Good Friday is a day of tradition and ritual for me. I usually get up early after my Maundy Thursday service the night before, to sing a morning service at Wesley, then help lead the Way of the Cross around Melbourne for two hours, before dashing across town to sing an Easter Vigil service at a local Catholic church. By the end of the day, I am physically and emotionally exhausted, and all I want to do is come home, eat fish and chips, and watch the film version of Jesus Christ, Superstar.
It feels right to end Good Friday feeling wrung out and drained and exhausted, as though all the cumulative emotions of Holy Week have washed over me like a tidal wave, leaving me half-drowned. It feels like a sort of reciprocal solidarity with the One who came to earth to live as a human in solidarity with us. Which is probably a very heretical thing to say, but there you go. (I then spend a lot of Holy Saturday asleep, before waking up, bright eyed and bushy tailed and ready to sing the Easter Vigil that evening. I really am *missing* my singing this year.)
Once again, I have a lot of music for you today. Some of it is even by me! A few weeks ago, seeing the writing on the wall, my excellent organist friend and I decided to record some music for Holy Week to share with the various churches we would normally be singing at for use in online services. So here we are, doing Handel’s He Was Despised on zero rehearsal and in one take, the better to minimise time spent in the same room. If you want a more professional (and, in my opinion, perfect) version, albeit with some really weird visuals, I highly recommend Bejun Mehta’s glorious, glorious recording (note: that link will take you to specific aria in a complete recording of Handel’s Messiah – so while it is not a short hour, it is not a 2 hour and 34 minute one either).
Another favourite Good Friday piece for me is Erbarme Dich, from Bach’s Matthauspassion. I love the violin, and the almost weeping tone of the melody. This version is a little unexpected – despite my unnatural love for the weird Claus Guth Messiah, I’m not accustomed to seeing oratorio staged, and… I think this one is? But Magdalena Kozena sings it beautifully, and does a lovely job of conveying the emotion of the song (though I keep worrying she is going to put her eye out on the bow of the violin, so maybe just close your eyes for that bit).
I think you can’t really do Good Friday without a setting of the text from Philippians – ‘Christ became obedient unto death, even to death on the cross’. We have so many beautiful options for this, and I’m going to give you three very different versions. The first is some rather lovely Gregorian chant, with the proper medieval notation, no less! It is ancient, but not quite traditional, as these chants would have been sung by a schola of monks, not a soloist. But I find it very beautiful like this.
If you are more in the mood for something a bit more 20th century, this setting by André Gouzes has some lovely harmonies that are reminiscent of early music, though without the polyphony, and a very reflective tone.
You surely didn’t imagine you were getting out of here without more German church music, did you? But Bruckner’s setting of these lyrics is dramatic and exciting and has some of the most gorgeous harmonies imaginable. I especially love the sweet, eerie alto melody at the end.
Moving on from Christus Factus Est, if you like a proper Good Friday Vigil, then Tomás Luis de Victoria’s Good Friday Reproaches are probably what you are after. The text dates back to the 9th Century CE, and is intended to be the remonstrance of Jesus Christ with his people. Victoria’s version combines choral harmonies with Gregorian chant, and it’s lovely.
Hymns to sing along to
While we are in vigil mode, I thought it would be nice to share some more Taizé music to sing and meditate to. Again, if you don’t recognise these at first, don’t worry – you will pick them up fast. The first is based on the words of one of the men crucified beside Jesus; the second is based on Jesus’s words on the cross, and alternates a chorus with verses sung by a cantor
If you are in the mood for a more traditional set of Good Friday hymns, fear not, I have you covered!
I’ve always loved O Sacred Head, Sore Wounded and couldn’t possibly put together a collection of Good Friday music that didn’t include it.
A hymn I didn’t encounter until fairly recently is My Song is Love Unknown. It has a lovely, wistful melody, and really excellent lyrics. This choral version is really great – and also has the lyrics for you to sing along to if you like!
Let’s end with a bit of gospel music. Were you there when they crucified my Lord? is such a moving piece of music, and the harmonies here are just fantastic.
Wishing you a holy Good Friday.