Friday, April 18, 2014

Good Friday: Johnny Cash Asks Us "Were You There?"

Some of my favorite hymns and a motet for the day.

Were You There When They Crucified My Lord
Johnny Cash  
The show-closer from the Sept. 6, 1969, episode of The Johnny Cash Show, with Johnny, the Carter Family (featuring Anita Carter) and the whole ensemble bring down the house. Johnny sings the all-important lowest "F" in "trem-blllle."

Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross
Eddy Arnold
Not talked about much in this century, but he had quite a following in the middle of the last.

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
Choir of Kings College, Cambridge
Isaac Watts' wonderful hymn sung to the lovely tune Rockingham. Nobody sings a descant like the boys at Kings.

O Vos Omnes

"O vos omnes qui transitis per viam, attendite et videte:
Si est dolor similis sicut dolor meus."

"O all you who walk by on the road, pay attention and see:
If there be any sorrow like my sorrow."

The great cry of hurt written by the prophet Jeremiah mourning the destruction of the First and Second Temples, traditionally recited on Tisha B’Av, was co-opted by the first-rate Catholic composers of the 16th as motets for the Tenebrae Service of Good Friday or Holy Saturday, turning the POV to Christ on the cross.

You know what they say, if you’re going to steal, steal from the best. Pain for a devastating loss is the same, no matter who you are. The composers may have lifted the text, but they did make it completely their own with the most sublime composing saved for this holy day.

Gesualdo was a prince of Venosa known for murdering his wife, her lover, possibly his son and father-in-law. He also wrote in a chromatic musical language 300 years before its time, it wouldn’t be heard again until the late 19th century. Completely astounding. Two telling comments from YouTube: “insanely stunning music by a stunningly insane man” and “really disturbing... that's Gesualdo. Perfection itself.”