Music of the Month: “Partita on Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord”

John Behnke has composed a three-part partita on the hymn tune KOMM, HEILIGER GEIST, HERRE GOTT, a Reformation-era tune that accompanies Martin Luther’s Pentecost hymn “Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord” (LSB 497). The partita contains three movements, one for each stanza of the hymn.

“The starting point for me is always the text,” Behnke said of composing partitas on hymn tunes. “I’m always trying to portray the text in music to the listener; I read the text and try to figure out how to communicate it.”

Behnke said the hymn “Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord” was a fitting choice for a partita since the three stanzas would be conducive to providing three varying movements on the hymn tune.

“In all my writing, I haven’t written many Pentecost arrangements, but I love Luther’s hymn,” Behnke said. “A partita is a wonderful form because it’s so varied and has so many options and possibilities to it.”

I. Aria

Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord,

With all Your graces now outpoured

On each believer’s mind and heart;

Your fervent love to them impart.

Lord, by the brightness of Your light

In holy faith Your Church unite;

From ev’ry land and ev’ry tongue

This to Your praise, O Lord, our God, be sung:

 Alleluia, alleluia!

The first movement is an aria featuring the melody in the right hand. The melody is accompanied by chords in the left hand to provide harmonic support.

“There’s a lot of organ music entitled Cantabile or Aria, which borrows from a vocal form,” Behnke said. “In this piece, the top line is singing; it’s outlining the melody. It’s supposed to be light, airy, and warm.”

Behnke said the registration used for the Aria could vary; he doesn’t include specific registration suggestions because of the wide variety of options organists have with their respective instruments, as well as the different interpretations of a setting organists may have.

II. Duet

Come, holy Light, guide divine,

Now cause the Word of life to shine.

Teach us to know our God aright

And call Him Father with delight.

From ev’ry error keep us free;

Let none but Christ our master be

That we in living faith abide,

In Him, our Lord, with all our might confide.

Alleluia, alleluia!

Behnke said the textual inspiration for the second movement, a duet, was the phrase “Teach us to know our God aright.”

“This led me to the idea of a dialogue between two voices: one voice leading and another voice responding or following,” Behnke said. “It’s like the way you learn a language: first it’s said and then you repeat it.”

Again, in lieu of specific registration suggestions, Behnke listed the dynamic markings for both voices as mezzo forte.

“If I had to be specific, I’d suggest two contrasting mezzo forte voices so that you can hear the difference of the tone qualities in both,” Behnke said.

III. Toccata

Come, holy Fire, comfort true,

Grant us the will Your work to do

And in Your service to abide;

Let trials turn us not aside.

Lord, by Your pow’r prepare each heart,

And to our weakness strength impart

That bravely here we may contend,

Through life and death to You, our Lord, ascend.

Alleluia, alleluia!

The final movement of the partita is a toccata with the melody featured in the pedal. Behnke said the invocation of the Spirit as the “holy Fire” in stanza three of the hymn provided the inspiration for a fiery toccata.

Behnke said the phrase “And to our weakness strength impart” also stood out to him in writing the concluding movement of the partita.

“That’s what the Spirit does; it moves us and provides us assurance and strength,” Behnke said. “[The toccata] needed to be powerful and have gravity.”

To Organists Using This Partita

Behnke suggested the partita could be used in the church service in its three parts as a prelude, voluntary, and postlude, or even in a Hymn Festival, playing a movement before singing its corresponding stanza.

“Organists work so hard choosing music and then practicing and playing it,” Behnke said. “When someone listens and when you’re able to communicate, that’s what we’re aiming for. When that happens, God is praised.”

Behnke also said he’s grateful for the organists who have purchased and played his music throughout the years.

“My hope is that if an organist picks up this partita and plays the toccata, that someone would come up to the organ and say they’ve felt the power of the Spirit,” Behnke said. “If that’s the case, I’ve communicated and the Gospel has been proclaimed.”

Hymn text: © 1941 Concordia Publishing House

 


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Written by

Nathan Grime

Nathan Grime is from Fort Wayne, Indiana. He is a 2020 graduate of Hillsdale College, where he studied rhetoric, public address, and journalism. Currently, Nathan is the organist and Kantor at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Hillsdale, Michigan.

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