The Beatitudes. What beautiful words for private, personal meditation. What beautiful words for any sermon. (Jesus’ blessings as stated in the Sermon on the Mount, the “original” sermon.) And what beautiful words for musical settings.
As I have previously stated in this blog, I find myself on lifelong searches, “causes” if you will, for worthy musical settings of various scripture passages that reoccur in our lectionary. I have been on a perpetual “Mustard Seed anthems” quest for many years (see NOTES, June 9, 2015). The same is true for worthy musical settings of the Beatitudes.
Our parish music library contains a few settings of the Beatitudes text, but none is more effective than the very one printed as Hymn 560 in The Hymnal 1982. This setting is the exact musical setting of the Beatitudes from the liturgy of the Russian Orthodox Church. An early supplement, Hymns III, a predecessor supplement to The Hymnal 1982, first included this chant for use in Episcopal liturgy.
Sacred musician and composer Richard Proulx (1937-2010) arranged this Russian Orthodox Chant for The Hymnal 1982. I wrote about Proulx in this NOTES blog on November 27, 2015, and will not repeat myself here. However, please know that I hold Proulx among the highest respected musicians of the entire Church. Whenever I see his name attached to a piece of music, I investigate.
Another interesting tidbit: Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) used this very chant melody as part of the melody in his 1812 Overture. It doesn’t get much more Russian than that!
The Hymnal 1982 Companion suggests that Hymn 560 could be used appropriately a number of ways in Episcopal worship, as the Song of Praise or during Communion on All Saints’ Day, or as a congregational hymn in the Burial Office. The chant could be sung antiphonally by the choir, using a smaller group echoed by the full choir, or it could be sung antiphonally between the choir and the congregation.
This Sunday, we will sing this Beatitudes chant as the Anthem at the Offertory, with the intention of singing it with the congregation someday soon during Communion. For now, listen to these sublime words of Jesus sung to this historic chant, and let his blessings wash down over you.