Forty Days of Music IV

Tyler Versluis   -  

We’re about halfway through Lent, an event marked in some churches with Laetare Sunday, the name taken from the entrance chant for this Sunday, Laetare Jerusalem “Rejoice, O Jerusalem”. The typical violet-coloured vestments are replaced temporarily with rose-coloured ones, and we are asked to remove our countenances of sorrow and penitence and to be reminded of the goodness of God.

This week I have selected two pieces that reflect our trust in God, in the context of Christ’s sacrifice for us. The first piece is taken from the core statement of our faith, the Nicene Creed, while the second reflects a simple, almost childlike assurance in the redemptive power of Christ’s blood.




Crucifixus from Credo in F, Antonio Lotti (1667-1740), sung by Tenebrae choir.



Crucifixus for 8 voices is actually part of Antonio Lotti’s larger work Credo In F, which sets the entirety of the Nicene Creed to music, but this section is so particularly moving that the rest of the work has been mainly forgotten. That is probably not Lotti’s original intention, but as we learn from music history, much is left to fate after a composer dies and their music lives after them (did Brahms expect his Lullaby to be better known than his symphonies?).

The text for Crucifixus is brief but contains a wealth of musical and emotional content.


Crucifixus etiam pro nobis sub Pontio Pilato:

Passus, et sepultus est.


He was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate:

He suffered and was buried.


Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet (1971), Gavin Bryars and Tom Waits


In 1971 composer Gavin Bryars was assisting a friend on a film about life in a rough part of London, and began rolling the cameras on a group of people drunkenly singing. One elderly homeless man began singing a little religious song- actually the chorus to a 1911 gospel hymn:


Jesus’ blood never failed me yet,

Never failed me yet.

Jesus’ blood never failed me yet,

This one thing I know,

For He loves me so.


Bryars was so fascinated by the recording that he took it home to his apartment and began improvising on the piano, while continuously looping the homeless man’s voice on a tape. This formed the basis of Bryar’s 1971 composition Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet, for tape and chamber orchestra.

After completing the first 25-minute version, Bryars composed a 60-minute version, and then a 74-minute version, recorded in 1993 with singer-songwriter Tom Waits duetting with the homeless man’s original song. The video here is a miniaturized version of that 74-minute composition, but I urge you to check out either the 25-minute version linked above, or the full 74-minute recording with Tom Waits.

Ironically, Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet has become a hallmark work of 20th classical composition, but its original inspiration- a man of great faith living through hard times- remains totally unknown. In fact, the man died before Bryars could report to him the success of the piece. The old man may have disappeared, but his testament of faith lives on.


Tyler Versluis