Music of the Month: Built on the Rock by Wayne L. Wold

October 10, 2023 Nathan Grime

Each movement of this five-movement partita, Built on the Rock: Partita on “Kirken den er et gammelt hus, can be used separately at various points in a worship service, or they can be used all together for a lengthier prelude or concert piece. Of medium difficulty, each movement was inspired by a particular phrase in the hymn text.

Introduction and Theme

Built on the Rock the Church shall stand

The partita begins with an assertive movement on the hymn tune. The Rock—the confession of Christ—upon which the Christian Church is built and stands is sturdy and unchanging. The tune KIRKEN DEN ER ET GAMMELT HUS is a unique and attractive one. It is robust from its first three notes outlining the C minor triad to its final phrase descending back down the minor scale.

The introduction sets the tone for a tune that, as this partita shows, can be expressed in a variety of ways. The movement begins with ascending patterns in the pedals and manuals, illustrating the first phrase of the hymn: “Built on the Rock the Church shall stand.”

 Elegy

Longing for rest everlasting

An elegy is a musical style characterized by its somber, sincere tone. Elegies are, in essence, songs that mourn death. In the first stanza of the hymn, the young, the old, and all souls distressed by sin are they who are “longing for rest everlasting.”

While the wages of sin is death for all, the grief at the death of a Christian is not an interminable mood of sorrow. As surely as Christ is risen from the dead, those who have died in Christ will also rise to new life and enjoy everlasting rest with Him in paradise. Thus, the alluring elegy in this partita is not the final word on the tune.

 Scherzo

We are God’s house of living stones

The scherzo is a musical form sometimes found in sonatas. It is characterized by a light-hearted, fast-paced, and syncopated style. The scherzo in this partita focuses on the first phrase in the hymn’s third stanza: “We are God’s house of living stones.”

The placement of this scherzo immediately after the elegy in this partita is fitting; it offers a stark contrast in styles. The off-beat accents and crunchy chords draw and delight the listener’s ear. One can hear the “living stones” dancing in this movement!

 Aria

Yet He who dwells in heaven above chooses to live with us in love

Aria means “song,” and it is a musical style found in oratorios and cantatas but also in instrumental works. In organ settings, arias contain lovely melodies that allow the organ to sing. This movement draws its inspiration from a line in the second stanza: “Yet He who dwells in heaven above chooses to live with us in love.”

In this aria, the organist’s feet get to sing! The melody of the hymn is featured in the pedal line, while the manuals offer rich accompaniment. This movement is set in the key of E-flat major, the relative major to the hymn’s native C minor. This key change provides a fresh reprieve in the context of the entire partita.

 Toccata and Epilogue

I know My own; My own know Me. … My peace I leave with you. Amen.

As decisively as the partita began, it concludes with a thrilling toccata and epilogue. Where the first movement of the partita opened with ascending patterns in the pedal line, this toccata begins with a descending line in the pedals. The pedal line often echoes the left hand with the melody throughout the movement.

The toccata is a musical style that features the organist’s technique (toccata stems from the Italian word for “touch”). This toccata features rapid sixteenth note patterns and large chords in the manuals. The partita concludes with a brief, quiet epilogue on the tune’s final phrase. This a fitting end, since the hymn concludes with the words “My peace I leave with you. Amen.”

 

Hymn text from Lutheran Service Book 645 © 2006 CPH. All rights reserved.

Play “Built on the Rock” at your church this season by ordering below. 

Order the Partita

 

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