Gospel Women Playlist

Gospel Women Playlist July 17, 2020

I had the idea to create a playlist to accompany my book, What Jesus Learned From Women. Some of these individuals have been the focus of a lot of music, while others little or none at all. I think the mixed success that my efforts have met with says something about which stories resonate with composers as well as with worshipping communities. The ways that these women’s stories are turned into song also illustrates how their lives and stories are interpreted. It is interesting to take a close look at the intersection between my book project and my class on the Bible and music. I’m curious whether readers of this blog have experiences with other playlists created to accompany reading, and if so how it affected their experience. I’m also interested in suggestions of other music that might go here. And finally, if a playlist is indeed worth creating, where should it reside? What formats would make it most useful to you for listening purposes?

Here are some of the things I found:

Mary, the mother of Jesus has been the focus of a lot of music, especially if one includes the Ave Maria. In connection with my book, I’m more interested in the Magnificat, in which we supposedly hear Mary’s own voice rather than someone else talking about her. There have been countless settings, including by Kim Andre Arnesen, Arnold Bax, Alan Hovhaness, Ruth Watson Henderson, Arvo Pärt, John Rutter, Fredrik Sixten, Krzysztof Penderecki, Forrest Pierce, Michael Kurth, Damijan Mocnik, Sisask Urmas, Einojuhani Rautavaara, Goffredo Petrassi, and the list could go on, since even there I’m only scratching the surface of 20th and 21st century composers, who were obviously not the first to set this text, nor will they be the last. If we add those who set the Magnificat together with the Nunc Dimittis (typically for use in Anglican Evening Service) one immediately thinks of Charles Villiers Stanford (multiple times), E. J. Moeran, William Walton, George Dyson, John Ireland, Edmund Rubbra, William Mathias, Kenneth Leighton, Elisabeth Lutyens, Bernard Rose, and Michael Tippett. Latvian Baptist Ēriks Ešenvalds and the Orthodox John Tavener also come to mind as names of composers who’ve set these texts who are not associated with the Anglican Church. Naji Hakim is another name to mention, and these are just some of the choral settings. Many of these are on YouTube as are others. There are also songs based on the Magnificat that are not direct settings of the text from the Gospel of Luke, such as “Canticle of the Turning.” Someone I know said there ought to be a punk version of the Magnificat. Does anyone know of one? If not, anyone interested in writing one?

For Mary’s mother, Jesus’ grandmother, I wasn’t able to find much, but here is “St. Anne’s Lullaby” by Christian heavy metal group Becoming the Archetype:

The Samaritan Woman, aka the unnamed woman at the well, is the subject of a fair amount of music:

Jazeps Vitols, Jezus pie akas (Jesus by the Well)

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Evangelion Part II, “The Life”: No. 11. The Woman of Samaria

There are quite a number of songs about the woman with the vaginal bleeding, including a couple that are fairly well-known.

If one accepts the tradition that identifies her as Veronica, the woman who wiped Jesus’ face of blood with a cloth that then became a relic, then one can include a bit of the Passion of the Christ soundtrack on the playlist as well.

The story of Jairus’ daughter is intertwined with the previous one. There is a song about the incident from Jairus’ perspective, but in my book I’m focused on the women’s perspectives as well as what Jesus learned by listening to them.

Mary Magdalene appears in a number of musical works that tell the story of Jesus, including of course Jesus Christ, Superstar. One that is particularly striking is Peeter Vähi’s setting of the Coptic Gospel of Mary:

Peeter Vähi. Mary Magdalene Gospel

Here’s Arthur Bliss’ “Mary of Magdala”:

Antonín Tučapský’s piece “Marie Magdalene” is a setting of Boris Pasternak’s poem about her from Dr. Zhivago. For something a bit more traditional, here’s a 16th century setting with text right out of the New Testament:

Although not related to music, there are several books about ancient women that are now online courtesy of the effort to digitize the Brown Judaic Studies series. See also:

How Early Christianity was Mocked for Welcoming Women

What else should be part of a playlist to accompany my book?

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