Bach Vespers for the Reformation 500 Anniversary

It's Still All About Jesus

First Lutheran’s acclaimed Bach Vespers series continues on Saturday, October 28 with the centerpiece of the series: a Vespers service commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. When Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Schloßkirche on October 31, 1517, he began a movement to reclaim the centrality of the Gospel of Jesus Christ within the life of the Church—a movement that continues 500 years later. The Bach Vespers series celebrates that movement and that Gospel: that our sins are redeemed by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of the merit of Christ alone, as confessed in Scripture alone—to God alone be the glory! It truly is still all about Jesus.

On Saturday, October 28 at 5:00pm, the FLC Choir and Baroque Orchestra will present Vespers with Johann Sebastian Bach’s monumental chorale cantata Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott, BWV 80, based on what has become the most iconic hymn of the Reformation. The text and tune, both by Luther himself, describe how, even though the evils of the world overtake us, the Gospel triumphs and Christ reigns supreme. Bach’s music, lavishly orchestrated, vividly paints these truths. The Magnificat setting will be Heinrich Schütz’s opulent Uppsala Magnificat. In addition, the choir will present two motets on the text of Luther’s motto, Psalm 118:17: one by Luther himself, and one by his friend Ludwig Senfl. The Reverend Ingo Dutzmann, Pastor of First Lutheran, will preach and preside.

The Vespers service will be preceded by a prelude recital at 4:30, played by organist Andrew Sheranian of All Saints Church in Ashmont. Following the service, we’ll all gather in the courtyard for a dessert and coffee reception. If you’d like to contribute a dessert, contact Jonathan at music [at] flc-boston [dot] org.

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Trinity Season and the Michaelmas Skip

At The First Lutheran Church of Boston, we have been using the historic one-year lectionary since Advent 2016. One feature of this lectionary is the numbering of the ordinal Sundays (also known as the non-festival portion of the church year, more informally known as the “green season”) from Trinity Sunday rather than from Pentecost, as the three-year lectionary does. Another feature of this lectionary is the grouping of the Trinity season into four parts:1

  • Trinity Tide, the first six weeks of the season. These days unpack the mysteries of the nature of God and of His relationship with the Church.
  • St. John’s Tide, beginning around the feast of St. John the Baptist on June 24. The lessons in this lengthy part of the year concern sanctification and daily repentance, and include several of Jesus’ parables. Though our good works are not meritorious, there is nevertheless considerable benefit to be found in continually examining the importance of good works in our vocations.
  • Angels’ Tide, beginning around the feast of St. Michael and All Angels (also called “Michaelmas”) on September 29. This part of the year focuses on how God defends His Church against Satan through the pure proclamation of the Gospel. Reformation Day and All Saints’ Day, both of which occur during this period, marry nicely with this theme.
  • The Last Sundays, the last three Sundays of the church year—these days focus on the second coming of Christ, how we are to receive Him, and appeals to “keep watch.” They also feed smoothly into the season of Advent, which very much reflects these themes.

If you pay very close attention on a weekly basis, you’ll notice that the lessons for a given day in the summer don’t always line up with the propers as given for that day in the one-year lectionary in Lutheran Service Book. This is because the variable date of Easter stretches or shortens the length of the Trinity season by a different number of weeks every year, and so some of the “green” Sundays must be skipped.

But which Sundays are to be skipped? There are several options. Lutheran Service Book skips only at the end, straight to Trinity 27 (the last Sunday of the church year). Lutheran Worship’s one-year lectionary skips to Trinity 25, grouping the last three Sundays of the church year together as a sort of “season of the end times,” a scheme also followed by the pre-Reformation medieval church. Luther’s own lectionary of 1526 closes with an expanded five-Sunday “end times” season. And, of course, the three-year lectionary does it yet another way, skipping immediately after Trinity Sunday. (In fact, the three-year lectionary also features a slightly different division of the “green season,” grouping the Sundays into Trinity Tide, Apostles’ Tide, Martyrs’ Tide, and Angels’ Tide.)

One custom, apparently derived from the Anglican tradition (which cross-pollinated with the Lutheran tradition in the 16th and 17th centuries thanks to Martin Bucer, and again in the late 19th century once American Lutherans began celebrating the liturgy in English), is the so-called “Michaelmas skip:” starting on the Sunday nearest September 29, skip directly to Trinity 19. This practice keeps together the entirety of Angels’ Tide and allows the Church to explore its valuable theme year after year, a theme which leads nicely into the eschatological focus of the last few Sundays of the church year.

Such diversity in lectionary practice represents a working-out of the freedom of the Gospel. All the methods have their own advantages, and each individual locale is free to decide which option to use. In order to maintain the integrity of the lessons in Angels’ Tide, FLC employs the Michaelmas skip, which in 2017 necessitates skipping three weeks of propers: so Trinity 15 uses the propers for Trinity 15, Trinity 16 uses the propers for Trinity 19; Trinity 17 uses the propers for Trinity 20, and so forth. The Sundays are still numbered ordinally: the day in 2017 we observe as Trinity 16 (using Trinity 19 propers) indeed marks the sixteenth week since Trinity Sunday and not the nineteenth, after all. Admittedly, this practice is confusing, yet it is also accurate. All this information is offered with the hope that it enriches your appreciation of the “green season” and the way in which the Church structures its yearly celebration of its life in Christ.

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Renowned organist Bernhard Klapprott plays at FLC

German organist, harpsichordist, and clavichordist Bernhard Klapprott will perform an organ recital at The First Lutheran Church of Boston. Klapprott specializes in music from the eighteenth century and before, and has a particular affinity for performance on the clavichord, a very quiet eighteenth-century keyboard instrument rarely heard in today’s world of constant noise.

Klapprott’s recital at FLC on Sunday, October 1 at 3:00pm will feature the following music of Johann Sebastian Bach, CPE Bach, Dieterich Buxtehude, Johann Pachelbel, and Johann Peter Kellner:

  • Bach: Prelude and Fugue in A Major, BWV 536
  • Buxtehude: Passacaglia in d, BuxWV 161
  • Bach: Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten, BWV 691, 690, 642
  • Pachelbel: Ciacona in d
  • Pachelbel: Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott
  • Bach: Passacaglia, BWV 582
  • CPE Bach: Sonata in F Major, Wq 70,3/H 84
  • Kellner: Trio in G Major
  • Bach: Prelude and Fugue in G Major, BWV 541

Admission is free, and the recital is sponsored by The First Lutheran Church of Boston and the Boston chapter of the American Guild of Organists.

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2017 Labor Day Concert with First Boston Performance

Kevin Birch, organistThe First Lutheran Church of Boston is pleased to host its annual Labor Day Concert on Monday, September 4 at 7pm, this year featuring a special Reformation-themed organ recital by Kevin Birch of St. John’s Catholic Church in Bangor, Maine. In addition to music by J.S. Bach and Georg Böhm, Kevin’s program will offer the first Boston performance of a suite based on Reformation-era chorales by acclaimed Boston-based composer James Woodman. First Lutheran is especially excited to feature such an important new work, especially pertinent in the year of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Admission to the Labor Day Concert is $10, and the concert will be followed by the traditional Root Beer Float Reception held in FLC’s courtyard.

Kevin is the founder of the St. John’s Organ Society, which promotes the beautiful and historically significant E. & G. G. Hook organ, op. 288 (1860). He also is a member of the music faculty at the University of Maine’s School of the Performing Arts in Orono and serves on the Liturgical Commission for the Diocese of Portland. He has performed organ recitals in the United States, Canada, Europe, Scandinavia and South America and is especially devoted to the many fine historic organs in Maine. Recent highlights include recitals and lectures at organ festivals in Germany (Berlin and Potsdam) and programs for several national conventions of the Organ Historical Society.

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Two Vespers services for BEMF week

The First Lutheran Church of Boston will hold two choral Vespers services during the week of the 2017 Boston Early Music Festival.

The first of these services will be the next installment in FLC’s Bach Vespers series. Our Bach Vespers for Trinity Sunday will take place Sunday, June 11 at 5pm with a 4:30pm prelude recital played by Thomas Sheehan of the Harvard Memorial Church. Music rendered by the FLC Choir and Baroque Orchestra will include Johann Sebastian Bach’s festive cantata for Trinity Sunday, Gelobet sei der Herr, BWV 129, a large concerted Magnificat by Samuel Scheidt, and Jacob Handl’s Trinitarian motet Benedicta sit sancta creatrix. The Reverend Adam DeGroot, most recently of Philadelphia Lutheran Ministries, will preach on the historic lessons for Trinity Sunday, which include the famous discourse between Jesus and Nicodemus concerning the Sacrament of Baptism in John 3.

The second service, on Friday, June 16 at 5pm will feature the return of Canto Armonico, directed by Ulf Wellner. Canto Armonico will present a celebratory Vespers service for the Reformation Jubilee of 1617 as it might have been celebrated that year in Dresden. Several Psalms, motets, and chorales by Heinrich Schütz and Michael Praetorius will adorn the service, and the Reverend James Hopkins of the Lutheran Church of the Way in Raynham, MA will preach.

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BEMF 2017 at FLC

As in past years, The First Lutheran Church of Boston will host several events of the 2017 Boston Early Music Festival. See the schedule below:

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Boston Bach Birthday 332 on March 18, 2017

2017 Boston Bach Birthday flyer

Boston Bach Birthday 2017 flyer
(click to enlarge)

The First Lutheran Church will host the ninth annual Boston Bach Birthday on Saturday, March 18. In 2017, this hotly anticipated event celebrates not only the 332nd birthday of Johann Sebastian Bach, but also the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. As always, all musical events are free and open to the public (balcony seating available for $20 at the door), and concertgoers may come and go as they please. An authentic German lunch will be served at noon in the FLC undercroft (tickets are available for $15 here at Eventbrite).

Each year the Boston Bach Birthday prominently features First Lutheran Church’s brilliant Richards, Fowkes & Co. opus 10 pipe organ. Five of the day’s programs comprise performances on the organ. This year’s organists include John Robinson, Brink Bush, Jonathan Wessler, Jennifer Hsaio, Laura Gullett, Khristian Erich Bauer-Rowe, and Christopher Holman, who presides over the Hildebrandt-style Bach organ at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Houston. Instrumental and vocal performances will feature harpsichordist Bálint Karosi and Bach researcher Christoph Wolff in a combination recital/dialogue; violinist Kate Arndt, flautist Gergely Ittzés, and baritone Ethan Sagin.

The children’s event at 10:00am will be a dramatic reading of Casey At the Bat, with creative organ accompaniment culminating in a rousing sing-along of Take Me Out To the Ballgame. As usual, children will be invited to come to the organ loft to see the organ up close.

The day will end with the next service in First Lutheran Church’s Bach Vespers series, modeled after those Bach might have held in the 1730s. The Reverend James Hopkins of the Lutheran Church of the Way in Raynham will officiate and preach on the lessons for Oculi (the third Sunday in Lent). Alto Carolyn Balkovetz and a period orchestra will perform Bach’s cantata for Oculi, Widerstehe doch der Sünde, BWV 54. The Choir of The First Lutheran Church will additionally sing a Psalm motet by Andreas Hammerschmidt and a stunning string-accompanied Magnificat by Heinrich Schütz, and the congregation will join in singing the classic confessional Lutheran chorales From Depths of Woe I Cry To Thee and May God Bestow On Us His Grace. (Due to space restrictions, balcony seating is unavailable for Vespers.)

Click here to view the complete listing of music played during the Boston Bach Birthday 332.

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The Epiphany of Our Lord

Please join First Lutheran Church for a Divine Service in celebration of the Epiphany of Our Lord this Friday, January 6, at 7:00pm, held in conjunction with the other churches in the circuit. Though often neglected as it falls just as “the holidays” come to a close in the kingdom of the left, Epiphany is nevertheless a theologically rich feast with a substantial historic pedigree in both the Eastern and Western Churches, and has pride of place as one of the five principal feasts of the church (along with Christmas, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost). The lessons for the day focus on the manifestation of Christ, Who comes as the light of the world. The choir will adorn the liturgy with music that reflects this theme, including chanted propers and two musically and theologically astounding motets—Tribus miraculis by Luca Marenzio and Ab Oriente venerunt by Jakob Handl. Congregational chorales will include modern favorites (Songs of Thankfulness and Praise, As With Gladness Men of Old) as well as traditional Lutheran chorales, culminating in Philipp Nicolai’s magnificent “Queen of Chorales,” O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright.

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Caroling in the Courtyard

Please join the FLC congregation for our annual Caroling in the Courtyard on Sunday, December 11 after the 11:00am Divine Service. As usual there will be cookies, cocoa in cups, Christmas carols, (not too much) cold (we hope), courtyard, cards (with Christmas service times to hand drivers- and walkers-by), and probably a few other things beginning with C as well. A wonderful opportunity for outreach!

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Advent 1 Bach Vespers recordings

Many thanks to all who came to the Bach Vespers for the First Sunday in Advent 2016! Over 100 people came to hear the Gospel proclaimed in word and music. If you didn’t make it, have a listen to the recordings from the evening:

Prelude recital (Bálint Karosi, organist)
Music of Johann Sebastian Bach

Prelude and Fugue in A minor, BWV 551:

Advent chorale preludes from the Orgel-Büchlein:

Fughetta super Gottes Sohn ist kommen, BWV 703:

Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland a 2 Clav. e Pedale, BWV 659:

Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland a due Bassi e canto fermo, BWV 660:

Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland in Organo Pleno, Canto fermo in Pedale, BWV 661:

Fughetta super Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, BWV 699:

Herzlich lieb hab’ ich dich, O Herr, BWV 1115:

Nun danket alle Gott a 2 Clav. e Pedale, canto fermo in Soprano, BWV 657:

Vespers service
Hymn: Savior of the Nations, Come (Bálint Karosi, organ):

Andreas Hammerschmidt: Machet die Tore weit:

Hans Leo Hassler: Canite tuba in Sion:

Johann Sebastian Bach: Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, BWV 61:

Dieterich Buxtehude: Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, BuxWV 211:

Heinrich Schütz: Magnificat octavi toni:

Hymn: Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates:

Fugue in G minor, BWV 578:

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