Ready for a mouthful of sweet, fluffy Mendelssohn? Image of Lebkuchen

Verleih uns Frieden was written during a visit to Rome in 1831 – the same trip that inspired the Italian Symphony – and sets Martin Luther’s translation of the Latin prayer for peace in our time, Dona Nobis Pacem. Mendelssohn’s veneration of Bach’s music is discernible in the chorale-style melody, but its graceful, heart-on-sleeve romanticism is all Mendelssohn.  He builds its emotional crescendo from the bottom up: the basses have the warm opening presentation of the theme all to themselves, before handing the baton to the altos and assuming a supporting role. All four voices then unite for the third and final iteration. Hard-hearted is the listener who fails to be stirred by such a mellifluous and heartfelt plea!

Richte mich, Gott (Psalm 43) is one of three Psalm settings Mendelssohn wrote for the Berlin Cathedral Choir, having been appointed director in 1843. Scored for a capella SATB choir, the full-blooded opening declamation by the men’s voices reflects the stern injunctions of the text to ‘Judge me, O Lord’, but is tempered by the gentler, more uncertain response from the women’s voices. These grave minor key exchanges are then relieved by the luminous relative major in ‘Send out your light’. Although we return to the darker material of the opening, its transposition to a dancing 3/8 signals the more upbeat mood in which the Psalm proceeds, culminating in a rich chorale-like section in D Major that exhorts us repeatedly and confidently to ‘Hope in God’.

The other two motets we will sing were also written during Mendelssohn’s tenure in Berlin. The gracious and gentle setting of 2 verses of Psalm 91, Denn Er hat seinen Engeln befohlen (1844) is in 8 parts and also makes effective use of antiphonal exchanges between upper and lower voices, reflecting the bipartite structure of the text, and perhaps also the beneficent relationship between the angelic and the earthly:

11  For he shall give his angels charge over thee: to keep thee in all thy ways.

12  They shall bear thee in their hands: that thou hurt not thy foot against a stone.

Finally Frohlocket, ihr Völker auf Erden is a joyful 8-part motet originally intended for the Christmas season and alternates confident homophonic declarations with cascading Halleljuas, to conclude in triumphant unity.

See you later in the week for our decorative centrepiece, Rheinberger’s Mass in E Flat (Cantus Missae) for double choir. Make sure you save room!