A Playlist for Holy Week

I love roller coasters, but I fully admit, the past few weeks have been one roller coaster that I want to get off of. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a seismic shift in the daily routines of billions of people worldwide, forcing us to adapt to new personal and public norms. For both me and countless others, there have been challenges (moving a 450-student Music Appreciation class to an online format), disappointments (having to cancel a planned trip), and frustrations (not being able to go out with friends or family). Of course, this is all for a common, honorable cause but it’s still been tough adjusting to a new normal.

All that said, though, this pandemic has brought about many good things—alternative social interactions with friends, more quality time with my immediate family, tons of exercise (i.e., so many walks!), decreased pollution levels. The list goes on. I have also listened to a lot of music. Like, a LOT. And this past week in particular, I’ve been reflecting on the incredible variety, quality, and scope of classical music written either for or in the spirit of Holy Week.

So, I decided to construct a Holy Week playlist. The selections in this playlist are wildly eclectic and span almost a thousand years, ranging from the meditative sounds of the 11th-century nun-poet-composer Hildegard von Bingen to the decisively-modern style of James MacMillan. A total of twenty-three composers are represented (Bach three times!). Of course, sadly, many had to be left out.

I intended this playlist to be a 2-hour musical “journey” through the events of Holy Week, presented more or less in order (see track listing below). The journey starts in the celebratory (if not slightly foreboding) atmosphere of Palm Sunday before wandering through the contemplative scenes of Maundy Thursday, the sorrows of Good Friday, and the ultimate triumph of Easter Sunday. I also included a single excerpt from five different Passion settings—two by Bach (Matthew and John), one by Penderecki (Luke), one by Golijov (Mark), and one by Adams (who retells the Passion story from the perspective of Mary Magdalene).

No matter your creed or belief system, I hope that this musical journey through Holy Week will provide you with a sense of grounding and a range of emotions in this strange time—joy, peace, grief, awe. At the very least, though, I hope you enjoy this diverse mix of music from some pretty awesome composers!

  • Meditation
    • J.S. Bach: St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244, Part 1 – 1. “Kommt, ihr Töchter, helft mir klagen” (Come, daughters, help me lament)
  • Palm Sunday
    • Giovanni Gabrieli: Canzoni et sonate – Canzon XII
    • Lili Boulanger: Psalm 24, “La terre appartient a l’Eternel” (The earth is the Lord’s)
    • Osvaldo Golijov: La Pasión según San Marcos (St. Mark Passion) – 8. “¿Por qué?”
    • Leonard Bernstein: Missa brevis – Benedictus
  • Maundy Thursday
    • Igor Stravinsky: Mass – Agnus Dei
    • Hildegard von Bingen: O virtus Sapientiae (O Wisdom’s energy, arr. for string quartet)
    • Maurice Duruflé: Quatre Motets sur des thèmes grégoriens, op. 10 – 1. “Ubi caritas”
    • Judith Weir: Love Bade Me Welcome
    • Olivier Messiaen: O sacrum convivium (O sacred banquet)
    • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Ave verum corpus, K. 618 (Hail, true Body)
    • Krzysztof Penderecki: St. Luke Passion, Part 1 – 3. “Deus meus” (Psalm 21)
  • Good Friday
    • J.S. Bach: St. John Passion, BWV 245, Part 2 – 9. “Lässest du diesen los, so bist du des Kaisers Freund nicht” (If you let this man go, you are not a friend of Caesar)
    • Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber: Mystery Sonata No. 9, “Jesus Carries the Cross” – 1. Sonata
    • Francis Poulenc: Sept Répons de Ténèbres – 5. “Tenebrae factae sunt” (Darkness fell)
    • Giovanni Battista Pergolesi: Stabat Mater – 1. “Stabat Mater dolorosa” (The grieving Mother stood)
    • Anna Thorvaldsdottir: Þann heilaga kross (On the holy cross)
    • James MacMillan: Seven Last Words from the Cross – 6. “It is finished”
    • Anton Bruckner: Christus factus est, WAB 11 (Christ became obedient)
  • Easter Sunday
    • John Adams: The Gospel According to the Other Mary (excerpts)
      • Act 2, Scene 5: Burial/Spring – 2. “Mary awakens on the third morning”
      • Act 2, Scene 6: Earthquake and Recognition – 1. “And, behold, there was a great earthquake”
      • Act 2, Scene 6: Earthquake and Recognition – 2. “Why seek ye the living among the dead?”
    • Felix Mendelssohn: Heilig, heilig ist Gott, der Herr Zebaoth, WoO 27 (Holy, holy is the Lord God of hosts)
    • J.S. Bach: Mass in B minor, BWV 232: Credo – 6. “Et resurrexit” (He rose)
    • Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov: Russian Easter Festival Overture, op. 36
    • Ralph Vaughan Williams: Five Mystical Songs – 5. “Antiphon”
    • Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 2 in C minor, “Resurrection” – 5e. “O glaube, mein Herz, o glaube” (O believe, my heart, O believe)

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