Monday, April 13, 2009

Where is All the Easter Music?

Permit me to editorialize for a while...

I don't normally write on my blog to take up a stance on an issue or try to persuade my audience (albeit a very small one) to think a particular way. I try to use my blog as an information tool for my choir students and their parents so they know what is going on with WLA Choirs (even though my top hit articles are about In Tune Magazine's Best Music Schools 2008 and 2009). But yesterday was Easter Sunday and I wanted to listen to Easter music.

Everybody knows how inundated we are from October 31-December 25 every year with Christmas music. Entire radio stations dedicate their entire broadcast to all Christmas music 24/7. Yesterday I came home from church and just wanted to listen to Easter Music.

I searched the iTunes Music Store. No popups or links for Sacred Easter Music. Somewhere in the back of my memory I remembered a "Resurrection Symphony" so I searched for that too. It yielded the Gustav Mahler Symphony No. 2, the "Resurrection". I was disappointed because there was no recognizeable hymn tune or chant melody to even suggest Easter in Mahler's work.

I wanted to hear expressed in music the true message that Jesus Christ, true God and true man, who, as true Man, led the perfect life that none of us can ever hope to live, thereby fulfilling every part of God's law that he put on his chosen people, died on the cross on Good Friday in our place (the all-atoning sacrifice), and as true God raised himself back to life on Easter Sunday morning over 2000 years ago. I wanted to turn on the radio coming home from church and hear sacred Easter music that would reinforce the good news that I heard in church. I wanted to fill my iPod with glorious trumpets and strings and full orchestra playing major classical works which shouted Jesus' eternal triumph over sin, death, and the power of the devil.

But I found none.

The piece which I thought I was searching for (The "Resurrection" Symphony) was really the "Reformation" Symphony of Mendelssohn (Symphony No. 5 in D Major/D Minor, op. 107), which uses EIN FESTE BURG IST UNSER GOTT (the hymn tune we use to sing Luther's hymn text on Psalm 46, "A Mighty Fortress is Our God"). I wasn't in the mood for Reformation (a.k.a. Oct. 31, 1517). I was in the mood for the trumpets of Easter.

So I searched the internet for classical Easter music and got various lists of old music in foreign languages which (a) either weren't associated with a hymn tune, or (b) which the average listener wouldn't be able to understand. What good is it to sing the truths of God's Word in a foreign language if the audience can't understand what the words mean? (That also has implications for ennuciation of English as well!)

The radio wasn't much better. On the way to our family Easter gathering, I scanned all the FM stations, hoping for some Easter music. The best I found was on 89.3 WPNE (music listing for Easter sunday, April 12, 2009). I think it was either the St. John or St. Matthew Passion of Johann Sebastian Bach (after checking, it was the St. John Passion). I'm not sure because (a) it was sung in German, and while I did take two years of German in high school, my on-the-spot translation leaves something to be desired, and (b) I didn't hear the announcer introduce the work at the beginning, nor did I listen long enough to the end to see if all the recitatives and arias that I heard were Bach. I'm pretty sure it was, though, because I did hear two hymn tunes: HERZLICH TUT MICH VERLANGEN (O Sacred Head, Now Wounded) [a.k.a. O HAUPT VOLL BLUT UND WUNDEN] and HERZLIEBSTER JESU (O Dearest Jesus, What Law Hast Thou Broken?), both of which I'm pretty sure Bach used numerous times in his passions.

But even Bach was not "heart music" on Easter Sunday. It was "head music." I doesn't speak to American ears (or to any ears which don't know German). It doesn't even move Lutheran hearts when they can't tell that the text is really all about Holy Week and has nothing to do with The Resurrection. How disappointing, even from the father of Lutheran church music.

It got me wondering...where are all the major sacred Easter works? So I started to think...

Bach's Cantata No. 4 Christ lag in Todesbanden (BWV 4). What else did Bach write for Easter...I think he's got an Easter Oratorio (BWV 249). Ok, there's two...Doesn't David Holsinger or Randol Alan Bass have anything for Easter? They both have written large works for concert band or orchestra and choir. I'll have to look into their catalogs. Well, there's the Heinrich Sch├╝tz double choir motet "Ich bin der Auferstehung" (I Am the Resurrection), but once again, it's in German and doesn't have a recognizable hymn tune or melody for the casual Lutheran ears (even though I love the piece, have sung it and directed it).

Oh yeah, Handel's Messiah. (Duh, Dale!) It was originally written for an Easter performance (April 13, 1742 in Dublin, Ireland). But out of its 53 individual arias, recitatives, and choruses, only around 21 of them (22-33, 45-53) are directly connected with Christ's suffering, death, and resurrection. Even fewer of them (45 & 46) are specifically about the resurrection of Jesus.

I love Alfred Reed's Russian Christmas Music. I wonder if he has a "Russian Easter Music"? (Nope.)

So where is all the rest of the sacred Easter music????


  1. Well, at least we didn’t have to listen to “Here comes Peter Cottontail” blaring on the radio…

    The Easter music is why getting up for sunrise service is so easy! Love to sing those Alleluia songs! Add the brass and percussion accompaniment and I’m a happy camper.

    We have to make our own music. Your traveling choirs have done many wonderful pieces, worthy of listening to on Easter and always!

    These pieces are inspirational, and listened to daily:


  2. How 'bout Alfred Reed's "Alleluia! Laudamus Te"? I don't know if it was actually written for Easter, but it could easily fill that role.