Saturday, July 11, 2020

Tacky Hymns 71

Again I repeat:
We continue our run-through of the hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal (Concordia Publishing House, 1941) with emphasis on three types of hymns: (1) instances of bad judgment by the folks who selected hymns for the book, judged on the basis of historic, confessional and liturgical Lutheranism; (2) noteworthy quirks of hymn-tune pairing; and (3) wonderful hymns that I think should receive more play time (by which I mean singing time) in confessional Lutheran congregations, even if it means undertaking a challenging process of getting acquainted, because of their precious spiritual and artistic value.

(202) Welcome, happy morning (Type 2) is John Ellerton's translation of a cento (selected lines) from Fortunatus' 6th century hymn for Easter, Ascension and Pentecost. In this instance, it is set to the 16th century chorale SEI DU MIR GEGRUESSET, which is really quite nice. In more recent hymnals, the same hymn has been translated as "Hail thee, festival day" and set to the much more challenging and irregular tune SALVA, FESTA DIES by 20th century composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, which I also like. However, I think SALVA belongs to the choir (in part because each stanza is sung to a different strain of melody). SEI DU MIR is more the congregation's speed.

(204) Come, ye faithful, raise the strain (Type 2) is J.M. Neale's translation from an 8th century Greek Easter hymn by John Damascene. TLH sets it to the 17th century German chorale SCHWING DICH AUF, a tune title that made me giggle when I was a kid – which doesn't quite rule out the present day. It's a good tune, albeit one that stretches the vocal range of the congregation a bit. Lutheran Worship, Lutheran Service Book and others have moved en messe toward the tune GAUDEAMUS PARITER, by 16th century German composer Johann Horn, a change that I fully support – although I'd like to see SCHWING come to some good use in anglophone Lutheranism.

(205) The day of resurrection (Type 2) is also based on a Damascene/Neale Easter hymn, and TLH sets it to Henry Smart's 1836 tune LANCASHIRE, which I really enjoy. It's very classical, clean and elegant, full of joy and an effective tonal/dramatic design. LW made a move toward the chorale HERZLICH TUT MICH ERFREUEN (not to be confused with HERZLICH TUT MICH VERLANGEN), and although I love that tune – not to mention some great organ preludes based on it – I can understand why LSB went back to LANCS. HTM ERFREUEN is comparatively unfamiliar in American circles, and its rhythmic robustness tends to throw folks off. I set one of my own hymns to it, but I also gentled the rhythm somewhat in my setting of the tune. For what it's worth.

(208) Ye sons and daughters of the king (Type 2) is a 16th or 17th century Latin hymn focusing on the resurrected Lord's appearances to the disciples (notably Thomas), translated by Neale, and set in TLH to Melchior Vulpius' 17th century chorale GELOBT SEI GOTT. Not everyone agrees with me that this is a great hymn; apparently some folks object to the amount of time it spends retelling the Doubting Thomas story in verse, before it gets to the application. But I like it, either with this tune or to the chantlike, 15th century French tune O FILII ET FILIAE (cf. LW 130). LSB (hymns 470-471) leaves the option up to you, and frankly, I'm conflicted. I absolutely want to continue the tradition of using the German chorale, but I like the French chant tune so much that I wrote a choral setting of it many years ago. Coin flip, I guess. I'm with LSB: put both tunes in the book and let the pastor, elders, musical leadership or a coin toss decide.

(209) Who is this that comes from Edom is a hymn by Thomas Kelly that I mention (Type 3) because I don't recall hearing, playing or singing it very often. Despite the Bible verse reference to 2 Timothy 1:10 at the top of the hymn, the hymn takes its departure from Isaiah 63. Another weird thing, maybe a bit of layout tackiness on the part of the TLH editors, is that they section this hymn under Easter when, in fact, it's more of an Ascension or maybe End Times hymn. These factors may have played a role in this hymn's obscurity in the TLH-using community. Dipping momentarily into Type 2, I'd also like to note that the tune that TLH titles NEANDER (after its composer, Joachim Neander), used five times in this book, can be found elsewhere under the title UNSER HERRSCHER.

(211) Lo, Judah's Lion wins the strife (Types 2/3) is a striking Czechoslovak hymn, translated just in time for TLH by John Bajus and set to a 17th century "Bohemian" tune that TLH titles JUDAH'S LION. It has an interesting meter, each stanza consisting of a couplet (two rhyming lines) followed by Hallelujah and a final line that, while it varies from stanza to stanza, always amounts to some vernacular equivalent of Hallelujah. So, basically, its stanzas are couplets with a freely varying refrain. I think there might be merit to a version of this hymn that omits the Hallelujahs and thereafter and combines the couplets into four- or six-line stanzas, though one difficulty is that there are seven stanzas. Another difficulty is that the meter itself, including the vaguely similar concluding lines, is part of the charm and cultural identity embedded in this hymn. Meanwhile, tune-wise, JUDAH'S LION is a nice enough melody but a little bland. In LW 146, the hymn is set to Ralph Schultz's 20th century tune BRONXVILLE, which I think is much more interesting, though that opinion may run crosswise to some people's level of music appreciation; it's also a bit more challenging to sing. Either way, I think there is room in our church's repertoire to put more effort into getting familiar with this dramatic hymn, which compares Jesus' triumph over death to several Old Testament characters before explaining, in strikingly economical language, what difference that makes for us.

(220) Jesus, my great High Priest (Type 2/3) is an excerpt from a longer hymn by Isaac Watts, "Join all the glorious names," which explores Scripture's various names for Jesus. The tune TLH chooses for this cento is BEVAN by John Goss, a harmless but also relatively boring tune. I applaud the Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary (Hymn 289) for making use of three additional stanzas, including Watts' original first stanza, and setting it to the more interesting tune ST. PETER'S MANCHESTER, by R.R. Ross.

(222) Look, ye saints, the sight is glorious (Type 2) is an Ascension hymn by Thomas Kelly, famous for its refrain "Crown Him! Crown Him!" toward the end of each stanza. TLH pairs it with William H. Monk's tune CORONAE, which is quite good and seems to have been written for this purpose. However, Service Book and Hymnal (Hymn 114) provides a choice of either Henry J. Gauntlett's pomp-and-circumstancy TRIUMPH and William Owen's powerful, dramatic BRYN CALFARIA, used in LW 281 with the hymn "Lord, enthroned in heavenly splendor." LSB (495 and 534) uses BRYN with both hymns. Again, I'm kind of conflicted about which tune to recommend. I like them all. But I think in a vote between me, myself and I, BRYN CALFARIA would probably win by a sliver-thin majority.

(228) Oh, enter, Lord, Thy temple (Type 3) is a Paul Gerhardt hymn for Pentecost, set to the beautiful Johann Crueger tune ZEUCH EIN. I think its omission from subsequent hymnals (LW, LSB) is an egregious loss to American Lutheran hymnal culture. It's particularly objectionable in view of a book titled The Hymn of the Week: Organ Settings by Jan Bender, which designates a hymn of the day for each Sunday in the church year out of TLH, and in which this hymn is assigned to the the 8th Sunday after Trinity. Given the importance of this hymn on so many levels, I'm just amazed that hymnal editors after TLH have apparently let it drop.

(243) Oh, that I had a thousand voices is one of two centos in TLH (see also Hymn 30) from J. Mentzer's 1704 hymn which is first set (in TLH 30) to J. Koenig's tune, and then (in TLH 243) to Kornelius Dretzel's tune, both titled O DASS ICH TAUSEND. I'm actually aware of a third hymn tune by the same name, used in the Lutheran Church of Australia's Lutheran Hymnal (Adelaide: Lutheran Publishing House/Openbook Publishers, 1973) and also in the pre-TLH Evangelical Lutheran Hymnbook (although ELHb used it with a different hymn). I myself chose the Koenig and Dretzel tunes for two of my original lyrics in Useful Hymns. Good stuff.

(247) God the Father, be our Stay is a wonderful hymn with three stanzas, one addressing each person of the Trinity, which after the first line are word-for-word identical. This has led to latter-day hymnals, such as LW and LSB, compressing them into "Triune God, oh, be our stay" either as an alternative to repeating the same words (except for the first line) all three times, or as the only option. This is an obnoxious change – particularly when the three-stanza "option" is presented in small type, as an afterthought. This is the kind of hymn that, I think, demands to be sung multiple times just to get it down, to get the words (to say nothing of the melody) into people's ears and hearts. Accept no short-cuts.

(249) Isaiah, mighty seer is Martin Luther's 1526 verse paraphrase of the Sanctus, or rather of Isaiah's entire sixth chapter in which the angelic hymn "Holy, holy, holy" originated, set to Luther's own tune JESAIA, DEM PROPHETEN. I'm not saying everybody should be in a rush to replace the Ordinary of the Divine Service with Luther's hymn paraphrases or the next thing to them, but if you're going to do that, this is your Sanctus hymn – and even if you're not, it's a spectacular hymn depicting the awful majesty of God, which deserves to be learned by and kept in the repertoire of every confessional Lutheran congregation. This will take some work, up front, especially because the long melody never circles back on itself with a repeated phrase except for the thrice-repeated "Holy is God, the Lord of Sabaoth." But once the hard work is done, don't let it go to waste; sing it now and again, to keep it locked in.

(250) Holy God, we praise Thy name is based on a German paraphrase of the Te Deum ("We praise Thee, O God") and is set to the beautiful Austrian chorale GROSSER GOTT. One of my seminary profs pointed out a drawback of later hymnals' mania to update modern language. In stanza 4, the hymn as TLH gives it begins, "Holy Father, holy Son, Holy Spirit, three we name Thee" – a use of the pronoun "Thee" that loses its singular force when updated to "You." It's an example of the theological cost of meddling with established texts and fixing what ain't broke.

I see hymns I want to comment on in the immediate offing, but this is a good place to quit for today. And what do you know? Not a single "Type 1" tacky hymn in this lot!

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