This Sunday, October 31st, is Reformation Day and it’s always a big deal in the Lutheran Church. This year, let’s just say that the music at the 10:30 service might be different from what you’d expect! I don’t know if I could even put a label on it—some people might call it “avant-garde;” certainly it’s “contemporary” in that the music was written in the 20th century.
For weeks now, the choir has been working on two anthems by composer James Fritschel. He is the older brother, now retired, of our own Pastor Fritz Fritschel. James Fritschel spent over twenty years at Wartburg College as the choral director, then moved to California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks where he became the choral director there. His daughter, Christine, sang with the LCH choir more than twenty years ago and in fact met her husband, D’salegn, at LCH. I remember Chris once baby-sat our son when he was an infant, and he’s now 28 years old!
One of the Fritschel anthems is titled “Be Still,” based on Psalm 46:11, and begins with the choir singing “Gs” in unison and octaves. Beginning with the altos, then repeated by each section, there are long, slow trills, creating an effect like buzzing bees. Then follows each section singing “I am exalted” in imitation and in different keys, building to swaths of polychordal triads. The piece climaxes with unison and octave “Gs” like the beginning. More slow trills follow, with the piece dissolving into nothingness. It sounds very complicated, and indeed, the choir has found it very challenging —but the piece is extremely effective. It’s been over twenty years since our choir has sung this piece, but I certainly think all the hard work we’ve put into this has been worth it.
The other Fritschel anthem is unpublished, and is called “Prayer for Peace.” Like “Be Still,” it divides the choir into many parts but is an effective tone painting of the text.
For the organ music, I’m playing contemporary settings of “Ein Feste Burg” (A mighty fortress) by Jan Bender and Helmut Walcha. Both of these composer write pieces in what is called “Gebrauchsmusik” (utility music) and is mildly dissonant.
Lest you think that Sunday’s music will be completely wild, in contrast we will be singing the Lutheran Chorale mass as the Ordinary. Our congregation is very familiar with these traditional German Lutheran tunes, including “Kyrie, Gott, Vater in Ewigkeit.” “Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr,” “Wir glauben all an einen Gott,” “Jesaia, dem Propheten,” and “Christe du Lamm Gottes.” In fact, if you come to the 8:00 am service, I’ll be playing chorale preludes by Johann Sebastian Bach.
Wow, all this in the midst of Monteverdi!