Music and the Spoken Word

“Scene in the Form of a Prayer” - Sunday, October 1, 2017

Why is it that so much of life’s profound beauty has roots in heartache and sorrow? There seems to be something about human nature that causes us to reach the highest during our lowest points. We see it when tragedies and disasters strike and people come together to love and help each other in ways they’ve never done before. We see it in sublime art and music, which often enough is inspired by hardship and trial, even as it fills us with solace and joy.

A good example of this truth is a song by Charles Gounod, one of the most prolific composers in 19th-century France. His sacred compositions were confessions of faith and devotion to the Lord. One historian observed, “He could as readily write a sermon as an opera.”

When Gounod was semiretired, enjoying the fruit of his labor, his five-year-old grandson died. This tragedy filled Gounod with such grief that he turned once again to writing sacred music. In a final surge of creative energy, he pointed his art and his faith steadfastly in the direction of hope.

In April 1893, Gounod composed a song he titled “Repentir,” which means “to repent,” with the subtitle “Scene in the Form of a Prayer.” We know it today as the beloved song “O Divine Redeemer.” The words captured his feelings as he mourned his grandson’s passing and as he approached the end of his own life—he passed away only a few months later. It is a prayer for forgiveness, a plea for mercy, a supplication for strength, and a meditation on life:

O divine Redeemer!
I pray thee grant me pardon,
And remember not … my sins! ...

Haste Thee, Lord, to mine aid!
Thy pity show in my deep anguish, …
Hear my cry,
Save me, Lord in Thy mercy; …

How appropriate and instructive that Gounod found solace in a “scene in the form of a prayer.” Perhaps this is why inspiration so often grows out of tragedy, why beauty so often grows from ashes—because in such moments our hearts turn to the only real source of peace and sweet assurance: our divine Redeemer.

-Lloyd D. Newell

1. Marie Anne de Bovet, Charles Gounod: His Life and His Works (1891), 219..
2. See Isaiah 61:3.

October 1, 2017
Broadcast Number 4,594

Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Mack Wilberg

Andrew Unsworth

Lloyd Newell

I Think the World Is Glorious
Alexander Schreiner; arr. Mack Wilberg

The Lord My Pasture Will Prepare
Dmitri Bortniansky; arr. Mack Wilberg

Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring
Johann Sebastian Bach; arr. Andrew Unsworth

A New Commandment I Give unto You
Crawford Gates

Oh, May My Soul Commune with Thee
Lorin F. Wheelwright

O Divine Redeemer
Charles Gounod

How Firm a Foundation
Attributed to J. Ellis; arr. Mack Wilberg