Originally composed for the British men’s vocal consort The Gesualdo Six, Abendgebet is presented here in an arrangement for SATB, commissioned by the Jubilate Chorale. Now, in this more standard format, it is my hope that Abendgebet will be even more accessible to the choral world at large, in addition to its conceived design for men’s chamber singing.
While setting the text to this Abendgebet (“evening prayer”) by German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–1945), I realized that these words were not only a prayer for evening time, but also the prayer of one in the evening of his earthly life. Bonhoeffer, who had been imprisoned for plotting the assassination of Adolf Hitler, wrote this prayer in jail, only months before his execution. Therefore, I wanted to conclude my setting of the prayer in a manner that represented Bonhoeffer’s own perspective on death and life. It occurred to me that a powerful yet peaceful “Amen” was necessary to complete this image, and the idea struck me one day to set the “Amen” to the tune of the Lutheran chorale Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott (“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”). For me, this allusion would perfectly represent Bonhoeffer’s hope amidst death and strength amidst evil. It was not until later that day that I happened to learn the circumstances preceding Bonhoeffer’s death: the day before his execution, Bonhoeffer conducted his final Sunday service inside the Flossenbürg concentration camp. As the Gestapo entered to escort him to his “trial,” Bonhoeffer concluded the service by leading the congregation in one last hymn:
Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott.
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TEXT (with composer's translation)
Abendgebet by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Herr, mein Gott, Ich danke dir, daß du
diesen Tag zu Ende gebracht hast;
ich danke dir, daß du Leib und Seele
zur Ruhe kommen läßt.
Deine Hand war über mir und hat mich
behütet und bewahrt.
Vergib allen Kleinglauben und alles
Unrecht dieses Tages
und hilf, daß ich allen vergebe,
die mir Unrecht getan haben.
Laß mich in Frieden
unter deinem Schutz schlafen
und bewahre mich vor den
Anfechtungen der Finsternis.
Ich befehle dir die Meinen,
ich befehle dir dieses Haus,
ich befehle dir meinen Leib und meine Seele.
Gott, dein heiliger Name sei gelobt.
Lord, my God, I thank you that you
have brought this day to a close;
I thank you that you have allowed
my body and soul to come to rest.
Your hand was over me
and has protected and preserved me.
Forgive all the lack of faith and
all the injustice of this day,
and help me to forgive all
who have done injustice towards me.
Allow me in peace
to sleep beneath your protection,
and defend me from the
spiritual crises of darkness.
I commend to you all that is mine,
I commend to you this house,
I commend to you my body and my soul.
God, your holy name be praised.