Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Music for Lammastide

The name Lammas Day comes from the Anglo-Saxon hlaf-mas, meaning "loaf-mass". It is a Christian holiday celebrated on August 1st in the Northern Hemisphere, and February 1st in the Southern Hemisphere, also known as Loaf Mass day due to the tradition of making a loaf from the first wheat harvest and bringing it to the church to bless of the "first fruits" of the harvest. A similar religious offering of the first agricultural produce of the harvest was present in classical Greek, Roman and Hebrew religions. In Judaism it corresponds with the Hebrew Festival of Unleavened Bread in April when a sheaf from the barley harvest was offered, followed by the Festival of Weeks in May when the first wheat harvest was offered up; both as an act of thankfulness for bringing the Israelites into the Promised Land. (Deuteronomy 16; 10-16).

In the Bible, Jesus' resurrection was referred to as "First Fruits" in Corinthians 1:-
"But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep."
In the Middle Ages the idea of offering the first fruits was adapted by the Christian church. This was called a tithe and was basically a tax to support the local clergy and church demesne. In England, every tenth egg, sheaf of wheat, lamb, chicken, and all other animals were given to the church as a tithe, farm products were expected to be donated throughout the year and not only on Lammas Day.

Photo by James Coleman on Unsplash

Over the years Lammas has acquired a whole host of customs, the most famous has little to do with Christianity. It was thought that a harvest goddess dwelt in the crop and that as it was reaped she was forced to retreat into the last strands of the crop. Because of this the last sheaf would often be fashioned into a Corn Dolly to represent this goddess. Over the years Christian symbols such as crosses and bells were made to sit alongside the Dollies and for many the corn dolly is now associated entirely with Christian Harvest celebrations.

Bread is such a fundamental part of our lives and the Christian faith.

It was bread Jesus took first in the Upper Room on the night of his arrest, a loaf shared among his friends as an expression of everything he was going to be to them and said "Take, eat. This bread is my body, given for you." As Christians we believe we who are many are one body, for we all share in the same bread.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus began to talk of his body as bread for the world when visiting the synagogue at Capernaum, standing up and declaring that he was the bread of life. Jesus was indicating a new kind of life, sealed by the giving of his life. Where life was lost there death itself would be defeated.

Music for Lammastide

It's not difficult to think of a motet or anthem relating to the "Bread of Life". The one most of us are extremely familiar with is "Panis Angelicus", whether it is the SATB version or the solo treble version many have sung for their ABRSM grade 5! A favourite of mine however is Esquivel's "Ego Sun Panis Vivus". ‘I am the bread of life who came down from heaven, whoever eats this bread shall live for ever….’

First published in 1977 in the Chester Book of Motets, a copy may be downloaded here

Composer Juan (de) Esquivel Barahona (c.1560 – after 1625) was the most prominent of the last generation of Spanish church composers of the Renaissance era. He never served in one of the major Spanish cathedrals but his music was known throughout Spain during the early seventeenth century.

Born in Cuidad Rodrigo, an ancient cathedral city near Salamanca, Esquivel was a choirboy in the cathedral there in 1568 and according to the choir chaplain was a student of composer Juan Navarro of Seville who also taught Victoria. Esquivel composed only sacred music, of which only three publications survive, printed in Salamanca during the early seventeenth century. Similar to his contemporaries in England at the time he had to comply with the prevailing religious opinion of the day. He began his career during a time when Spanish churches were adopting the Roman liturgy as prescribed by the Council of Trent, his music shows an attempt to reconcile Spanish polyphonic traditions of the sixteenth century with preferences for clarity of text in short musical compositions.

Cuidad Rodrigo Cathedral
"Ego Sum Panis Vivus" was chosen as an anthem for Lammas Day by Radio 3 ten years ago, broadcast live from Eton College and sung by those who had completed an Eton Choral Course, directed by Ralph Allwood. Run by the Rodolfus Foundation these courses are a wonderful opportunity for teenage and young adult choristers and they raised their profile during lockdown by recording a virtual evensong - which I loved being part of!

No comments:

Post a comment