Music of the Month: That Easter Day with Joy Was Bright

A classic Easter text is given a substantive, dramatic setting by Benjamin M. Culli. This English cathedral–style anthem features a memorable tune accompanied by dramatic and thrilling organ writing. Utilizing the full dynamic ranges of both the choir and the organ, this majestic piece is perfect for Easter Sunday and throughout Eastertide. An optional trumpet part is available separately for download.

The Text

This ancient Easter hymn is dated to the fifth century, and although it is not certain, some speculate it was written by St. Ambrose (339–397). It was translated into English by the prolific translator John Mason Neale (1818–1866) and appears in many hymnals accompanied by the tune PUER NOBIS.

Although this hymn is not in Lutheran Service Book, it has appeared in past Lutheran hymnals, including Lutheran Worship and Lutheran Book of Worship (both with the tune ERSCHIENEN IST DER HERRLICH TAG).

The Setting

Benjamin M. Culli’s new choral setting of “That Easter Day with Joy Was Bright” was commissioned by Grace Lutheran Church in Clarksville, Tennessee, to celebrate the twenty-two years of service by their cantor, Rocky T. Craft.

“When I was commissioned to write the piece, a number of Easter texts were suggested to me,” Culli said. “After composing the opening melodic phrases, I asked for input from the CPH music department as to which text would best match the newly composed material and might also be the most appealing and useful for choirs, choir directors, and the church at large. ‘That Easter Day’ was the winner.”

 

The setting contains two melodic sections in the ABA form.

“The A section is composed of two different melodies that carefully mix dramatic, large leaps with stepwise motion, along with a modest amount of chromaticism,” Culli said. “The B section is quieter, as it sets a middle stanza that is a prayer, though the B-section melody is a minor-key adaptation of the melody that opens the A section.”

A-Section Text

That Easter day with joy was bright:

The sun shone out with fairer light

When, to their longing eyes restored,

The apostles saw their risen Lord!

 

His risen flesh with radiance glowed;

His wounded hands and feet He showed;

Those scars their solemn witness gave

That Christ was risen from the grave.

 

O Lord of all, with us abide

In this our joyful Eastertide;

From ev’ry weapon death can wield

Your own redeemed forever shield.

 

All praise to You, O risen Lord,

Now both by heav’n and earth adored;

To God the Father equal praise,

And God the Spirit, now we raise!

B-Section Text

The B section features a more subdued melody written between the four choral parts in fugal form. This melodic interlude in between the two A sections brings out the character of the middle stanza:

O Jesus, King of gentleness,

With constant love our hearts possess

That we may give You all our days

The tribute of our grateful praise.

Culli said the commission was specifically for an English cathedral–style choral anthem, meaning both the choir and organ accompaniment have an integral role in the piece.

“In the English cathedral tradition, this piece truly is for choir and organ. When registered and performed well, the organ proves just as integral to the piece as the choir,” Culli said. “In fact, the bridge from the B section back to the A section is a ten-measure organ solo, featuring a huge crescendo and several dramatic chromatic modulations, including descending dominant 13th chords played with full registration.”

Culli said he heard the choir’s premiere performance of the commission on Facebook and was happy to hear that the singers relished the opportunity to premiere the setting. Church choirs should find this setting rewarding to learn and sing throughout Eastertide this year.


Order Culli’s setting for your church by clicking the button below. 

Order "That Easter Day with Joy Was Bright"

Picture of Nathan Grime
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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