Setting Philippians 3

If your community proclaimed the year C readings this past weekend, you enjoyed a Pauline gem from his letter to the Philippians. The Roman Lectionary assigns verses 8 through 14 to follow Psalm 126.

Most Bible publishers set it as prose, unlike Philippians 2:6-11. It is one of the more lyrical passages from the mind and hand of Saint Paul. It wouldn’t be out of place as a canticle at Vespers or as a proper at the celebration of Mass. A number of composers have drawn from this text–some part of this passage inspired dozens of hymns. But I’m aware of no pre-conciliar setting that treats the section as an exclusive whole, more or less. Two contemporary settings come to mind.

See the source imageWe have Dan Schutte’s 1981 version this past weekend, known popularly as “Only This I Want.” The original recording is here. My opinion: too slow. Maybe a bit over-dramatic.  Less-skilled singers would strain to breathe on the lines, so when I program it, I take it somewhat faster. I think the accompaniment helps interpret the text well enough. The SAB harmonization could be improved. The composer also adds material from verses 15 and 18 of the previous chapter in verse 3. They aren’t out of place. But I think there’s enough material in the chapter 3 text to fill another verse or two. All that said, I like the setting. I use it a few times a year. Good christological texts are important for a parish’s expression of faith. This is a good one.

Michael Joncas composed another setting later in the 1980s. The recording has piano, harp and flutes. And is also done about 8-12 clicks slower than I would play it. When I served in GIA parishes, I also programmed this two or three times a year, plus once during Lent. I favor this setting. Joncas handles paraphrasing the text better, and his composing skills are more in evidence on this song. A jumpy melody requires more rehearsal to learn and fine-tune, but people in the pews sing it well enough. I think the melody could bear an alternate harmonization when it repeats, but that means more paper to be printed at the publisher.

If you haven’t been singing these, what are your preferred hymn or song texts about Jesus this season?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Lent, Liturgical Music, Scripture. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Setting Philippians 3

  1. Liam says:

    While non-scriptural, one of the great 20th century hymns, which uses a text from a one-time Puritan Anglican that imitates the work of the Metaphysical school of Anglican poetry, a kind of conciliation of some of the tensions in 17th century England:

    My song is love unknown, my Saviour’s love to me;
    Love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be.
    O who am I, that for my sake my Lord should take, frail flesh and die?

    He came from His blest throne salvation to bestow;
    But men made strange, and none the longed-for Christ would know:
    But O! my Friend, my Friend indeed, Who at my need His life did spend.

    Sometimes they strew His way, and His sweet praises sing;
    Resounding all the day Hosannas to their King:
    Then Crucify! is all their breath, and for His death they thirst and cry.

    They rise and needs will have my dear Lord made away;
    A murderer they saved, the Prince of life they slay,
    Yet cheerful He to suff’ring goes, that He His foes from thence might free.

    Here might I stay and sing, no story so divine;
    Never was love, dear King!, never was grief like Thine.
    This is my Friend, in Whose sweet praise I all my days could gladly spend.

  2. Liam says:

    And then the immortal Byrd never fails to slay me, one of those masterpieces one quickly learns to sing off-book to allow oneself to become immersed and sublimated:

  3. Liam says:

    And finally, another vernacular – German – the perfect end to pivot from Good Friday towards the remainder of the Triduum, the final chorale of JS Bach’s Johannes Passion, with supernal tenderness and sublimity – I cannot fail to be caught up in mystical exaltation with the thrust of the music towards the line, “Alsdenn vom Tod erwecke mich, dass meine Augen sehen dich in aller Freud, o Gottes Sohn, mein Heiland und Genadenthron!” et cet.

    Ach Herr, lass dein lieb Engelein
    Am letzten End die Seele mein
    In Abrahams Schoß tragen,
    Den Leib in seim Schlafkämmerlein
    Gar sanft ohn eigne Qual und Pein
    Ruhn bis am jüngsten Tage!
    Alsdenn vom Tod erwecke mich,
    Dass meine Augen sehen dich
    In aller Freud, o Gottes Sohn,
    Mein Heiland und Genadenthron!
    Herr Jesu Christ, erhöre mich,
    Ich will dich preisen ewiglich!

    (Metrical English paraphrase):
    Ah Lord, let thine own angels dear
    At my last hour my spirit bear
    To Abraham’s own bosom,
    My body in its simple bed
    In peace without distress and dread
    Rest till the day of judgment!
    And then from death awaken me,
    That with mine eyes I may see thee
    In fullest joy, O God’s own Son,
    My Savior and my gracious throne!
    Lord Jesus Christ, give ear to me,
    I would thee praise eternally!

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