Music of the Month: When Morning Dawns: Nine Preludes for Advent and Christmas

David Maxwell has crafted nine extensive organ settings for Advent and Christmas in this collection. Maxwell uses a variety of styles ranging from introspective (W ZLOBIE LEZY) to strong and majestic (CONSOLATION). The collection also includes a joyful toccata of ANTIOCH and a lively swung setting of GO TELL IT. These settings will be enjoyable for all levels.
The Versatility inside When Morning Dawns

Organists using Lutheran Service Book should find Maxwell’s collection of nine preludes extremely useful during Advent and Christmas. Many of the tunes in the book are connected to multiple hymn texts:

  1. The tune CONSOLATION is set to two Advent hymns: “What Hope! An Eden Prophesied” (LSB 342) and “The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns” (LSB 348).
  2. The tune ES IST EIN ROS is set to two Christmas hymns: “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” (LSB 359) and “A Great and Mighty Wonder” (LSB 383).
  3. The tune NUN KOMM, DER HEIDEN HEILAND is set to two Advent hymns: “Savior of the Nations, Come” (LSB 332) and “Let the Earth Now Praise the Lord” (LSB 352).
  4. The tune ST. THOMAS is set to the Advent hymn “The Advent of Our King” (LSB 331) and two more hymns: “I Love Your Kingdom, Lord” (LSB 651) and “O Bless the Lord, My Soul” (LSB 814).

Sample: “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly” (W ZLOBIE LEZY)

The hymn “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly” is a Polish Christmas carol based on the nativity story from Luke 2. The carol is only two stanzas; the first stanza begins with the scene at the manger: Jesus, the infant holy and lowly, laid in a cattle stall. Around him were oxen lowing, blissfully unaware that the Lord of all lay in the manger.

The scene then turns to the Bethlehem countryside: angels singing “Gloria in excelsis deo” to shepherds who were keeping their flocks through the night, bringing the good news of the Gospel that Christ the child was born to free the world from sorrow, sin, and death.

The tune of the carol is gentle, memorable, and easy to learn by heart. The first melodic phrase is sung twice, and the second phrase moves upward in groups of descending stepwise tones, giving the melody momentum and gravity while remaining quite singable. And then, the final short phrase is repeated in succession at the end of the carol.

Maxwell’s setting embraces the tune’s tranquil character. The harmonies and passages before, in between, and after the statement of the melody paint the picture the text of the hymn portrays: a lullaby (sung even by the “oxen lowing”) at the cradle of Christ and a gradual unfolding into the songs of the angels across the skies above.

The prelude is extensive, and it ends as gently as it begins. The entire prelude would be appropriate as a piece of preservice music for a candlelight service on Christmas Eve or even at Christmas Dawn. It would also be appropriate as an extended piece of music during Holy Communion, perhaps after the congregation or choir sings the carol. That would give the congregation time to reflect on the short but poignant text it just sang.

Sample: “Joy to the World” (ANTIOCH)

The beloved Christmas hymn “Joy to the World” is based on Psalm 98, the appointed Psalm for Christmas Dawn in the Church’s lectionary. This hymn is a staple in nearly every congregation during Christmastide.

Maxwell’s setting of ANTIOCH, compared to his setting of W ZLOBIE LEZY, encapsulates the great variety and usefulness of this compilation of preludes. Whereas the setting of “Infant Holy” is methodical and meditative, the setting of “Joy to the World” is energetic and bombastic.

The setting of “Joy to the World” can be categorized into three sections: a pair of opening flourishes in the hymn’s regular 2/4 meter and a concluding toccata in 6/8 meter. This setting would be appropriate throughout the Christmas season as a postlude or perhaps as a festive introductory prelude to Christmas Day.

“Joy to the World” is also one of those tunes that would be appropriate to play in an organ setting, even if the congregation isn’t singing the hymn at that particular service. Maxwell’s setting is sure to be a momentous and memorable addition to the organist’s Christmas repertoire this year.

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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. Nathan is the fifth- and sixth-grade teacher and assistant kantor at Our Savior Lutheran School in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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