Sunday, December 16, 2007

A. H. Brown

Arthur Henry Brown (1830-1926) was an organist, hymnal editor, supporter of the high-church Oxford Movement, composer of some 700 hymn tunes and 100 carols, and a leading Anglican advocate for Gregorian chant. Cyberhymnal lists 14 of his hymn tunes. Half that number have crossed over into Lutheran hymnals:

Holy Church
Both the Common Service Book and Service Book & Hymnal give this tune to the hymn "Lord of the living harvest," which we in the LCMS sing to the horribly overworked Aurelia. I think Brown's tune makes a nice change. Where Aurelia simpers, Holy Church moves with a confident and dignified tread. In spite of superficial similarities to other tunes, such as Gud skal alting mage and Kuortane, it is distinctive and well-written, particularly toward the end. And since the two last-named tunes are probably not in your congregation's Top 40 Hits list, they probably won't be confused by the resemblance.

Like Sullivan's tune Coena Domini, Brown's Lammas serves as a two-line-per-stanza alternate tune for the Communion hymn, "Draw nigh and take the body of the Lord." This tune is the choice of both the old Lutheran Hymnary and the newer Evangelical ditto. Between it and the one by Sullivan, it would also be my choice. As an example of musical completeness squeezed into the tiniest possible dimensions, it clearly does not have time to be very interesting. Nevertheless, it is attractive and memorable; and if it lacks the emotional appeal of Coena Domini, at least it does not become cloying after only a couple repetitions. Call it a personal tic if you will, but I think of it as a Lutheran aesthetic: with me, objectivity beats subjectivity any day.

The Evangelical Lutheran Hymn-Book (forerunner to The Lutheran Hymnal) paired this tune with Samuel Preiswork's marvelous hymn "Hark! the Church proclaims her honor." I know it better to TLH's tune, the lovely Lobt den Herrn, die Morgensonne. And to know it is to love it. In fact, I once wrote an entire VBS program structured around the five stanzas of this hymn. My heart aches when I think how little this hymn is known and used. It simply must be revived! Either tune would serve it well.

Apropos of sharing the general fruits of my studies: The metre of this hymn is 8.8.6. D, which is to say, 8.8.6. 8.8.6. Some hymnals call this metre C.P.M., a designation that long puzzled me. Perhaps you have seen this and been puzzled too. More recent researches have taught me that C.P.M. stands for "Common Particuliar Metre." Compare to the "Common Metre," There is also a "Long Particular Metre" (8.8.8. D - compare to LM, and a "Short Particular Metre" (6.6.8. D - compare to SM, Draw your own conclusion about what the word "Particular" is supposed to mean.

The old Hymnary set the hymn "Author of faith, to Thee I cry" to the above tune. More significantly, at least five Lutheran hymnals - including one Australian and one American book of recent years - used this as the tune to "Lord of the church, we humbly pray." The TLH tune for this is Kommt her zu mir, a fine chorale which nevertheless shows some of the limits this metre places on a tune. Purleigh shows more of them. Though not the best tune in the C.P.M., it is handsome and, after a few hearings, begins to sound like a tune one knows well.

Saffron Walden
Among Australian Lutherans, this is a tune for the revival classic "Just as I am, without one plea." I think we can forgive it that association, for two reasons: first, because what American Lutherans don't know won't hurt them; and second, because it is about the most objective-sounding tune that has ever played to that hymn. In the service of another text, it could have a very positive effect. Warm, cheerful, graceful, and well-written, it only needs to be carefully introduced (say, with the help of the choir).

St. Anatolius
Whereas one hymnal (CSB) set the hymn "The day is past and over" to the John B. Dykes tune St. Anatolius, three use this, Brown's tune of the same name, for the same hymn. This coincidence is easily explained. The hymn text by John Mason Neale is translated from a Greek hymn, which is sometimes attributed to a fifth-century Patriarch of Constantinople named (guess!) Anatolius. I like the Brown tune somewhat better than the Dykes one, though my judgment may be influenced by the fact that I grew up on TLH, which made a similar choice.

St. John Damascene
Some hymns seem to give hymnal editors fits. "O splendor of God's glory bright," for example, never seems to be set to the same tune two hymnals in a row. It's as if the brain trust can't find the tune that fits just right, so they keep casting around for alternatives. Such is the case, evidently, with "Jesus, Name all names above," a text which has been set to J. B. Calkin's Theoctistus, Ralph A. Strom's Name of Jesus, a variant of Johann Schop's Werde munter, and the above tune by Mr. Brown.

The confusion will probably only continue, as all of these choices present problems. Werde munter is overtaxed as it is, and butchering it is neither desirable nor necessary. Strom's tune is charming but a bit rough around the edges; and worse yet, it is under copyright. It essentially comes down to this tune or Calkin's. Though neither tune is a slam-dunk, I lean toward the Calkin, which sounds a bit more chorale-like somehow. Brown's tune, however, is a lovely piece of Romantic writing which, if the congregation can get around its technical challenges, could earn a "Second Tune" spot next to Theoctistus.

Conclusion: Perhaps due to his devotion to plainchant, A. H. Brown was a more gifted melodist than many of his contemporary hymn-writers. His hymn-tunes in general rely more on melodic beauty and less on shmaltzy effects than those of the average Romantic composer. The result is a body of work that charms by its simplicity, objectivity, and fine craftmanship. Certainly none of them have made as big an impact as the great achievements of Monk, Dykes, and others. One finds no tune by A. H. Brown that could be regarded as a universal classic or an indispensible treasure; instead, one finds prospective "alternate tunes" of consistent quality, tunes that may yet do signal service in helping introduce excellent new hymns, or re-introduce underrated old ones. My first practical suggestion for using Brown's work would be to try "Draw nigh and take the body of the Lord" to his tune Lammas. Second, I would keep his other tunes in mind as I plan the next great hymn collection, as alternatives to playing the same few standbys to death.

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