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Transfigure Us, O Lord...

posted Mar 19, 2011, 8:09 AM by Unknown user   [ updated Mar 19, 2011, 9:33 AM ]
Each year on the Second Sunday of Lent we hear the story of the Transfiguration, which has inspired both artists and composers.

Contemporary songs include one of conversion based on today’s Gospel from Matthew 17; Bob Hurd’s Transfigure Us, O Lord.  Last week I mentioned In These Days of Lenten Journey by Fr. Ricky Manalo, CSP, who also composed Transfiguration with a text by Brian Wren.  Sufjan Stevens, who lives right here in Kensington and is considered part of the folk revival in indie pop, released an album in 2004 inspired by Biblical themes called “Seven Swans” with The Transfiguration as its final track. 

More traditionally, David Hass and Sylvia Dunstan set Song of the Transfiguration to the hymn tune PICARDY, a French carol you know as Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent.  Thomas H. Troeger’s 1985 text for Swiftly Pass the Clouds of Glory asks to “transfigure our perception with the purest light that shines.”  But the oldest piece of music could be the 15th century English hymn O Wondrous Sight, O Vision Fair describing the astonishment and majesty of this event, as well as its implications. 

The grandest and best known classical composition is La Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ by Olivier Messiaen. He was a French Catholic composer, organist and avid ornithologist.  Believing birds to be the greatest musicians, he integrated transcriptions of birdsong into most of his music, as well as complex rhythms from ancient Greek and Hindu sources.  Composed between 1965 and 1969, this 90-minute meditation in 14 movements requires 200 performers; including a 100-voice 10-part choir, 7 solo instruments and a very large orchestra!

And remember, since Lent is a penitential period, it is customary to suspend the ringing of any bells.  So please, turn off your cell phones!