Hail to the Lord’s Anointed. James Montgomery (1771–1854) found in Psalm 72, a messianic hymn, a message of hope for the downtrodden and oppressed. He edited a radical paper; in the fears that swept England after the French Revolution he was twice jailed because of his advocacy of social justice. He was an advocate for the end of the slave trade and of the exploitation of child chimney sweeps. During his time in jail he wrote poetry, including probably this hymn. It was first sung on Christmas Day, 1821, at a Moravian gathering.
Rejoice in the Lord alway appears without attribution in the Mulliner book, an important source for English organ music compiled in 1570. This anthem is a setting of today’s Introit. A sense of joy is conveyed at the start of the piece as each voice enters on the same energetic motif at separate times. This technique with the voices imitating each other is used to introduce most of the phrases of text throughout the piece, a common practice in the high Renaissance style. In contrast, the middle section “Let your softness be known” is declaimed by all voices at the same time with simpler rhythms, depicting the mercy or meekness required of believers in preparation for the Lord’s coming.
Rejoice, Rejoice Believers by Laurentius Laurenti (1660–1722). Stanzas one and two recount the Gospel of the parable of the Ten Virgins. Scripture gives us no assurance of progress. Some will have lost their anointing. Toward the end faith will weaken and the Antichrist will rule: “the evening is advancing, and darker night is near.” It is at midnight, when all seems lost in blackest darkness, that the watchmen “proclaim the Bridegroom near.” We are called to keep our lamps ready with the anointing of the Holy Spirit so that we may enter “the marriage-feast.” On that great “day of earth’s redemption” Jesus shall shine as the sun (Malachi 4:2) and all darkness will vanish. It will be, in Tolkien’s word, the “eucatastrophe,” the sudden and unexpected turn of events when all seems lost, but salvation comes like the sun appearing in full glory.
Confortamini by Orlando di Lasso (1530-1594). Along with Palestrina, Victoria, and Byrd, Lasso was one of the giants of the high Renaissance. Like many Franco-Flemish musicians, he moved to Italy and mastered his art in Venice. He then spent many years in Munich composing sacred and secular music in many styles (French chansons, German lieder, Italian madrigals); his output was remarkably prolific. What makes his music fascinating is the use of daring chromatic harmonies far more advanced than those found in Palestrina, Victoria, or Byrd; these harmonies pick out strands of Italian musical practice that will develop into the Baroque style in the generations after his death. In this motet, for example, listen to the harmonies on “et jam nolite timere,” where the shift between chords derived from G major and G minor darken the sound in a rather unsettling way. The music resolves into more safe territory by the end, and ultimately we look forward to the Last Day and the Judgment with hope rather than fear, because God will come with the vengeance which restores justice and vindicates His elect.
Rejoice the Lord is King by Charles Wesley (1707–1788). At this time of year we look back to Jesus’ first advent and forward to His final advent at the end of time. Because we know that Jesus is King and holds the keys of death and hell (Revelation 1:18), even in difficulties and persecution we, like Paul in prison, can always rejoice. The refrain–“Lift up your hearts, lift up your voice. Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!”–is a combination of two elements: the sursum corda (“Lift up your hearts”) and the joyful exclamation