Alleluia! (Easter Day)

Posted on: 11 April 2020, by :

For Easter Day. This is the final post in a series of eight for Holy Week and Easter, 2020.

After the austerity of Lent and the solemness of Holy Week, music for the Christian church on Easter Day bursts forth with great brightness and effusive praise to celebrate Christ’s victory over death. Multiple and repeated exclamations of ‘Alleluia’ are heard: by tradition the word was carefully omitted from worship during Lent and is the special, most recognizable characteristic of Easter motets and Christmas motets too.

Surrexit pastor bonus is one of several Latin motet texts from Roman Catholicism retained by the breakaway Protestant church. These two settings, one from each tradition, span that sharing across a century.

Surrexit pastor bonus qui animam suam posuit
pro ovibus suis, alleluia.
Et pro grege suo mori dignatus est,
Et enim pascha nostrum immolatus est Christus,
The good shepherd,
who laid down his life for his sheep,
has arisen, alleluia!
And for his flock he deigned to die,
And for our Passover
was sacrificed for us: the Christ.

Jean L’Héritier, Surrexit pastor bonus, motet for six voices, sung by Stile Antico in a CD recording made in 2012.

The first example dates from early in the sixteenth century, probably from the 1510s or 1520s when the French composer Jean L’Héritier is known to have worked in Italy, employed at times by the Papacy in Rome and at other times at the courts of Ferrara and Mantua. His setting, extremely rich in its six-part counterpoint, maintains a continuously upward-facing orientation, with many ascending lines and leaps that seem to reach yearningly towards heaven.

The Surrexit pastor bonus by Heinrich Schütz is also of uncertain date but probably belongs to the 1640s and is likely to have been written for performance at the Saxon court in Dresden. It is even more extravagant in its design and rich textures than L’Héritier’s setting, and was evidently intended to make a great celebratory and joyful noise. Contructed in the polychoral manner that Schütz had mastered in Venice when studying with Giovanni Gabrieli in 1610-13, it is scored for 14 vocal parts (six vocal soloists and two four-part choirs), violins, sackbuts and basso continuo (organ and bass instruments).

The performance is from a CD recording of 2014 by various soloists, the Dresden Chamber Choir, and the ensembles Sirius Viols and Instrumenta Musica, directed by Hans-Christoph Rademann.