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“Lord, Is It I?”

TITLE:"Lord, Is It I?"
AUTHOR: Dean B. McIntyre, 1999
TUNE: PASSION CHORALE
COMPOSER: Hans Leo Hassler, 1601; harm. by J. S. Bach, 1729
SOURCE: Worship & Song, no. 3080
SCRIPTURE: Matthew 26:21-22; Mark 14:10-11; 14:22; Luke 22:48; John 13:11; 1 Corinthians 11:23; Revelation 5:11-14
TOPIC: affliction; Barabbas; betrayal; cross; death; denial; disgrace; Holy Week; Lamb of God; Passion; salvation; shame; strife; struggle; tribulation

Background

The well-known PASSION CHORALE setting, familiar from its marriage to a number of texts in many hymnals, including "O Sacred Head, Now Wounded," did not begin as a sacred tune. It dates from a medieval melody adapted in 1601 by Hans Leo Hassler for a love song titled "Confused Are All My Feelings, a Tender Maid's the Cause." PASSION CHORALE was first used as the setting for the text "O Sacred Head, Now Wounded" by Johann Crüger (1598-1662) in 1656. The harmonization used for "Lord, Is It I?" is adapted from J. S. Bach's setting in St. Matthew Passion, 1729.

Hymnal editor Carlton Young describes this practice of "setting a new sacred text to a popular secular melody for the purpose of reaching a wider audience" as the historical musical practice known as contrafactum. Other sources define the technique as simply "the substitution of one text for another without substantial change to the music." For a modern example of contrafactum, see "Cast Out, O Christ," Worship & Song no. 3072.

Hans Leo Hassler (1564-1612) studied with the great Italian Renaissance composer and organist Andrea Gabrieli (1532?-1585) and became friends with Gabrieli's nephew, Giovanni. After returning to Germany, Hassler became a successful and respected composer, organist, organ designer, and consultant to organ builders. In 1602 Hassler became the Kapellmeister (director of town music) in Nuremburg; and in 1606, he became the organist and Kapellmeister to the Elector Christian II of Saxony. Upon his death from tuberculosis in 1612, he was succeeded by Michael Praetorius and Heinrich Schütz.

"Lord, Is It I" was written for and first used at a Holy Week worship service at First United Methodist Church in Clovis, New Mexico. Its first publication in print is in Worship & Song (2011).

The hymn's author, Dean B. McIntyre, grew up in a Methodist pastor's family and began at an early age playing piano, organ, and leading choirs in a variety of denominations. After many years as a full-time United Methodist music director, he is currently the Director of Music Resources at The United Methodist Discipleship Ministries in Nashville. He is active in developing and promoting music resources for use in the United Methodist Church, as well as speaking and leading workshops on a variety of worship- and music-related topics. McIntyre served on the editorial committee of The Faith We Sing and chaired the General Conference Music and Worship Study (2004-2007). He was named co-editor (2007) of the United Methodist Hymnal Revision Project. He served on the editorial committee of Worship & Song, was editor of the Worship & Song Worship Resources Edition, and chaired the national introductory event. He is a composer, arranger, and author, major contributor to the Discipleship Ministries worship and music website, and moderator of the Methodist Musicians' Listserv and Ruach List. He has a bachelor's degree in organ performance, a master's degree in post-secondary music education, and a Ph.D. in Fine Arts. He is a member of ASCAP, the Charles Wesley Society, and a Life Member of The Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts. He is the compiler of A Reference Companion to The United Methodist Hymnal and The Faith We Sing and Hymns for the Revised Common Lectionary. His two great musical passions are arranging, accompanying, and leading congregational singing and playing the songs of George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, and others on the piano.

Music

The music is in AABC structure, the first two phrases in A-minor, the last two moving to a final cadence in C-major. The German chorale form maintains the strong polarity between soprano and bass voices. The frequent harmonic changes on almost every beat make it difficult to play this music on guitars without heavy simplification of the harmony:

|| C| F C | G C | Am E7 | Am | F C | G C | Am E7 | Am |

| G | F C | A Dm | A | D G | D G | F G7 | C ||

Words

The first half of all four stanzas asks a series of piercing questions related to the betrayal and crucifixion of Jesus. They are prompted by Jesus' words in Matthew 26:21-22 telling the disciples that one of them would betray him, and their response, "Lord, is it I?" The questions in stanzas 1-3 ask:

  • Who betrayed Jesus for profit?
  • Who betrayed Jesus with an embrace?
  • Who betrayed Jesus to suffer pain for us?
  • Who made the Crown of Thorns?
  • Who mocked and scorned Jesus at trial?
  • Who fled the city in fear?
  • Who denied Jesus?
  • Who chose Barabbas to go free?
  • Who scourged Jesus on the cross with the sword?

The second half of stanzas 1-3 echo the disciples' response to Jesus, "Lord, is it I?" and the central questions of conversion that each believer must confront, "Am I the one to blame? Did you have to die for me? Did you come here for my salvation?"

Note the shift that occurs in stanza four where the question, "Lord, is it I?" is replaced by the strong affirmation, perhaps a confession, perhaps a creed, "Lord, it is I! I am the one to blame. It is for me you chose to die." Finally, there is the acceptance of God's saving grace in the final statement, "It is for me you came." (Note: Some early printings of some editions of Worship & Song failed to make the shift in stanza four from question to affirmation. It is important to make this change.)

Sources

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