Wednesday, July 30, 2008

J. G. Ebeling

Johann Georg Ebeling (1620-76) succeeded Johann Crüger (d. 1662) as cantor of Berlin's Nicolaikirche and music director of the adjacent Greyfriars Gymnasium, which was a combination of boys' high school and men's junior college. Ebeling also succeeded Crüger in a more historically significant role: as the chief musical collaborator of the great hymn-writer Paul Gerhardt (1607-76). He published a complete collection of Gerhardt's hymns in Geistliche Andachten, 1666-67, the last publication in which new verse by Gerhardt appeared. Several of his own tunes were in this collection, eight of which have come to my attention so far: seven of them in Anglophone Lutheran hymnals.

Die güldne SonneGerhardt's hymn "Evening and morning," also sometimes translated as "The sun ascending," is well wedded with this tune, a musical gem that shows Ebeling to be a master equal to Crüger. The tune is bright, energetic, appealing, perfectly structured, with an emotional depth that cannot be scientifically described. Some American hymnals list it under the title Evening and morning or Ebeling.

Du meine Seele singe (isometric)(rhythmic)We can see Ebeling's great potential in this tune, but not to its best effect. Perhaps it is our fault that the first phrase reminds us of the love theme from Superman; but in places, particularly towards the end, this tune somewhat lacks inspiration. Its only appearance in Anglophone Lutheranism, to my knowledge, is Service Book and Hymnal (1958), where its "isometric" version serves as the second tune for "O God, the Rock of Ages." I found the "rhythmic" version in a German hymnal. I don't think the rhythm significantly improves the tune.

EbelingIt's a confusing bother, but Die güldne Sonne and Warum sollt ich mich are both listed under the name Ebeling in certain books. Unlike them, I haven't found another title for this tune so far. The old Ev. Luth. Hymn-Book pairs this tune with the hymn "Christ, by heavenly hosts adored," which isn't by Gerhardt. So I would be delighted to learn more about what Gerhardt hymn this tune originally accompanied. It's a good, strong, prayerful tune that could admirably serve today's church.

Nicht so traurigVery different from Crüger's minor-key tune by the same name (which, remember, went with "Go to dark Gethsemane"), this warm, cheerful, handsome tune appears with the hymn "Every morning mercies new" in the ELHB. I'm intrigued. I wonder what kind of text would suit both of these tunes! I also wonder why we don't plug this fine melody of Lutheran pedigree into one or two of the hymns that would fit it.

Schwing dich aufAustralians have sung "With the Lord begin thy task" to this tune. We Missouri Sinners tried it out on "Come, ye faithful, raise the strain," an Easter hymn that, ever after The Lutheran Hymnal (1941), has been sung to Gaudeamus pariter. I like Gaudeamus, but I am perplexed by Anglophone Lutheranism's apparent rejection of this beautiful tune. Is it the fact that it goes up to an E? At least, unlike Crüger's tune by the same name (deriving from the Gerhardt hymn "Soar, my soul, to God on high"), there have been a few sightings of Ebeling's beautiful, bold, joyful tune in the English-speaking world. May they multiply - and be fruitful, too!

Voller WunderSeveral hymns have had one or two brushes with this gentle, sunny tune: "At Thy feet, O Christ, we lay," "Every morning mercies new," "Father, who the light this day," and "Safely through another week." One hymn, "Blessed are the sons of God," has formed a particular attachment to it in the English-speaking world, which may be the reason we automatically think of the words "With them numbered may we be, Here and in eternity!" when we hear the last two phrases of this tune. This last hymn may also be the reason this tune makes me think of hymns for children. More of them should learn it, so the rest of us can hear it more often.

Warum sollt' ich michTender, consoling, poignant, unforgettable: this tune (a.k.a. Ebeling, a.k.a. Lüneberg, a.k.a. All my heart this night) is perfect for Gerhardt's hymn "Why should cross and trial grieve me?" It is, in my opinion, one of the most effective chorales ever written. Lutherans on this side of the Atlantic generally agree on this. The 1978 Lutheran Book of Worship singles itself out by omitting it, an exceptional gaffe that, in my opinion, covers LBW in shame. In addition, several hymnals (mainly from a Scandinavian background) turn to this tune for the hymn "All my heart this night rejoices," instead of the tune Crüger wrote for it. It is Ebeling's most unqualified success.

Wer kann der Treu vergessenFinally, we come to a tune that I have found in no Anglophone hymnals at all. I stumbled across it while perusing the SELK hymnal and stuck it in here just for good measure. The first line of the hymn it goes with translates, roughly: "Who can forget the faithfulness...?" I like the sound of it overall, though I can imagine the folks at my church stumbling over that rhythmic surprise in the third-last phrase. I'm sure I would get an earful about it later. If you are editing a hymnal for Lutherans to whom hymn-singing is a new experience (before they have a chance to get set in their ways), you may consider sticking this tune in. Or, if you're a creative type, you could use it as the theme of a choir piece. It's what I would do. Maybe I will.

CONCLUSION: I am tantalized by the tiny, inadequate representation of Ebeling's work in Anglophone hymnals. I am dying to learn more about what kind of chorales he wrote. So consider Geistliche Andachten, or a facsimile thereof, to be on my all-purpose gift register until further notice. Based on what I have seen, I strongly suspect that a study of Ebeling's chorales could greatly enrich the worship of hymn-singing Lutherans in the English-speaking world and beyond.

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