Thursday, August 20, 2020

Tacky Hymns 77

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.
(457) What a Friend we have in Jesus is one that I've dealt with before, in "Type 1" terms. However, it's worth knowing ("Type 2") that the old Lutheran Hymnary (LHy) and the Ev. Lutheran Hymnary (ELHy) both improve it by swapping out Charles Converse's undeservedly popular tune CONVERSE (a.k.a. FRIEND) in favor of Henry Smart's beautiful and underrated BETHANY.

(459) Come, my soul, thy suit prepare is a 1779 poem by John Newton that I just want to mention because today's person of average educational and cultural attainments might find the first line unintentionally humorous. The "suit" of which Newton speaks is not the kind you buy on Savile Row, at Men's Wearhouse, etc., but the kind you bring before a lord – in other words, prayer. Smartass.

(461) Hark! the Church proclaims her honor is a hymn by Samuel Preiswerk (1844) that I want to bring forward ("Type 3") because I think it's underappreciated. I made it the theme song of a VBS program I wrote in the late 90s titled "The Infant Church," based on the first few chapters of Acts. Besides having a lovely but (to my ear) unfamiliar tune, the chorale LOBT DEN HERRN, DIE MORGENSONNE, it also sketches out in five brief stanzas the high points of the doctrine of the church: God alone creates her, works through her, protects her, leads her by His word and designs her glorious destiny.

(464) Blest be the tie that binds is interesting for three little "Type 2" reasons. First, Lowell Mason's tune BOYLSTON is correctly harmonized in TLH in the Mixolydian-mode key of G; beware of hymnals whose arrangement of the same melodic notes puts it in C major, because their in-house composer clearly didn't understand what it's about. Second, BOYLSTON is notated in 3/2 time, with a pickup note (i.e., on beat 3); beware of organists who play it like it's in 4/4 and begins on beat 1, because they clearly don't understand what they're about. And finally, although LSB 649 pairs John Fawcett's hymn with BOYLSTON (as do ELHb 462, TLH 464, LW 295, CW 494 and ELHy 420), a certain hymn 975 (found only in the "Accompaniment for the Hymns" book and Concordia Publishing House's very, very proprietary Lutheran Service Builder program) offers an alternate tune, J.G. Naegeli's DENNIS (ironically, arranged by Mason). This is the tune The Concordia Hymnal, SBH, LBW, ELW and another Lutheran hymnal (whose acronym I still haven't looked up, sorry) choose for this hymn, and I suspect that its "not in the pew book but totally available to print out in your service bulletin" status in LSB is a concession to Missouri Synod congregations that have dipped five or more toes in the cultural kiddie pool of the Ev. Lutheran Church in America.

(466) Christ, Thou art the sure Foundation is another "Type 2" hymn, both for textual and musical reasons. First, both TLH 466 and LSB 909 credit John Mason Neale "alt." with the translation from 8th century Latin. However, the LSB translation begins "Christ is made the sure foundation" and changes all the second person pronouns into third – for what it's worth. The other reason is that TLH uses Henry Smart's tune REGENT SQUARE (you're thinking "Angels from the realms of glory") while LSB uses Henry Purcell's WESTMINSTER ABBEY ("In His temple now behold Him"). I think they're both wonderful tunes, but I think I would side with LSB on this one.

(469) Glorious things of thee are spoken – again by Newton – is set ("Type 2") to Joseph Barnby's bland, saccharine tune GALILEAN in this book (think: "Hark! the voice of Jesus crying"). This text-tune pairing is pretty much unique in Lutheran hymnals of my acquaintance. Far more objectionable, however, is its widespread pairing with AUSTRIA, a.k.a. AUSTRIAN HYMN, by Joseph Haydn. (Cf. LHy, CSB, TCH, SBH, LBW, LW, LSB) not so much because of its original association with a patriotic melody written for the Austrian emperor of Haydn's day as because it served, within still living memory, as the national anthem of the Third Reich and its goosestepping, imperial ideology ("Deutschland ueber alles" and whatnot). I have personally known people who described themselves as Holocaust survivors, being moved to leave the church in mid-hymn because of that tune choice. Among other tune choices are ELHy 210's use of Beethoven's HYMN TO JOY, with which I disagree on the grounds (also a backup argument against AUSTRIA) that importing themes from classical masterpieces into the hymnal is detrimental both to the classics and to hymnody. Instead, I recommend Cyril V. Taylor's ABBOT'S LEIGH, used with this hymn in the Lutheran Hymnal out of Australia (1973), and in LSB 646 with the hymn "Church of God, elect and glorious." SBH also tries (as an alternate tune to AUSTRIA) a Lowell Mason tune called HARWELL, while ELW uses a tune by William P. Rowlands titled BLAENWERN.

(470) Rise again, ye lion-hearted is a translation by Martin Franzmann (1940) from an 18th century German hymn about Christian martyrdom, set to its own tune, the perfectly gorgeous LOEWEN, LASST EUCH WIEDERFINDEN by Bernhard Klein (1817). I think it's a very thrilling and encouraging hymn, especially knowing that the age of Christian martyrs is not yet past. In fact, it's going at an unprecedented rate. It bewilders me that, amid new hymns by Franzmann that have been introduced in later hymnals (not all of them showing him at his best), this happy novelty was never renewed – except in ELHy 555, where it is set to Alfred Fremder's about equally attractive but very modern tune STRATFORD.

(476) Ten thousand times ten thousand is a "church triumphant" hymn by Henry Alford (1867), set to John B. Dykes' tune ALFORD (1875), and it's been in lots of hymnals but I don't think it deserves it. I find Dykes' tune pompous and derivative, the lyrics heavy on emotional experience and light on Christ, and the phrase "what raptured greetings" (stanza 3) poorly judged, considering the theological baggage of the term "rapture." To be fair, it references the saints' "fight with death and sin" (stanza 1) and does, eventually, paint the "Lamb for sinners slain" (stanza 4) into the picture. It's not terrible. I just, once again, don't think it's so great in proportion to its widespread popularity, measured by how many books it's in. Another case, perhaps, where being originally written in English has given a hymn a disproportionate advantage. I guess I'll give it 1 tack.

(493) Thou who the night in prayer didst spend is set to the engaging tune ST. PETERSBURG by Dmitri Bortniansky (1822). It occurs to me to mention it now because this is a tune I've seen tried out with a variety of hymns, some of which may surprise you because they are so strongly wedded to some other tune – for example, "Jesus, Thy boundless love to me" (ELHb 84, SBH 399); "Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel" (LHy 172, TCH 118) and the one that actually sticks in my mind with this tune, "We saw Thee not when Thou didst come" (TCH 162).

(495) From Greenland's icy mountains is a "missions" hymn by Reginald Heber (1819), set to the Lowell Mason tune MISSIONARY HYMN (1824), and like 476, it's just a little tacky. I give it 0.5 tack for devoting so many lines to a list of exotic places – sort of the sacred-music equivalent of the Huey Lewis song "Heart of Rock and Roll" ("Tulsa, Austin, Oklahoma City, Seattle, San Francisco too..."). More concerning than this picture-postcard passage are the bits that, nowadays, come across as perhaps embarrassingly paternalistic – word-pictures of "heathen blindness" and "men benighted" that one could equally read as either a sound argument for the need for mission work or as a religious justification for cultural imperialism. The strongest argument, of course, would be a depiction of the need for the knowledge of Christ, on which this hymn touches but lightly. So, let's say 1.5 tacks.

(496) Hark! the voice of Jesus crying is at least mostly by Daniel March (1863) and is wedded, as I mentioned before, to Barnby's tune GALILEAN. I'd be much more comfortable with this hymn if it was clearer about whether it's addressing the whole church (with regard to her missionary obligations) or every individual church member (with disregard of his or her individual vocation). Admittedly, there is stanza 3, which basically says maybe you can't be Moses, but at least you can be Aaron; and that's the "author unknown" stanza. So it's definitely March who finally, in stanza 4, doubles down on shaming everyone who doesn't make the task of missions his or her own – a tone of cajolery almost up to the threshold of nagging, which is one of my least favorite shades of hymnody. In contrast, hymns 497 ("The morning light is breaking") and 498 ("Rise, Thou Light of Gentile nations") set a good example of mission-oriented hymnody – the one joyfully reporting the results of the church's mission, the other addressing Christ and calling on Him to shape and empower it. I've seen more negative mission hymns than 496; indeed, there's one in LHy that dangles an explicit threat of death over the heads of believers who don't involve themselves in mission work. But for being somewhere toward that side of center on the sliding scale of law vs. gospel predominating in mission hymns, and for being popular out of proportion to its merits, I award this hymn 2 tacks.

(499) Look from Thy sphere of endless day, with words by William Bryant (1840) set to G.J. Elvey's often-used tune ST. CRISPIN (1862), is one that gets my back up before the first comma. Imagining God as a being that gazes down on us from an ineffably distant realm of existence, it has about as unincarnational a jumping-off point as any hymn in Lutheran hymnody – including the one in SBH that says God is still God even if he destroys the world and all mankind. To those who say they don't know what "incarnational" means, I say you know when it's missing. 1 tack.

We'll pick up with hymns 500ff. another time. Tell then, watch for tacks lying around!

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