinds. Thereby, the new harmonies, rhythms, and phrasings in Ponder Anew will likely elicit from the listener a new and different way of thinking about the text. So, as this new setting of the tune melds together peace, majesty, mystery, power, beauty, and grace it stirs the listener to “think carefully, in a new and more positive way, about what the Almighty can do.”
The music in not particularly difficult and should be readily playable by high school or higher level musicians. Yet, both musicians and audience will find the power and intimacy of the work interesting and enjoyable with music that reflects the majesty and mystery of its subject.
The origins of this traditional African-American spiritual likely predate the Civil War. Since its first publishing in 1899 it has become prevalent in the hymnals of nearly every American Christian denomination. Its simple lyrics and haunting melody hardly fail to strike a personal and intimate chord within Christians as they sing, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.”
This arrangement was set to fill a particular need. When the search for an arrangement of sacred tuba material suitable for the considerable talents of our church’s player produced little fruit, creating a brand new arrangement became the obvious solution. Thus, necessity and inspiration came together to produce this piece in just a few days. It makes three statements of the melody in contrasting harmonic settings, opening with polytonal language reflecting the grotesqueness and irony of man crucifying his God. The burial stanza is portrayed in a minor key with a dirge-like pulse. For the resurrection, the music moves to a major key while swelling to a climax. It closes with a nebulous tonal center and omits the final melodic phrase to leave the listener contemplating how these events often cause our hearts to tremble, tremble, tremble.