Christ Is Our Cornerstone

Date Completed

September 29, 1997


Choral (more like this)


SATB Choir





Difficulty Level


Liturgical Use

General, All Saints, Church Dedications, Christ, Hope




Latin, c. 7th century, translated John Chandler (1806–1876)


Christ Is Our Cornerstone


English translation of Latin text

Date Written

1991, 1995


Christ is our cornerstone,
      On him alone we build;
With his true saints alone
      The courts of heaven are filled:
            On his great love
                  Our hopes we place
                  Of present grace
            And joys above.

Oh, then with hymns of praise
      These hallowed courts shall ring;
Our voices we will raise
      The Three in One to sing;
            And thus proclaim
                  In joyful song,
                  Both loud and long,
      That glorious Name.

Here may we gain from heaven
      The grace which we implore;
And may that grace, once given,
      Be with us evermore,
            Until that day,
                  When all the blest
                  To endless rest
            Are called away.


The New English Hymnal, hymn 206


Publication Data

Publisher Name

Oxford University Press. Copies reprinted by Banks Music Publications.

Date Published


Catalog Number

ISBN 0-19-386178-X


Capitalization, measure 74, under SA should be "are."




Commissioned by Central Presbyterian Church, Pine Bluff, Arkansas, in memory of H. E. (Buddy) Slaten, for the dedication of the congregation's new church building.

Joel's Comments

This was one of my first commissions from someone who was not directly connected to me, either as a friend or a local colleague. I met Bill Fox, director of music at Central Presbyterian Church, Pine Bluff, Arkansas, through a mutual friend while attending a concert as part of the New York City AGO convention in the summer of 1996. We spoke about the possibility of a commission for the dedication of the church's new building, and he contacted me the following year with the details. The work was to be in memory of Buddy Slaten, the chair of the congregation's building committee, who had died before the completion of the building. This commission, therefore, had to pertain to at least two themes: the dedication of a new worship space; a memorial to Mr. Slaten, and in a wider scope, to those who had lived and died as faithful members of the congregation over the years.

Bill had been thinking about the text "upon this rock I will build my church," from Matthew 16:18 (Tu es Petra). I went searching for hymns which reflected this idea of "building," and found this text in The English Hymnal. I was thrilled that it worked so well: the cornerstone imagery, the references to building, saints, eternal rest after life on earth, etc. Musical requirements of the work were that it be accessible to his choir of 15 singers and to the church's modest-size, 16-rank, two-manual organ by Nichols & Simpson which was to be moved to the new church.

Musically, the main theme is based on a major triad, the building block of harmony. I used this motivic idea to take the opening section from one tonal center to the next (from key to key), painting in music the building of new things, as well as the various stages in life (if one wants to take imagery that far). The short organ introduction does this as well, laying the framework for the progressions which follow. The choir enters in C major, then four bars later ends on F# minor, the farthest place away, returning back to C again.

The second section begins with the men singing a variation of the original melody, and the choir and organ paint a few words in music: "sing," "loud," and "long." The excitement built up here winds down during an interlude for the organ which takes us to the third stanza.

"Here may we gain from heaven" is set to the original melody, harmonized by the organ, beginning in A minor. It is a prayer, and the quietest of three sections. At the end, the choir fades away in three chords which continue to change and lead away from C major, leaving the final resolution to the organ.

My first sketch on another musical idea was begun on August 29, 1997, and was discarded. I began the draft using this idea on September 5, 1997, and completed the anthem on September 29, 1997.



User Comments



"Martinson est un compositeur américain contemporain. Neuf pages de belle musique riche en rythmes, modulations et intervalles variés. Plutôt délicat. A du caractère." [Martinson is a contemporary American composer. Nine pages of beautiful music rich in rhythms, modulations and varied intervals. Rather refined. With character.]

Caecilia, (journal of a French association of pastoral musicians) 1999

"Joel Martinson's Christ Is Our Cornerstone…and Peter Saltzman's The Lord is my Shepherd…both have something new to say about the respective yet familiar texts…"

Church Music Quarterly, July 1999 (UK)

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