Post Tenebras Lux: A Symphonic Celebration of the Protestant Reformation
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In a time when the church had lost sight of the fundamentals of the gospel, God used a humble monk named Martin Luther to bring about the greatest revival in church history. When he posted his Ninety-Five Theses, Luther became the unwitting catalyst of the Reformation and a champion of the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Post Tenebras Lux, commissioned by Ligonier Ministries and composed by Jeff Lippencott, takes the listener on a musical journey of the highlights of Martin Luther’s life. Written in three movements, this piece moves from the coldness of the Middle Ages and the dominance of the Roman Catholic Church to the glory of Luther’s rediscovery of the gospel and the spread of the Reformation throughout Europe.
This symphonic work celebrates the five-hundredth anniversary of the Reformation, and Ligonier Ministries presents it with the hopes that God would use it to encourage listeners that even in the midst of darkness, the light has come.
The European Continent spiraled into darkness after the fall of the Roman Empire in the fifth century. The following millennium witnessed the descent of society, the church, and civilization into an age of corruption. Monophonic melodies or plainchant defined music during this age, and organum—a monophonic melody with another line sung at a fixed pitch, notably a perfect fourth or fifth—became the leading trend in music as the Renaissance approached.
The piece begins with a church chime defining the rule and power of the church during the Middle Ages. The first melody is heard in the bassoon and cello. It carries the form and feel of plainchant that would be heard in a monastery during that time. The melody then transfers to the period-correct recorder with the bassoons following in organum fashion. Chimes are ever present, as the church that watches and lords over all. The movement exhibits a small sense of hope in the woodwinds, but they are overtaken by the swirling chord progression as the church spins down into the depths of corruption and evil. The recapitulation of the melody and the final church bell remind us that darkness continues to cover Christendom.
From the outset, the church bell is dominant as it was in the culture of medieval times. The strings are brooding, and then they accelerate and transfer the building tension to the brass. Now we hear the entrance of God’s man, Martin Luther, represented by the oboe taking its turn in the organum style. The tension begins to build in Luther’s life as he searches the Scriptures and struggles with the challenges they pose to his beliefs. The brass punctuates his proclamations against the Roman Catholic Church and its practices, while chimes enter again as the voice of the church opposing his Ninety-Five Theses. At the Diet of Worms (a choral-like cacophony of brass and chimes), Luther’s oboe answers Rome’s charge of heresy with the truth of the gospel and his final declaration of conscience. The movement ends with a rich string resolution—the truth has come to light. Through Martin Luther, God’s gospel of grace through Christ alone will be proclaimed to the whole world. This section ends with the last chord ascending from a minor feel to a major chord in anticipation of what is to come.
The first melodic statement is a derivative nod to Luther’s most famous hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” This melody forms most of what is the third movement. In its heroic statement, we set the stage for the fires of the Reformation to be ignited. The gospel begins to spread anew and Luther’s oboe returns, but now it sings in concert with the voices of Calvin (flute) and Zwingli (clarinet). From there, the strings carry the thematic content of the good news through the rolling countrysides and villages of Europe, while the brass takes it to the ends of the earth. Finally, in moving to a halftime tempo, the theme carries both the sweetness and power of the gospel of grace, without forgetting the darkness out of which it came. The melody returns low then builds to the climax of the theme in halftime once again. Luther’s effect on the church and his commitment to the Word of God will be etched in the annals of history. The gospel of Jesus Christ is victorious. His kingdom is forever.