Musical Meditation for the Third Sunday of Lent

As I reflected on Andrei Tarkovsky’s “The Sacrifice” last week, I was reminded of the wonderfully Lenten aria that serves as its musical backbone: Erbarme Dich, mein Gott from J.S. Bach’s Matthäus-Passion.

My recommendation? Don’t watch. Just listen.

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Erbarme dich, mein Gott,
Um meiner Zähren Willen !
Shaue hier, Herz und Auge
Weint vor dir bitterlich.
Erbarme dich, mein Gott !

Translation:
Have mercy, Lord,
for my tears’ sake!
Look at me,
my heart and eyes
weep to Thee bitterly.
Have mercy, Lord!

This particular aria is performed immediately after the account of Peter’s betrayal: “And Peter remembered the word of Jesus which he had said: Before the cock crow, thou wilt deny me thrice. And going forth, he wept bitterly.” Yet it is sung (somewhat surprisingly) by an alto. In his article “J.S. Bach’s St Matthew Passion as a Lenten Meditation,” Professor Don O. Franklin speculates that Bach’s unusual choice — alto rather than the tenor voice “traditionally associated with Peter” — “extends the guilt to another voice and, in the process, to the entire range of humankind.”

(A similar musical moment from Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev’s setting of Matthew’s Passion can be found here, performed by Alexei Tikhomirov — a bass.)

“Peter’s Betrayal,” by Carl Heinrich Bloch

About Joseph Susanka

Joseph has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since graduating from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. A grateful resident of Wyoming, he spends his free time exploring the beautiful Wind River Mountains, keeping track of his (currently) seven sons, being amazed by his (currently) lone daughter, and thanking his lucky stars for Netflix.

  • Maggie Goff

    I have to thank you. It is so cool finding out all of the background, and the “why’s” or supposed why’s of various choices. Your posts are just so interesting.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/summathissummathat/ Joseph Susanka

      My pleasure, Maggie. I love all the Lenten musical possibilities. There are so many wonderful, spiritually uplifting choices.


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