Thursday, January 21, 2016

Hymn-Tune Harmonizations, Old and New

Here are some of my latest additions to the file of midified hymn-tune harmonizations that I have written and plan to include in the expanded edition of Useful Hymns.
This 16th century Slovak number seemed to fit this hymn I wrote on Jesus' raising of the widow's son at Nain. Since a quick-and-dirty search turned up no public-domain arrangements of it, I composed my own.

I wrote this alternate tune to the Martin Franzmann/Richard Hillert hymn "O kingly Love, that faithfully," which was one of the most unsingable hymns in the 1982 hymnal Lutheran Worship. I found the challenge of setting the metrically awkward text to a more memorable and congregation-friendly tune diverting during the sleepless night before the spring 2000 candidate call service at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, when I received my first regular call into the parish ministry. I pounded out the harmony the next morning on the choir room piano. I was apparently feeling the influence of high-church Anglicanism at that time; the first church-music buff I showed it to immediately spotted that - and he should know, since he left Lutheranism a bit later to become an Anglican. Though this has been midified before and actually performed in public once or twice, I had to revise the layout to delete the lyrics and fit the format of my planned hymn-book.

This is a simple, by-the-book harmonization of an old tune that I prepared this week because the only other arrangement I could find is under copyright by Concordia Publishing House, with whose legal department I have no desire to tangle. Hand to heaven, I did not even look at the CPH-owned arrangement (only the copyright pages of the hymnals in which it occurs), so any similarity to that harmonization is purely accidental.

Here are two settings of an old chorale whose end-times-themed text I translated from German. Both the translation and the harmonies date back to the late 90s or early 00s. The first line of my translation is "God gave the Gospel so that we." I thought two arrangements were indicated by the hymn's large number of stanzas.

In the late 90s or early 00s I also wrote a rather free translation of Luther's Easter hymn "Jesus Christ, our blessed Savior / overcame death and grave." Indeed, my translation was so free that it actually ran to six stanzas, though Luther only left three. The arrangement above was written at that time as well.

I copied this tune out of a book of chorale preludes and wrote a hymnal-style harmonization of it quite a few years ago. My original harmonization was in 4/4 time with a pick-up beat at the beginning of each phrase and a dotted half-note at the end, with moving notes in the lower voices at each interior cadence. Later I saw the same tune in a hymn-book with tunes but no harmony, in the triple-meter form above. On selecting the tune for this hymn, I decided to go with that meter instead of what I originally wrote, but that meant when I midified this tune I had to reshape the cadences of my original arrangement.

This is the tune I chose for this hymn, not to be confused with the tune by the same name that I chose for this hymn.

I wrote this tune for a translation by a certain J. Oxenford of an Easter hymn attributed to Paul Gerhardt. The translated text begins, "I know that my Redeemer lives" - but after that, it bears little resemblance to the familiar hymn by Samuel Medley that begins with the same line. The Lutheran Hymnary of 1913 had a different tune for this hymn that I found bland and forgettable, but in the 20-ish years since I wrote this tune I have often wondered whether my alternate tune was any improvement. I do like that little "Anglican twist" in the last phrase, though.

I chose this tune to go with this hymn. I had harmonized it years earlier during a productive period in writing arrangements of hymn tunes I found in old chorale books.

I wrote this tune for Richard Wilbur's Christmas hymn "A stable lamp is lighted," which I thought deserved something better than the soft-soap music I had heard it set to at the time. Again, it had been midified before and was even sung by a church choir that I directed; this revision was simply to remove the lyrics and conform it to the style of UH. Which reminds me, I may have to re-title this project just because its initials are embarrassing.

This German recasting of an old Latin hymn made such an impression on me when I heard Paul McCreesh's "Praetorius Mass for Christmas Morning" CD that I immediately wrote a translation of the text and a harmonization of the tune. My aim was to capture the robust feeling of the version on the disk.

I wrote this tune just the other day to go with my Pastoral Call Hymn. I was trying to avoid re-using a certain Norwegian chorale that I had already set to one of my hymns, in spite of not particularly caring for it, but knew of nothing else that would do. Somehow another Scandinavian tune (I know exactly which one) got stuck in my head while I was writing it, so this is the best I could do without absolutely plagiarizing from the Norwegian folk tradition. One of my friends, getting an early look at it, spotted it at once as being like a sunny, northern European version of the Welsh tune LLANGLOFFAN - another of those instances, like COME TO THE FEAST, where my influences are embarrassingly transparent.

I think I have a pretty fruitful procedure for writing hymn tunes. They start with me trying to sing the words of a hymn out loud and, once I seem to have a handle on the corner of an idea, scribbling down the notes (or typing them in Word, using melody fonts) without, and I stress without, touching a keyboard instrument. The tune absolutely has to make musical sense as a bare melody without any accompaniment; and besides, it has to sing, rather than plunk like a series of notes hammered out on a piano. Once the double-barline has been added at the end and I am satisfied it works, then and only then do I play it on the piano to double-check my sight-singing, or ear-writing.

Experience, gained by frequent practice, enables me to harmonize tunes rapidly and easily, if not altogether brilliantly. I have a small repertoire of character types and styles that I try to switch between to avoid monotony. This last harmonization, for example, wrote itself in 30 minutes one morning before work; I clocked in 5 minutes late, because I had given myself only 20 minutes in which to do it. If I took more care and spent more time on them, maybe I could create masterpieces like the ones that CPH barricades behind a living wall of copyright lawyers. But when you absolutely have to have 187 hymn harmonizations - which, at the moment, I have - though that figure includes many public-domain hymnal arrangements that I have midified - the ability to work quickly pays better.

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