Lamb of God is a tone poem based on the story of the passion, cast in five connected sections progressing to the chronology of the story. There are vivid aural representations of Christ's torturous walk bearing his own cross, the nailing to the cross, the final words of Christ, the death of Christ, and a benediction. The work closes in Eb major, a chromatic change from G major which suggests eternity.
Genre: Band | # of Players: Standard
Level: 5 | Duration: 12:10
Bb Clarinet 1, 2, 3
Alto Saxophone 1/2
Bb Trumpet 1, 2, 3
Timpani (3 drums)
Percussion 1 (crotales, snare drum, 4.5-octave marimba, xylophone)
Percussion 2 (vibraphone, crash cymbals, tam-tam, suspended cymbal)
Percussion 3 (bells, slap stick, brake drum, triangle)
Percussion 4 (chimes, large bass drum, 4 tom-toms)
Lamb of God is a tone poem based on the Christian story of the passion. The work is cast in five connected sections progressing to the chronology of the story. The motivic material, which unites the work, is taken from the Easter sequence, Victimae paschali laudesi ("Praises to the Paschal Lamb"). In the Catholic Church, the "Paschal Lamb" is representative of Christ who was sacrificed on the cross to redeem the people (or "sheep") of the world.
The first section, O crux, portare talentum mundi ("O Cross, to bear the treasure of the world") seeks to depict Christ's torturous walk bearing his own cross. Motives from the Easter sequence are clearly articulated under and over dissonant harmonies and a regular march-like rhythmic drive. There is even the incessant cracking of a whip throughout the section. As the site of crucifixion nears, there is a quieting of activity, taking pause at the thought of death with the xylophone continuing the intensity. The walk then resumes to the crucifixion and segues into the second section, Dux vitae mortuus ("The leader of life is slain"). Announced by timpani and snare drum rolls, Christ is nailed to the cross. Muted bass drum and brake drum make the torture vividly clear. Crying dissonance in the ensemble, which grows with each successive nail, follows each nail. Intense suffering follows. An alto saxophone solo alludes to Hans Hassler's tune, O Sacred Head Now Wounded. This intensity grows to a climax on the penultimate strain of Hassler's tune. Sever chant-like statements follow this in piccolo, bass clarinet, bells and piano representing the final words of Christ. In the ensuing section, Sepulchrum Christi viventis ("I saw the sepulchre of the living Christ"), a timpani roll followed by three loud, grieving cries of the full ensemble signifies the stormy darkness following the death of Christ on the the cross. The section ends morbidly in C# minor. The vibraphone continues to sustain a C# into the next section, Surrexit Christus spes mea ("Christ my hope has risen"), which begins with small, but bright outbursts by bells and high woodwinds. The outbursts grow and begin to cascade joyously leading to dramatic strains of Victimae pachali laudes by the low brass. The section continues to grow in rhythmic and textural activity and finally reaches an apex in the key of C major. The final section, Agnus redemit oves ("The lamb has redeemed the sheep"), is a benediction in G major consisting of harp-like passages in the piano, chant-like motives and fragments of the Victimae paschali laudes. The work closes in Eb major, a chromatic change from G major which, to my ear, suggests eternity.
- David R. Gillingham