Easter Sunday is the most joyful day of the Christian year, kicking off a fifty-day season of feasting and celebration centered on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. While we celebrate the resurrection year-round (every Sunday is a “little Easter”), the liturgical calendar gives us this set-apart time to linger with and savor the mystery with particular focus and renewed fervor. Christ’s rising from the grave has far-reaching implications, which the church unpacks, most especially during Eastertide, through its liturgies, scripture readings, sermons—and music.
I compiled a Spotify playlist of songs and other musical pieces for this festal season—a mix of classical, gospel, choral, folk, and indie-pop, with some jazz and bluegrass. These selections span historical periods and geographic locales, ranging from early medieval hymns and liturgical refrains to newer releases, from Senegal, Tanzania, Chile, Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory (in Ontario), Serbia, Hungary, Germany, Ireland, France, the Middle East, and more.
You’ll find plenty of classic texts and tunes, some retunes and new arrangements of the classics and other oldies, and some through-and-through originals. And lots of Alleluias!
Sung in Byzantine-rite churches, the Paschal troparion—“Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and on those in the tombs bestowing life”—is represented here by a few different settings in a few different languages, including Georgian (“Krist’e Aghsdga”) and Greek (“Hristos Anesti”). Church of the Apostles does a version in English that works well with a contemporary worship band.
The medieval French melody known as NOEL NOUVELET is often paired with two different Easter hymn texts, both of which I’m very fond of: “Welcome, Happy Morning!” by Venantius Fortunatus, a sixth-century hymnographer in the Merovingian court and later bishop of Poitiers, and the early twentieth-century “Now the Green Blade Riseth” by J. M. C. Crum, which has this wonderfully poetic refrain: “Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.” Claire Holley [previously] recorded a subdued, guitar-picked rendition of the latter, and for the former, here’s Redeemer Knoxville’s [previously] super-fun arrangement, which includes mandolins, trumpets, and a raucous energy!
Christ’s death and resurrection initiated a new exodus, so to speak, so some of the songs, like “Carol of the Exodus” [previously] and “Mary, Don’t You Weep” [previously] use the language of Pharaoh’s armies (i.e., agents of death) being overthrown, and liberation.
Also included on the list is a Swahili praise song whose key phrase, “Yesu ni wangu, wa uzima wamilele,” translates to “Jesus is mine, he is (the God of) everlasting life.” Some English versions of the song translate it as “Jesus is mine, he’s alive and he’s eternal.”
Classical selections include the Sinfonia (instrumental opening) of Bach’s Easter Oratorio; “Dum transisset Sabbatum” (When the Sabbath Was Past), a Renaissance motet setting of Mark 16:1–2 by John Taverner; a movement from a piano sonata by modern Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara inspired by the icon of the holy women at the tomb; and a movement from a violin sonata by Austrian Baroque composer Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber.
The latter two are among the several allusive instrumental pieces on the list, which also include “Viriditas” on jazz guitar by Charlie Rauh (its title references Hildegard of Bingen’s concept of greening, freshness, new life) and “Phoenix” on oud by Egyptian Australian virtuoso Joseph Tawadros (the phoenix is a mythological bird that dies and rises again, which the medieval church embraced as a symbol of Christ).
Two gems I discovered while searching for Easter music are settings of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poem “Easter”: one a Celtic-influenced choral setting by Steven C. Warner, the other an alt-rock version by Jon Green (JG Hymns):
A popular Easter song in Spanish-speaking churches throughout the world is “Resucitó” (He Is Risen) by Kiko Argüello:
There are a few songs here written for kids, like “Jesus Is Alive” by Rain for Roots and “Risen Today” by John Burland, but which I find enjoyable myself!
And there are a handful of songs by James Ward [previously], a gospel songwriter and pianist from New City Fellowship in Chattanooga, Tennessee—such as “Morning Sun,” which is included in the Trinity Hymnal:
For a closer, I chose “Love Divine, Victorious,” written by Karl Digerness and arranged by Minna Choi, musicians at City Church San Francisco [previously]. I love its blend of classical and folk-rock styles, with an orchestra interacting with a banjo and drum kit. (The album recording has a full orchestra and a choir; the video below is a pared-down version from last year, with string orchestra and two vocalists.) The song looks back in remembrance and forward in anticipation, quoting the traditional memorial acclamation “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”
To listen to all 130-plus songs on Spotify, open the Art & Theology Eastertide Playlist link, then click on the More (…) icon and select “Save to Library.” Then the list will be easily accessible to you throughout the season and will reflect any new song additions I make.
Playlist cover art: Edward Burra, Resurrection, ca. 1948–50