Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Tacky Hymns 76

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.
(394) My faith looks up to Thee is one that I've discussed before.

(397) O Love, who madest me to wear is another of Johann Scheffler's (1657) hymns – the one with the refrain "O Love, I give myself to Thee, Thine ever, only Thine, to be" – another example of a hymn that forces you to defend it against the charge of making our own decision, commitment, etc. toward Christ the central transaction in the story of our salvation. Happily, it isn't hard to make that defense, considering how clearly the hymn confesses what Christ has done to choose us and redeem us. Where it makes me, personally, a little uncomfortable is the hint of a romantic dimension to the personal surrender that it so eloquently declares. The tune, by the way, is the fine 1601 chorale HEUT TRIUMPHIERET, which I have seen deployed (in ELHy 162) as a setting for Robert Southwell's thrilling Christmas hymn, "This little Babe, so few days old."

(399) Thee will I love, my Strength, my Tower is already another Scheffler hymn, set to its own tune (the 1738 chorale ICH WILL DICH LIEBEN), one of a number of tunes in TLH that are difficult to sing these days without transposing down a step or two. It's another example of the kind of warm, sensitive, piously ardent response-of-faith song that the evil streak of fault-finding in me wants to find fault with, but I can't actually make out any. Another warm profession of love from the believer to Christ, it compares favorably to today's praise songs of the "I'm so blown away by how terrific you are, God, that my songwriting skills just fail me" school of songwriting.

(400) Take my life and let it be is Frances Ridley Havergal's famous hymn (1874) in which the believer dedicates each of his/her body parts and faculties to the service of God, set to William Henry Havergal's (Frances' dad) 1869 tune PATMOS. Be aware ("Type 2") that at least one other tune is popularly paired with this hymn, Henri A.C. Malan's HENDON. Both tunes are in LSB (hymns 783-784). In my study of anglophone hymnals, I've found PATMOS used with this hymn in 13 books, whereas outside of LSB, HENDON only appears twice, both times set to a different hymn. However, reports finding HENDON paired with this hymn in seven hymnals (not specifically Lutheran ones), and with two other hymns in three books; the website also lists at least five alternate tunes for the hymn, including NOTTINGHAM, YARBROUGH, TEBBEN and ST. BEES.

I think it's also fair to warn anyone still using Lutheran Worship that LW 404 employs an arrangement of PATMOS by Paul Bunjes that is, frankly, so inept that it practically makes the hymn useless, unless the organist plays a different setting. Also, altered versions of Havergal's text abound, apparently because hymnal editors can't leave well enough alone; so ELW gives us "Take my life, that I may be"; LW, "Take my life, O Lord, renew," apparently to rhyme with "you" instead of "thee," and thus correct Havergal's choice to use archaic language. This raises the question, how long dead a poet has to be before hymnal editors can justly second-guess their preference for "thee" and "thou." Finally, ELW puts an unusual amount of distance between its two settings of this hymn, making hymn 583 the bilingual Spanish/English version, set to the tune TOMA MI VOLUNTAD, and hymn 685 the straight PATMOS version. Now that I've done all this "Type 2" stuff, I no longer feel I have room to kvetch about the way Havergal's hymn lingers over all the stuff I am offering to God, as opposed to what He gives me. Oh, well.

(403) Savior, Thy dying love is a mostly OK hymn that, nevertheless, I have dinged before. All I would say about it right now is that it's example of the exaggerated popularity of fair-to-middling hymns originally written in English, compared to great Lutheran hymns translated from German, which just goes to show something or other about the fallibility of human taste.

(404) Soul, what return has God, thy Savior is translated from a longer German hymn by Karl F. Lochner (1673) and set to Dretzel's O DASS ICH TAUSEND (1731), which I have already mentioned (but not in a bitchy way). About Lochner's poem, however, I will bitch. I think it's a guilt-trip hymn that takes the tone of a histrionic mother: "Twelve hours in labor, six units of blood and this is how you repay me? Oy vey!" The poetry, at least in the "composite" translation, also leaves something to be desired – like the line that ends with "–Say!" for no other apparent reason than to force a rhyme with "day," two lines earlier. Artistically indifferent, and with at least one line that I'm willing to challenge on doctrinal grounds only if I'm sure it won't turn into a controversy-to-the-death over objective justification, it's just not the best material in TLH, and the book probably wouldn't have suffered if the editors had passed over it.

(405) I gave my life for thee, meanwhile, is Frances R. Havergal's Jewish mother impression, inviting the congregation to sing in the character of Jesus talking at them, or perhaps better, at some uncommitted person requiring a nudge off the anxious bench. The burden of five out of six stanzas is, in varying words, "I've done all this for thee ... What hast thou done for Me?" The sixth stanza sharpens the point into a call to action: "I gave Myself for thee: Give thou thyself to Me." Underlying all this seems to be the idea that with sufficiently simpering looks and persuasive arguments, we can shame someone into choosing Jesus. Revival tent rot. Would I like it better if the poetry was rewritten in the other direction, with me (or us) speaking to Jesus? I'm not sure. But I'd definitely like to see the 1592 Psalter tune OLD 120TH put to better use.

(412) May we Thy precepts, Lord, fulfill is also one that I've handled here, as is (416) Oh, that the Lord would guide my ways.

(423) Jesus, I my cross have taken is a discipleship hymn by Henry Francis Lyte (1824), set to Rowland H. Prichard's 1855 tune HYFRYDOL. I mention it here only for "Type 2" reasons, because LHy 408 and ELHy 424 set it to J. Rosenmueller's 17th century tune, eh, ROSENMUELLER (a.k.a. WELT, ADE). (LHy 449 also pairs the tune with "Lord of Glory, who has bought us," which TLH also sets to HYFRYDOL.) It's a very shapely and interesting tune, although I've never quite liked the way the musical meter changes just for the last two lines; I'm inclined to keep playing in a steady 4 rather than broadening to 3. However, that meter change appears to be a fixed feature of this tune; I think even J.S. Bach went with it in his chorale harmonization. So, that's an option, anyway.

(427) How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord is also a candidate for "Type 2" treatment because, while TLH and CW (hymn 416) set it to Bernhard Schumacher's 1931 tune FIRM FOUNDATION, the early American tune FOUNDATION is the choice of LBW, LW, ELHy, LSB and ELW. Personally, I think FOUNDATION is the more fun to sing of the two.

(429) Lord, Thee I love with all my heart is a poem, sectioned under "Trust," in three very long stanzas by Martin Schalling (c. 1567), set to the roughly contemporary chorale HERZLICH LIEB. I want to give it a brief "Type 3" plug, noting that, particularly due to the content of Stanza 3, some occasions on which I have sung this hymn have been some of the most moving hymn-singing experiences in my life. But now, let's move on to "Type 2" and note that TLH's arrangement of the tune, and the way the text aligns with the notes, is unfortunate. ELHy follows TLH on this. The hymn appears to better advantage in LBW, LW, CW, LSB and ELW. I hate to say it, but my two favorite Lutheran hymnals in the English language are wrong on this, and some lesser lights have the right of it.

(431) The King of Love my Shepherd is, with words by Henry W. Baker (1868), is one of several Psalm 23 paraphrases in TLH and, set to other tunes, perhaps the best known one across many Lutheran hymnals. Not, however, set as here to Michael Praetorius' 1610 tune ICH DANK DIR SCHON, which is quite lovely but doesn't win the popularity contest. (In fact, TLH 431 is the only instance of the tune I've found in an anglophone Lutheran book.) The Irish folk melody ST. COLUMBA carries away the laurel, with the endorsement of SBH, LBW, LW, CW, ELHy, LSB and ELW. SBH suffers an alternate tune, DOMINUS REGIT ME by John B. Dykes, to compete with it. Also chosen by LHy, CSB and a couple other Lutheran hymnals (the import of whose acronyms I now forget), its title suggests that Dykes wrote it for this hymn.

(432) In hope my soul, redeemed to bliss unending is an interesting case for study. The text, translated from Danish, is by a little-known 17th century hymn writer named Elle Andersdatter, and the 16th century tune, which TLH generically describes as a "Northern melody," is titled NORRLAND here and SWEDEN in another hymnal. It has a striking metrical pattern, and uses what we would now hear as minor key sonorities in a more ancient sense. Overall, a thought-provoking piece that may deserve another look.

(436) The Lord's my Shepherd, I'll not want is another Psalm 23 paraphrase, this time by Francis Rous "et al., 1650," set to William Gardiner's 1812 tune BELMONT. This time, TLH is in good company, with ELHb, LW, CW, ELHy and LSB carrying the motion while LBW, LW and ELW cast a dissenting vote in favor of James L. Macbeth Bain's (1840-1925) tune BROTHER JAMES' AIR. I like both tunes about the same, however, and I won't be caught declaring one to be the correct tune over the other. SBH 522, meanwhile, sets this hymn to a tune called CRIMOND (J.S. Irvine, 1872) and suggests W.H. Havergal's EVAN (cf. TLH 416) as an alternative.

(445) Am I a soldier of the Cross, by Isaac Watts (1721 "alt.") and set to WINCHESTER OLD (from the same Psalter as OLD 120TH), is part of TLH's section on "Christian warfare" and, more than some even in that section, leaves me wondering whether it's really about spiritual warfare, being fought against spiritual enemies over spiritual ground and with spiritual weapons, as opposed to temporal yadda, yadda, yadda. For example, is it about resisting the power of temptation or the wickedness of the world by bearing witness to the gospel, receiving the sacraments, confessing the faith, etc.? Or is it about marching onto a benighted, pagan continent (or perfidious Catholic territory, etc.) and planting the flag of the British Empire in its soil, in the name of the Crown and by extension, the Established Church? (Feel free to try your own American spin on that, although Watts was, historically, a subject of the British crown.) Sometimes the answer is definitely the former, as in TLH 446 ("Rise, my soul, to watch and pray"). Sometimes there's a little room to doubt, such as in (451) Stand up!–stand up for Jesus (George Duffield, 1858). Watts, shaming the cowardice of Christians who prize a soft life, says: "Are there no foes for me to face? ... Sure I must fight if I would reign" and talks about saints in a "glorious war" who "conquer though they die," and the day when "all Thine armies shine In robes of victory through the skies." Duffield: "From vict'ry unto vict'ry His army shall He lead ... Ye that are men, now serve Him Against unnumbered foes" – though, to be sure, he does allude to Paul's exhortation to the Ephesians ("Put on the Gospel armor") and Christ's promise in Revelation ("To him that overcometh A crown of life shall be"). So, I'm not positively saying these hymns are propaganda for modern-era military aggression, but they might be read that way.

On deck, beginning with TLH 454, is the section on Prayer. I pray that I won't find tackiness there. But, you know how the canticle goes – Que serĂ¡, serĂ¡!

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