Sunday, August 26, 2012

Tunes for 2-Line Hymns

For a general introduction to this thread, click here.

Let's begin the proceedings by explaining that the tunes below are arranged in order of meter. In my really vast alphabetical index of tunes, the melodies are designated by more or less distinctive titles, often based on the first line of the hymn in its original language. These are also arranged in a metrical index, organized according to how many lines are in each stanza of the hymn and how many syllables in each line. Thus we come to designations such as ""—translating to seven lines with so many syllables per line. Apart from these are a number of hymns whose meter is designated as "Irregular" or "Peculiar," either because the number of syllables per line varies by stanza or because the meter is too fiddly to bother writing down since only one hymn (ideally) fits the tune.

So, ignoring the "Irr" and "PM" entries at the top of my metrical index, we start with the meter 8.8.+ Alleluias, also expressed as or Because the text of the hymn only has two lines per stanza, not counting Alleluias, it can be regarded as a 2-line hymn and thus, the smallest meter on the list. This category of tunes comprises only one tune:

Gen Himmel aufgefahren ist
a.k.a. Melchior, a.k.a. Morning Star
by Melchior Franck, 1627
I found this tune in two hymnals (CSB 542, ALH 376), both times set to the Epiphany hymn "A Star is moving through the sky." I prefer the ALH version, which ends with the double Alleluia. It's a beautiful, simple, arch-shaped tune (like the sky) with a jaunty rhythm that makes it especially memorable. Bright, joyful, and energetic, it makes for a hymn that could be taught to children with great profit.

Now we enter the slightly larger category of tunes in the 10.10. meter. There are three of them.

Cœna Domini
by Arthur S. Sullivan, 1874
Three hymnals (CSB 187, SBH 273, LBW 226) pair this hymn with the Communion hymn "Draw nigh and take the body of the Lord." This arrangement requires chopping a hymn usually sung in four-line stanzas into half-sized chunks, which means more repetition of the same tune. Perhaps appropriately, the tune sounds like the second half of a longer, better tune. It tries hard to make a distinct impression, but there's just too little of it to get a handle on. What there is of it sounds just a little to the sentimental side of completely nondescript, the leaps in the second phrase notwithstanding. Alternatives? The abbreviated version of Old 124th, though savagely butchered to fit a four-line hymn, at least has the virtue of sounding whole (though it isn't) and getting through the text in half as many fits.

by Arthur H. Brown, 1889
This is the tune for "Draw nigh and take the body of the Lord" used in LHy 150 and ELHy 314. It is about equally unremarkable as Cœna Domini, and therefore painful to think of singing as many times as it would take to get through that hymn (which, in John Mason Neale's original translation, would be ten times). It's interesting to note that the Latin hymn was originally in two-line stanzas, though Neale's translation seems to work best in groups of four lines. Anyway, if I had to choose between one of these three 10.10. hymns, this is probably the one I would pick; but don't expect me to be happy about it.

Pax tecum
by George Thomas Caldbeck, c. 1877
Though this tune would also fit the words to "Draw nigh and take," I only found it paired with the hymn "Peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin," and that in two hymnals: CSB 413 and SBH 571. The text is not entirely without merit (Christ-centered, with more than one hint of the cross), but it runs toward tedium. What I have said about Cœna Domini and Lammas goes double for this tune: It’s amazing how brief a melody can be without leaving you wanting to hear more. Frankly, by the end of the first phrase I've lost interest. It might be hard to tell by the notes of the melody, but this tune is in the key of B-flat. It loses much of its vaguely sentimental, inconclusive effect when stripped of its harmony. Simple it is, yes; but it is also uninspired. So I think the time needed to teach it to a congregation, or even the children, could be better spent.

And finally, there is one two-line hymn in the 11.12. meter... sort of:

Resonet in laudibus (abbr.)
German carol, 14th century
It's really stretching a point to call this a hymn-tune or chorale. It is actually a fragment of a much longer tune, also known as Resonet in laudibus (a.k.a. Joseph lieber, Joseph mein), which we will come to by and by. And it is only named as a distinct hymn tune because two hymnals (LBW 68, LW 54), for some strange reason, parcel up the long Christmas carol "He whom shepherds once came phrasing" between three distinct tunes, though they have always combined to form one giant carol (the "Quempas"). Only the first of the three tunes, Quem pastorem, is ever heard on its own; more on that another time. Anyway, the Quempas is a wonderful, festive Christmas piece that can be divided between schoolchildren, choir, and congregation in a most effective way; though the LBW arrangement is superior to the LW one. The part of the carol represented by this tune fragment is the congregation's refrain, with the words: "God's own Son is born a child, is born a child; God and sinners are reconciled, are reconciled." And if you want to hear something breathtaking, listen to Michael Praetorius's arrangement of the Quempas as performed on this CD. You can thank me later.

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