Since tomorrow is the Feast of the Presentation, Holst’s “Nunc Dimittis” is an appropriate selection for Music Monday, here with Caravaggio’s powerful depiction of “The Presentation” as the backdrop .
“Nunc Dimittis” is the Latin name for the prayer the old man Simeon says when he picks up the Christ Child in the temple. It has been a part of Compline, the liturgical Night Prayer of the Church, for many centuries.
You may or may not be familiar with the early twentieth century composer Gustav Holst, but you are almost certainly familiar with at least one of his musical compositions, at least if you’re in the habit of darkening a church door from time to time. The popular hymn “O God Beyond All Praising” is set to music that was originally part of Holst’s secular composition The Planets. His “Nunc Dimittis”, on the other hand, was always intended to be sacred music. He wrote this choral piece, heavily influenced by sixteenth century masters of polyphony William Byrd and Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, specifically as an accompaniment to the “Nunc Dimittis”.
Holst’s piece was first performed on Easter Sunday, 1915. The second public performance was sixty years later, on June 11th, 1976, more than 40 years after the composer’s death. Whatever strange fortune led to its burial and resurrection, we should say a prayer of thanks that this beautiful and moving musical prayer is with us today. The Sixteen, conducted by Harry Christophers, performs the piece below.
. . . and read my post on the Feast of the Presentation: The Presentation, The Nativity, and The Passion of Our Lord
Nunc dimittis servum tuum, Domine, secundum verbum tuum in pace:
Quia viderunt oculi mei salutare tuum
Quod parasti ante faciem omnium populorum:
Lumen ad revelationem gentium, et gloriam plebis tuae Israel.
Now, Lord, you let your servant go in peace:
Your word has been fulfilled.
My own eyes have seen the salvation
Which you have prepared in the sight of every people:
A light to reveal you to the nations
And the glory of your people Israel.