Isaac Watts penned beautiful lyrics for a passion hymn focused on man's relationship to the cross of Christ. Lowell Mason adapted a plainsong chant and a classic Christian hymn entered the mainstream.
This new arrangement is very smooth and focuses on harmonies and putting an understanding of the hymn lyric first. The anthem encompasses all four stanzas commonly sung.
The piece begins with an alto-tenor-baritone trio, with the alto carrying the melody in a rather low key. The bass and soprano soon join and set the tone for the piece. The second stanza is introduced a minor third higher by the soprano, alto and tenor. The baritone and then bass later join to once again add depth.
The third stanza carries the piece back to its plainsong roots with unison men singing the first two verses, then breaking into three parts to complete the stanza. The full ensemble then enters a half step higher with more volume for a broad, rich rendering of the fourth stanza. A simple coda finishes the work.
This piece can actually be done well with just five singers, but if done with a small group it needs to keep moving along or the singers will find themselves breathless. With a larger choir and staggered breathing, one could go somewhat slower, but the director should not become so fascinated with the sound of the choir that the piece drags and loses its meaning and impact. The arrangement was specifically intended for Good Friday or a communion service, and the intent is smooth sonorous harmonies and great reverence for the sacrifice on the cross, and for this great hymn.
This selection is also available for string orchestra in the same key, which would allow for a choral performance with string accompaniment.
WHEN I SURVEY THE WONDROUS CROSS, by Watts and Mason, arranged for SATBB a cappella, comes in a pdf file of 290K, with a six-page score and a license page, seven pages in all. Performance time should be approximately 3:10.
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Last update: 4 March 2021