Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Luther's Birthday!

November 10 marks the anniversary of Luther's Birthday.  To celebrate, here is the Heinrich Schutz setting of the Kyrie from Luther's Deutsche Messe (German Mass).  You can find the English version in Lutheran Service Book, Hymn 942.

The text and tune date back to the 9th century, hence, it predates Luther by around 6 centuries.  Also, while this Kyrie is so intimately associated with Luther's German Mass, the majority of the text was originally sung in Latin.  The Latin, German, and English versions still contain one element of Greek, Kyrie eleison which means, "Lord, have mercy."

One of the simplest forms of the Kyrie is:

Kyrie eleison.  Christe eleison.  Kyrie eleison.
Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.

In this version, the core of the text has descriptions of the Godhead sandwiched between Kyrie and eleison.  Like the simple form, there are three petitions. The difference is in length and content.  The longer Kyrie devotes each petition to each of the three persons of the Trinity.

Kyrie! God Father in heaven above... Eleison! Eleison!

Kyrie! O Christ, our king... Eleison! Eleison!

Kyrie! O God the Holy Ghost... Eleison! Eleison!

My love for this Kyrie is balanced with the practical issue of singing it in church.  My last congregation knew it well, but the current one might not get past the first word!

For those of you with ambitions of introducing this but hesitancy because of your particular situation, here are some options:
  • Have the choir sing Kyrie eleison in unison or in parts, and a solo pick up middle of each petition
  • Introduce it at a special service, say, Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday or Reformation Sunday
  • Before rehearsing with the choir, play the LSB setting during the offering or the Communion distribution (provided there is a little extra time) several weeks in a row
Kyrie! O God the Holy Ghost,
Guard our faith, the gift we need the most,
And bless our life's last hour,
That we leave this sinful world with gladness.
Eleison! Eleison!

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