This week, liturgical Christians begin our final countdown to the celebration of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection. The season of Lent that began with Ash Wednesday culminates in Holy Week and follows Jesus’ footsteps from His triumphal procession into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (this past Sunday) to the Triduum of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil, and finally, to the Feast of the Resurrection.
As churches around the world begin their observances of this most sacred time of the calendar, music will play a central role. Back in December, I wrote a list of recommended tracks for Christmas listening; in the same spirit, here are some suggestions for your Holy Week soundtrack. If you listen to the selections in order, you will find yourself musically traversing the mystery, anguish, and joy of Holy Week, and perhaps discovering some musical gems you might not have known before. (Feel free to comment with any of your favorites I left off!)
“Les Rameaux (The Palms)”
Song by Jean-Baptiste Faure (1830-1914), performed here by Enrico Caruso. “O’er all the way green palms and blossoms gay Are strewn this day in festive preparation, Where Jesus comes, to wipe our tears away, E’en now the throng to welcome Him prepare.”
“All Glory, Laud, and Honor”
Traditionally used in many churches to accompany the Palm Sunday procession. Sung here to perfection by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge.
“No Tramp of Soldiers’ Marching Feet”
With a twenty-first century text by Timothy Dudley Smith, this haunting hymn contrasts the humility of Jesus with that of an earthly king’s procession before it takes an ominous turn toward Good Friday: “What fading flow’rs His road adorn; The palms, how soon laid down! No bloom or leaf but only thorn The King of glory’s crown. The soldiers mock, the rabble cries, The streets with tumult ring, As Pilate to the mob replies, ‘Behold, behold your King!’”
Ancient text traditionally associated with Maundy Thursday. “Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.” Where charity and love are found, God is there.
Another ancient Maundy Thursday hymn, this one by Thomas Aquinas. The musical setting provided here is the St. Thomas Choir of Men and Boys singing an English translation.
A choral work by Samuel Barber pairing the liturgical text with the music of his “Adagio for Strings.”
Another text by St. Thomas Aquinas. Here the unmatchable Renee Fleming sings the famous setting by Franck.
“Lamb of God”
Contemporary Christian favorite by Twila Paris. This lovely version is performed by Eden’s Bridge.
“O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”
From an ancient text attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux. Hauntingly performed here by Fernando Ortega.
“There Is a Green Hill Far Away”
It is said that Cecil F. Alexander wrote the text to this song while tending to her daughter, who was very ill. Here, again, the Choir of King’s College.
“Out of the Deep”
Psalm 130 is particularly well suited to Good Friday. From John Rutter’s “Requiem.”
“Be Ye Glad”
The inimitable a cappella group Glad singing one of their own.
From the B-Minor Mass of J. S. Bach.
“First Song of Isaiah”
One of the Old Testament texts traditionally associated with the Easter Vigil.
“All You Works of God, Bless the Lord”
A hymn traditionally associated with the saving of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace.
The Easter Proclamation, sung after the procession of the Paschal candle and before the reading of the Word.
“Victimae Paschali Laudes”
“Christians to the Paschal Victim; Offer your thankful praises! The Lamb the sheep has ransomed: Christ, who only is sinless, Reconciling sinners to the Father.”
The Easter Gradual. “This is the day the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it!” (Psalm 118:24) Sung here by The King’s Singers.
“In Christ Alone”
A modern classic by the hymn-writing and musical team of Keith and Kristyn Getty.
“Christ the Lord is Risen Today”
The quintessential Easter hymn performed by—who else?—the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
And what Easter list would be complete without the Hallelujah Chorus? You are invited to stand and sing along. Happy Easter!