“Heaven and earth are full of your glory”

Last week at my church, Burlington Baptist Church, in Ipswich, I led worship with our small worship band, and opened with the 19th century hymn “Holy, holy, holy” by Reginald Heber, leading straight into Nathan Fellingham’s setting of the same words, Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God almighty…Lift up his name with the sound of singing. We have done this often and it works really well. I talked about the worship of heaven, using words from Revelation 4 (how else was anyone supposed to understand all that stuff about the ‘glassy sea’!?).  I also talked about the communion of saints, something we sing about in the Hillsong song, This I believe (“I believe in the saints communion”) although I can’t help imagining the saints sitting in pews with halos,  while St Peter and the rest of heavenly deacons bring the trays of individual communion glasses around with little bits of bread on silver trays sat on top.

Yes, I do often talk too much in opening worship.

This week someone mentioned on twitter the wonderful recording by Paul McCreesh of Michael Praetorius’ Mass for Christmas Morning 1620, which I discovered last year – and so I listened to it again.  I know it’s too early, but it’s almost Advent and I can get away with it at home as long as the tunes are not too obviously Christmassy.

Of course to the worshippers in 1620 the tunes were very obviously Christmassy, and McCreesh has assembled a congregation to sing the Lutheran Christmas hymns (Vom Himmel Hoch, Puer natus and the like) with gusto and enthusiasm. Wonderful congregational worship – you have to admire Luther’s ability to get his congregation singing with marvellous words grounded in scripture aimed at catechising his congregation, set to really singable tunes.  Contemporary song writers could learn a thing or two here!

Trying to find out more, I discovered a set of slides explaining more about the CD [3]  In my listening I had reached the Sanctus motet in the Christmas morning mass setting, setting words of Martin Luther, Jesaja, dem Propheten das geschah, the German Sanctus, and as I read the words, and listened to the music I was overwhelmed.

First some history and context.

This paraphrase of Isaiah 6:1-4, in rhymed couplets for ease of congregational singing, was first published in Luther’s Deutsche Messe of 1526 entitled “The German Sanctus.” [1].  In Luther’s German Mass, it was set to a modified version of a Sanctus plainchant, and although intended for congregational singing, it seems that choral performance even of the German version was still favoured by many churches [2].

Here is the full text with a translation/poetic rendering by George MacDonald

Jessia, dem Propheten, das geschah,
Unto the seer, Isaiah, it was given
Daß er im Geist den Herren sitzen sah
That, in the spirit, he saw the Lord of heaven
Auf einem hohen Thron in hellem Glanz,
Up on a lofty throne, in radiance bright;
Seines Kleides Saum den Chor füllet’ ganz.
The skirt of his garment filled the temple quite;
Es stunden zween Seraph bei ihm daran,
Two seraphs at his side were standing there;
Sechs Flügel sah er einen jeden han:
Six wings, he saw, each one of them did wear:
Mit zween verbargen sie ihr Antlitz klar,
Two over their bright visages did meet,
Mit zween bedeckten sie die Füße gar,
With two of them they covered up their feet,
Und mit den andern zween sie flogen frei.
And with the other twain abroad did fly.
Genander riefen sie mit großem G’schrei:
Each to the other called with a great cry,
Heilig ist Gott, der Herre Zebaoth! 
Holy is God, the Lord of Zebaoth!
Heilig ist Gott, der Herre Zebaoth! 
Heilig ist Gott, der Herre Zebaoth!
Sein’ Ehr’ die ganze Welt erfüllet hat.
His glory great the whole world filled hath.
Von dem G’schrei zittert’ Schwell’ und Balken gar,
At the loud cry the beams and threshold shook,
Das Haus auch ganz voll Rauchs und Nebel war.
And the whole house was full of cloud and smoke

Praetorius’ version is based on Luther’s plainsong adaptation and starts simply enough. But soon rises to some magnificent word painting, as Dave Kriewall explains the presentation I was following as I listened [3]:

“hohen Thron” (lofty throne) – high note
“sie flogen frei” (they flew freely; aloft they soared) – soaring high notes
“gegenander ruften sie” (one to the other called) – echo effects
“mit großem Geschrei” (with a great cry)
“Heilig ist Gott der Herre Zebaoth” (Holy is God, the Lord of Hosts) – starts simply, increasing complexity of the angels’ song as more and more join; can be in 3/4 (indicating Trinity)
“Sein Ehr die ganze Welt erfüllet hat.” (His Glory has filled the whole world.) – always in 4/4 (indicating the earth); massive sound to fill the space.
“Von dem Geschrei zittert Schwell und Balken gar” (Threshold and rafters shake with the cry) – massive sound to fill and seemingly shake the church. Similar to treatment of “mit großem Geschrei”
The tongue-twister:
“Das Haus auch ganz voll Rauchs und Nebels war.” (The house also was full of smoke and fog [haze].)
First, a rapid-fire overlapping repetition of the phrase; effect: musical smoke and fog!
Then, an awesome picture of the grandeur of the vision and the glory of God in his temple

One is truly left with a sense of joining with the worship of heaven in the most immediate way.

We rarely talk about heaven and earth joining together in worship, or the communion of saints, or indeed of the music of heaven, and yet this seems to me to be a wonderful truth, worthy of greater exploration. I wondered if Lutheran theologians of Praetorius’ time had a view on this. Praetorius was known as a deeply religious man who regretted not taking holy orders. The introduction to part III of his Syntagma Musicum II: De Organographia begins as follows:

There are those who believe it proper and right that, next to theology, the highest place should be accorded to music, since it is a beautiful and splendid gift of God, and provides an image of music in heaven, where God’s holy angels together with the entire heavenly host praise their creator without ceasing in gentle harmony, and sing “Holy, holy, holy is God, the Lord of Hosts.” [4]

Having started with the music of heaven, he goes on to talk about the music of the Old Testament, especially the music of David and Solomon, and concludes:

Thus church music, as a service to God, ought properly to be held in great esteem today as well, and to be celebrated with all due reverence.  [4]

Praetorius then, in writing his music, was conscious of both the music of heaven, and following in the traditions of the great Biblical musicians, especially King David himself.

Almost a century later, the debate continued, with a famous conflict between Mattheson and Buttstett over heavenly harmony which started in 1713 [5].

But, as Ruth Tatlow says:

The conflict over Harmony went far deeper…At stake was whether the earthly efforts of the Christian composer…would survive eternally, and how they might do so. [6]

While there was debate as to what music might be played in heaven, some at least believed that there would be music in heaven, possibly even the very music being written by the composers of the day.  That being the case, Ruth Tatlow is surely right:

That perfectly constructed and harmonically proportioned vocal and instrumental compositions would survive the Rapture and be played in the new heaven and new earth would have been a powerful motivating belief for the Lutheran composer [6]

Believing this, there would be a strong desire and drive to write music fit for heaven, using all the musical language of the day to embody as fully as possible, and perhaps even participate in, the heavenly worship.  The music would need to reflect and magnify as perfectly as the composer was able the Word Incarnate, i.e. both Jesus Himself, and his Word in the language of the people, in this case German.  For the composer to truly write Soli Deo Gloria with integrity at the end of his work, every note would need to intentionally celebrate the Glory of God, and not simply the glory of music. [7]

Where a composer aspires to this, as I believe Praetorius is doing here in this motet, using all the skill at his disposal, creating something for eternity itself, it is little wonder we feel something of the worship of heaven?

I wonder if our modern songwriters feel that they are creating music with eternal significance in this way, and what difference it would make if they did?

[1] Leaver, R. A. (2017). The whole church sings: congregational singing in Luther’s Wittenberg. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. p.158-9

[2] Herl, J. (2008). Worship wars in early Lutheranism: choir, congregation, and three centuries of conflicts. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p.61

[3] Kriewall, D (2011).  Lecture/demonstration on Michael Praetorius’ “Mass for Christmas Morning” https://prezi.com/klhj29w7dzom/praetorius-mass-for-christmas-morning-1620/ Retrieved 26 Nov 2017

[4] Praetorius, Michael and Faulkner, Quentin trans. & ed. (2014). Syntagma Musicum II: De Organographia, Parts III – V with Index. Zea E-Books. Book 24, p.82. http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/zeabook/24

[5] Tatlow, R. (2016). Bach’s Numbers: Compositional Proportion and Significance. Cambridge University Press. p.78

[6] Ibid. p. 82-83

[7] See for example Bokemeyer in Johann Matheson, Critica Music, ‘Canonischen Anatomie’ (Hamburg: Matheson, 1722), cited in Tatlow, R. (2016). Bach’s Numbers: Compositional Proportion and Significance. Cambridge University Press. p.380, 1723-III


Musical Advent Calendar – 12.La Peregrinación

La Peregrinación, the Pilgrimage, is a carol by the Argentinian Composer Ariel Ramirez, best known for his Misa Criolla, one of the first masses written in the vernacular, after that was permitted by the Second Vatican Council.

I first got to know it through the wonderful arrangement from the King’s Singers featured below, and only recently discovered that it’s part of a larger six movement work called Navidad Nuestra (Our Nativity) composed in 1964. The texts are by Félix Luna and each movement uses traditional Argentine dances and songs. For La Peregrinación Ramirez uses the popular folk dance huella pampeana and the lyricist locates the story in the north of his native Argentina, adding words from the indigenous guaraní language. La Huella is a narrow path across the pampas formed by the tracks of a horse or mule, but alluding to the folk dance ‘a la huella’ can also means ‘keep dancing’ and this creates the rather appealing image of Joseph and Mary dancing their way across the plains.


A la huella, a la huella
José y María,
por las pampas heladas
cardos y ortigas.

Follow the trail, follow the trail
Joseph and Mary
Across the frozen Pampas (South American plains)
Thistles and nettles.

Follow the trail, follow the trail
Cutting through the fields
There is no shelter, no inn
Keep on walking.

Little flower in the field,
Carnation of the air
If no one puts you up
Where will you be born?

Where will you be born, little flower?
Now that you are growing
Frightened dove
Sleepless cricket

Follow the trail, follow the trail
Joseph and Mary
With a hidden God
Nobody knew

Follow the trail, follow the trail
The pilgrims
Lend me a ruined house
For my child

Follow the trail, follow the trail
Through suns and moons
The little almond eyes
Olive skin.

Oh, little donkey in the field
Oh, reddish-grey ox
My child is coming
Make some space for him

A thatched hut
Is the only shelter I have
Two friendly breaths (the ox and the donkey)
The bright moon

Follow the trail, follow the trail
Joseph and Mary
With a hidden God
Nobody knew



A la huella, a la huella
José y María,
por las pampas heladas
cardos y ortigas.

A la huella, a la huella
cortando campo,
no hay cobijo ni fondo
sigan andando.

Florecita del campo,
clavel del aire,
si ninguno te aloja
¿dónde naces?

¿Dónde naces, florecita,
que estás creciendo,
palomita asustada,
grillo sin sueño?

A la huella, a la huella
José y María
con un Dios escondido,
nadie sabía.

A la huella, a la huella
los peregrinos,
préstenme una tapera
para mi Niño.

A la huella, a la huella
soles y lunas,
los ojitos de almendra,
piel de aceituna.

¡Ay burrito del campo!
¡Ay buey barcino!
¡Que mi Niño ya viene,
háganle sitio!

Un ranchito de quincha,
sólo me ampara,
dos alientos amigos
la luna clara.

A la huella, a la huella
José y María
con un Dios escondido,
nadie sabía.


Musical Advent Calendar – 11.Riu, Riu Chiu

Today’s carol is a Spanish villancico (effectively the Spanish equivalent of a carol) attributed to Mateo Flecha the Elder, who died in 1553, and which has been performed by musical groups as diverse as the choir of King’s College, Cambridge and the Monkees.

The chorus and translation is as follows:

Ríu, ríu, chíu, la guarda ribera,
Dios guardó el lobo de nuestra cordera.

Riu, riu, chiu, the guard [shepherd] by the river: God protected our Ewe from the wolf.

‘Riu, riu chiu’ was a traditional call of Spanish shepherds when guarding their flocks by a riverside fold – in fact the catchy chorus may derive from a shepherd-song.  The chorus refers to God protecting Mary (the ewe) from the bite of the wolf, the lobo rabioso [Satan] , infecting her with original sin – a theme elaborated in verse 1.

As a good Baptist I am not a fan of the doctrine of the immaculate conception (although it’s clear Mary was a young girl of great faith!), but apart from that the carol is a pretty good summary of the Christmas story, as in verse 2:

Aunque era infinito Finito se hiziera – he was who was infinite became finite.

This performance is from the American group Chanticleer.

A Musical Advent Calendar – 10.For Unto Us a Child is Born

For the 10th day of Advent how about a movement from that most famous of all oratorios, Messiah, by George Frideric Handel.

So much has been written about Messiah. Composed as it was in just 24 days, Handel did what many composers of the time routinely did – re-worked music he had written previously.  In this case he adapted a love duet from a secular Italian cantata of his entitled Nò, di voi non vo’fidarmi, which explains the slightly strange word stress.

Never mind… it is a wonderful piece full of joy and excitement, especially in this performance!

A Musical Advent Calendar – 8.Ding! Dong! Merrily on High

Time for a jolly carol – an arrangement of the traditional carol Ding! Dong! Merrily on High. 

In fact it’s not that traditional, because although the tune is an old French dance tune, Branle de l’Official, the words are from the  English composer George Ratcliffe Woodward (1848–1934), and the carol was first published in 1924 in his The Cambridge Carol-Book.  It’s a good example of a macaronic carol (and that’s nothing to do with mac’n’cheese).

This version is an arrangement by Mack Wilberg, the current music director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Check out the talented organist, Ben-San Lau, organ scholar at King’s back in 2010, particularly when he plays the Gloria on the pedals!

A Musical Advent Calendar – 7.Tomorrow Shall be my Dancing Day

You might not immediately think of this carol as one that belongs in your Church’s carol service,  whether with the traditional tune, or in my favourite arrangement by John Gardner, which dances along with the words. The refrain seems to reflect feasting and merry-making, rather that the real Christmas story. But as I have rehearsed it and sung it with choirs over the years it’s changed for me from being the sort of carol which you might want to sing at a carol concert, to one which encapsulates the heart of the gospel.

You might be familiar with the words…

Tomorrow shall be my dancing day
I would my true love did so chance
To see the legend of my play
To call my true love to my dance.

What on earth does that mean? What is the dance?


The dance is, I think, a picture of what the Revelation calls the marriage supper of the lamb – you can read about it in Revelation chapter 19:

 Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out “Hallelujah! 
For the Lord our God 
the Almighty reigns.
 Let us rejoice and exult
 and give him the glory, 
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
 and his Bride has made herself ready;
 it was granted her to clothe herself
 with fine linen, bright and pure”—for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”

And again in Rev 21:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

You’ll remember perhaps another parable in Matthew where we are called to be ready for Jesus to return, as a Bridegroom for her husband. I’ve already written about that when we listened together to Bach’s cantata Wachet Auf on Day 2. It’s a recurring Advent theme.


So it’s clear that each of us, as part of the Church as a whole, is called to be the bride of Christ, and one day we will be united with Jesus at his second coming. That’s the dance that we are being called to – the dance of Jesus’ second advent when we will be with him for ever and those wonderful promises of Revelation 21 will be fulfilled.

But back to our song. The original song Tomorrow Shall be my Dancing Day has eleven verses, which tell the story of Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection.  We’ll only hear the first four in this arrangement, but each concludes with the refrain.

Sing Oh! My love, oh! My love, my love, my love. This have I done for my true love.

Who is singing?  Well what immediately springs to mind for me is that beautiful passage in the Song of Songs chapter 2 which over the centuries has been interpreted as being the song of Jesus calling his bride the Church.

 My beloved speaks and says to me:
 “Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come away,
11 for behold, the winter is past;
the rain is over and gone.
 The flowers appear on the earth,
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land.
 The fig tree ripens its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my beautiful one, 
and come away.

What moves me so much each time I sing this, is the wonderful news contained in this simple (and seemingly rather unspiritual) refrain, that everything in Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection and ascension was done for the glory of God and for his true love – and that’s us.   This is truly the heart of the gospel – God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son. Now we can know that truth in part (and how we need to keep reminding ourselves of it) and one day when He comes again we will see him face to face.