One could teach a whole semester-long course on musical settings of just one text, such as the Lord’s Prayer, and not run out of material. Indeed, one could probably do that for just one language or just one religious tradition and not run out of material, when it comes to a biblical text that has been set to music as often as the “Our Father” has. And if one includes allusions and references, the number increases exponentially once again. For instance, most recently (although presumably not for long), Sara Bareilles makes reference to the Lord’s Prayer in her song “A Safe Place to Land”).
But other texts have been set to music far less frequently, and in some ways that makes the result stand out all the more. One example is the beatitudes from Matthew’s “Sermon on the Mount.” (To my knowledge, the version in Luke, with accompanying woes, doesn’t get even as much musical attention as that relatively neglected text – in fact, has anyone ever set it to music?).
Here is a setting of the beatitudes that I became aware of not long ago, by Vladimir Martynov:
And for your additional musical enjoyment, as I think it highlights the majestically simple beauty of this music, here is an adaptation of Martynov’s piece for solo piano:
Of related interest, see also Bob MacDonald’s post about his work on turning the cantilation marks in the Hebrew Bible into musical settings of that entire corpus. Don’t miss too his appeal to hymn-writers, with an allusive mention of his own work on an oratorio. Also of somewhat related interest, here is a link to a review of my friend and colleague Frank Felice’s “Liturgy of the Hours” that was just drawn to my attention. And finally, let me also share Carol Christ’s post about the Byzantine composer Kassiani here.
What are your favorite examples of biblical texts being set to music? And what are your favorite examples of musical pieces with words drawn from one or more biblical texts that are set to music infrequently?