Monday, December 17, 2007

Richard Redhead

Richard Redhead (1820-1901) was another leading musical figure in the Oxford Movement (doesn't he look like one?). He co-edited a Gregorian Psalter and wrote many other works, including dozens of hymn tunes, with the aim of steering the Anglican church back toward Catholicism. Perhaps this has a sinister ring to Lutherans who have no interest in going back to Catholicism; but musically, the tunes are innocent little things with no harm in them whatever. By an interesting coincidence, Cyberhymnal has seven of Redhead's tunes, and so does Anglophone Lutheranism - though the two lists aren't identical. Also, the well-known tune Orientis partibus, now known to come from a 13th century French source, was long attributed to Redhead and designated as Redhead No. 45.

This sweet, graceful tune went with the Christmas hymn "Hark, what mean those holy voices" in the old Lutheran Hymnary. Actually, LHy put a repeat sign at the end of it and stretched it to fit 8-line stanzas, though I have seen this hymn elsewhere in 4-line format. Such a lovely, well-written thing deserves to be revived, just as it is.

Here is Mr. Redhead's bid for immortality. What hymnal doesn't pair this tune with "Go to dark Gethsemane"? Plus, various hymnals (bunches of them, in some cases) have made use of it with such hymns as "Bread of heaven, on Thee we feed"; "Chief of sinners though I be"; "Rock of Ages, cleft for me"; and "Throned upon the awful tree." It's no wonder; this tune is simply a marvel of profundity clothed in simplicity, moving in its pathos without a drop of sentimentality. It is also known as Petra and Redhead No. 76.

Laus Deo
Australian Lutherans have Charles Wesley's Advent hymn "Come, Thou long-expected Jesus" to this tune. I thought it sounded a bit plain at first, but as I sang through the hymn it really grew on me. If your congregation is versatile enough to pick up on a few unexpected turns of melody, they may find this tune more likeable and easier to sing than the tune currently en vogue for Wesley's hymn, namely Jefferson. Another title for this tune is Redhead No. 46.

Also known as Redhead No. 66, Metzler's Redhead, or simply Redhead, this is a relatively bland drop in the ocean of Common Metre (CM) tunes. At one time or another it has served the following hymns: "All that I was, my sin, my guilt"; "O Christ, our Hope, our heart's Desire"; "O Christ, whom we may love and know"; and "O Thou, from whom all goodness flows." None of these pairings was very widespread, and only one Lutheran hymnal used the tune more than once (the Common Service Book used it three times). One tends to forget this tune five minutes after hearing it, so it should be no surprise that hymnal compilers of the last fifty years have forgotten it as well.

The Evangelical Lutheran Hymn-Book gave this tune to the hymn "We lift our hearts to Thee." Apart from that, it hasn't shown up on the Lutheran radar. This is a pity, for it is a lovely tune that exudes a gentle confidence. It would be nice to have it heard more often. I reckon one thing holding it back is confusion over the many tunes known as Redhead or similar. Vanity of vanities!

Redhead No. 47
Lutherans have sung at least four hymns to this tune: "Chief of sinners though I be"; "Come, my soul, thy suit prepare"; "Now the shades of night are gone"; and "When our heads are bowed with woe." The last-named pairing holds a slight edge over the others, since two Lutheran hymnals have it. But all these hymnals came out early in the 20th century. It is not hard to understand why this tune's popularity faded: it was quite pale to begin with, carrying the simplicity of Gethsemane one step further, to the point of sounding dull, derivative, and weak.

LHy set the hymn "Lord, as to Thy dear cross we flee" to this tune. In that pairing it is alone and, for the most part, forgotten. On the other hand, LHy joins three other hymnals, including the quite recent Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary, in pairing this tune with "O for a faith that will not shrink." This is one of the more fortunate settings of that hymn, which otherwise seems to be wearing a different, nondescript CM tune each time we see it, like the proverbial clotheshorse. Attractive, meaningful, well structured, Wolverhampton deserves a place on the long list of CM tunes one finds in every hymnal's metrical index.

Conclusion: Analysis of Redhead's tunes would be so much simpler if either they all had names that began with Redhead No., as so many of them do, or if none of them did. That quibble aside, this taster of Richard Redhead's exquisite craftsmanship makes one covet a look at whatever book contains all his tunes, sequentially numbered. There may be more melodic treasures waiting to be unearthed. Until then, I think Lutheranism has nothing to fear from these modestly beautiful melodies, save the few that are modest to a fault.


jrpv said...

Church Hymn Tunes, ancient and modern, for the several seasons of the Christian Year . . . selected, composed and arranged by Richard Redhead, 1853

The tunes, partly his own composition and partly older works, were given (Roman) numbers instead of names; consequently many of them, whether his own work or not, came to be known as `Redhead No. __'.

[my own words here: I love this tune, also called Ajalon (particularly the tenor), for God, be merciful to me *a 51st Psalm paraphrase) and for Gracious Spirit, dwell with me! (T. T. Lynch poem).]

JohnRobert Peavy

orgdanptw said...

Beg to differ re 66 (Metzler) being forgettable - presumably ne in CU in USA as in UK . . . Known it most of my life, in my view one of His best and readily preferred to Westminster for My God how wonderful thou art.

Unknown said...

Richard Redhead was my 3rd Great Grandfather I'm just working my way through singing his works!