Music of the Month: Hymn Tune Innovations: 5 Preludes for Lent

February 6, 2024 Nathan Grime

This collection of five preludes for Lent is another stunning addition to the Hymn Tune Innovations series. Benjamin M. Culli has composed five accessible preludes for use during the Lenten season. These preludes are appropriate for use from Ash Wednesday through Good Friday, showcasing familiar tunes and those that might be new to your congregation. 

“From Depths of Woe I Cry to Thee”

The hymn “From Depths of Woe I Cry to Thee” is Martin Luther’s catechism hymn on confession and absolution. It sets the tone for the Lenten season, as it is the appointed hymn of the day for Ash Wednesday. Paired with Luther’s own tune AUS TIEFER NOT, the words are a paraphrase of Psalm 130.

Culli’s setting is reserved and reflective—an appropriate mood to pair with the hymn’s text. The hymn takes the perspective of the sinner’s cry of repentance. The first two notes of the tune are a descending fifth. Culli features this interval in sequential fashion to begin the prelude.

The attention given to this interval is fitting in light of the words in stanza one: “Bend down thy gracious ear to me, / Lord hear my supplication.” The tone of the hymn, and Psalm 130, is that Christ stoops low to meet the contrite sinner in the depths of woe. As you sing this hymn—and perhaps even play or listen to this prelude on Ash Wednesday—keep in mind that what results from Christ’s condescension to your depths of corruption is His ascent to the hill of Calvary, His rising from the dead, and, ultimately, your own resurrection to glory.

“O Dearest Jesus, What Law Hast Thou Broken”

Culli’s setting of “O Dearest Jesus, What Law Hast Thou Broken” is similarly meditative. Set in 12/8 meter, the accompanying voices generate a continuous flowing characteristic as the melody, HERZLIEBSTER JESU, weaves in and out. This melody offers the organist the opportunity to feature an attractive solo sound in the tenor octave.

“Let Us Ever Walk with Jesus”

Culli’s setting of “Let Us Ever Walk with Jesus” (LASSET UNS MIT JESU ZIEHEN) contains his memorable ritornello theme; it was written as a line for French horn in his SATB concertato setting also published in 2023. While the hymn’s theme of following Christ to His death and resurrection are fitting for the Lenten season, organists should find occasion to feature this hymn and prelude throughout the Church Year.

“Ride On, Ride On in Majesty”

“Ride On, Ride On in Majesty” is a stately hymn for Palm Sunday. Culli’s prelude is based on the tune WINCHESTER NEW, the tune paired with the hymn in Lutheran Service Book. The setting in this volume is written in a jaunty 12/8, and organists will have the opportunity to feature a strong trumpet stop to solo out the melody.

“What Wondrous Love Is This”

The text and tune (WONDROUS LOVE) of the hymn “What Wondrous Love Is This” combine to create a ruminative and haunting pairing. The hymn comes from the Southern Harmony tradition, where the melody follows the five notes of the pentatonic scale.

Culli’s setting is a contrast of styles; the ritornello theme is written in 9/8, and the hymn tune is featured in 2/4. Organists will have the opportunity to employ contrasting flute and strings stops for these distinct portions of the prelude. Similar to “Let Us Ever Walk with Jesus,” this hymn touches on Lenten themes of contrition and atonement but should find broader use throughout the Church Year.

Try out these five different preludes in your services by clicking the button below.

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