Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Tacky Hymns 79

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.
(542) The sun arises now is a "Type 3" phenomenon, a "morning" hymn by Danish author Thomas Kingo (1699) set to its own tune, NU RINDER SOLEN OP, from H.O.K. Zinck's Koralbog (1801), both well deserving to be introduced into the predominantly German-American circles of Missouri and Wisconsin at the time TLH came out – but apparently not such a hit that it stuck in their repertoire. Of two other instances of this hymn I have found in Anglophone hymnody, one is in the American Lutheran Hymnal (Columbus, Ohio: The Wartburg Press, 1930) – at last, I've located one of those books whose acronym, in my personal index of Lutheran hymnals, has stymied me lately – and the other is in ELHy. The tune, also known as SUNRISE and ZINCK, also appears in three other hymnals (LHy, ALH and The Concordia Hymnal, hereafter TCH), paired with three other texts. I get that the editors of the latest hymnals are all about representing a more "catholic" range of hymn writers, but in my opinion, letting excellent work by key representatives of a whole, culturally and historically strong branch of Lutheranism fall by the wayside is a huge missed opportunity.

(543) When, streaming from the eastern skies is a mild case of "Type 2," a morning hymn by William Shrubsole (1813, cento, alt.) that TLH sets to the respectable chorale ALL EHR UND LOB (Strasbourg, 1541). I only bring it up because LHy 550 pairs it with BROWNELL, a tune by Franz Joseph Haydn that I think may be the ultimate example of a beautiful, classical music theme that has been co-opted into the church's hymnody to the detriment of both classical music and hymn singing. It's gorgeous, but way too difficult for the congregation to sing. If you want to better appreciate the musical legacy Haydn left our culture, I recommend listening to the Philharmonia Hungarica's boxed set of his complete symphonies (available on Naxos CD), in which I immersed myself for a full year (c. 1998-99) and which I now miss like an amputated limb.

(550) O Splendor of God's glory bright is a "Type 3" hymn – nine stanzas translated from the Latin of St. Ambrose of Milan (4th century) and set to Nikolaus Herman's 1560 chorale O HEILIGE DREIFALTIGKEIT. LSB 874 swaps in a nice modern tune (PUTNAM by living composer Stephen Johnson) and on that difference, I have no opinion whatsoever. However, I don't care for the fact that LSB snips out three of the stanzas of a hymn that I once memorized for extra credit on a seminary exam. I don't remember whether it was a history class on the early church or a dogmatics class on God and creation, but I found the exercise very fruitful and I cherish all nine stanzas that I learned. Here's a sample of this brilliant, theologically rich hymn: "On Christ, the true Bread, let us feed; Let Him to us be drink indeed, And let us taste with joyfulness The Holy Spirit's plenteousness."

(556) O God, be with us (for the night is falling) is another "Type 3" – an "evening" hymn by Petrus Herbert (1566), plus one stanza by an anonymous 17th century writer, set to a 16th century chorale by Petrus Nigidius titled DIE NACHT IST KOMMEN. The tune has a tricky rhythm to it, and it wouldn't be unreasonable to substitute a tune like HERZLIEBSTER JESU; however, I think the challenge is one a congregation can rise to meet once conditioned to sing the rhythmic chorales prevalent in TLH. It has a distinctly Reformation era character, a solemn energy that I find intriguing. But enough about the tune. The text is also remarkable, starting (at the end) with a one-stanza paraphrase of the Lord's Prayer and working backward to include a statement of faith in the protecting presence of God the Father; a prayer for relief of all the afflicted; a prayer for grace whether asleep or awake; and a two-stanza paraphrase of Luther's evening prayer, complete with the "let Thy holy angel be with us, that the wicked foe may have no power over us" bit. Installing this hymn in your congregation would be like a shot of Lutheranephrine right in the heart.

(558) All praise to Thee, my God, this night is kind of a reverse "Type 2" – one of those odd hymns for which TLH furnishes multiple tunes, including one that most likely nobody ever uses. Tune 1 is the aptly named TALLIS' CANON by the 16th century English composer Thomas Tallis, which can indeed be sung as a canon (in fact, the tenor line of the TLH arrangement is identical to the melody, only transposed an octave down and shifted one bar to the right). So, there's practically no use for Tune 2, a piece of shmaltz titled EVENING HYMN and arranged from something by French Romantic opera composer Charles Gounod. Another odd thing about EVENING HYMN is that it's twice as long as TALLIS' CANON, and so the Gounod tune burns two stanzas of Thomas Ken's 1695 poem to the Tallis' one. If, however, your organist claims to find the Gounod tune easier to play than the Tallis one, be aware that (s)he is probably lying (and also, definitely, has bad taste), because the Tallis is in G (one sharp) and the Gounod is in D-flat (5 flats). Just sayin'.

(559) O Christ, who art the Light and Day is a 6th century Latin hymn, set to an ancient melody, that I also fear needs a "Type 3" boost because it doesn't sing in today's most popular style. I've personally made the effort to teach this hymn to at least one congregation, and I think it was effort well spent. Here's a sample stanza from the seven included in TLH: "Behold, O God, our Shield, and quell The crafts and subtleties of hell; Direct Thy servants in all good, Whom Thou hast purchased with Thy blood." A hymn about which I could say many of the same things is (561) Now that the day has reached its close, albeit with words from 18th century German and a beautiful, darkly colored tune by the same Adam Krieger (1667) whose tune to "One thing needful" is better than the one in TLH.

(565) Savior, breathe an evening blessing ("Type 2") is another case like 558 where the first tune, RINGE RECHT (Basel, 1745), is the clear choice over against the overly sentimental, operatic alternative, EVENING PRAYER by George C. Stebbins (1878).

I get a perhaps unjustified kick out of the Psalm 136 paraphrase (570) Praise, oh, praise our God and King, with the charming tune MONKLAND (1824) co-opted from the United Brethren church. The fact that you spend half of this hymn's eight stanzas singing the same refrain doesn't bother me in this instance, because it reflects the original Psalm's repeats of "for His mercies endure forever." Also, the tune really is a joy, if you can stretch your voice over its wide-ish melodic range.

While I'm not thrilled in general that TLH devotes 10 whole hymns (575-584) to "The Nation," I'm not particularly cross with any of them and even think some of them are pretty good. There's even a Paul Gerhardt opus in there. It could, on the whole, be worse – as evidenced by those hymnals that actually put the U.S., Canadian and other national anthems in there. Congregations that sing those songs in worship probably also have a national flag standing in the Holy of Holies, as if the country is to be worshiped alongside God. (I say this after belonging to at least a couple churches where the question of where the flag should stand, in relation to the altar, was a never-ending controversy settled, from one Sunday to the next, by whoever showed up early-early to shift the flagpole stand to where they wanted it. Not for nothing does St. John call the church "little children.")

The "Death and Burial" section has some wonderful, "Type 3" numbers in it, including lovely, spiritually enriching works by Paul Gerhardt (586), Simon Dach (589), Martin Luther (590), Norway's Magnus Brostrup Landstad (592), Nikolaus Herman (594), Michael Weisse (596), Formula of Concord contributor Nikolaus Selnecker (600), J.G. Albinus (601) and several other pieces of superior quality. One (595) is particularly aimed at the funeral of a child. Another (597) is the inspiration for one of the greatest Lutheran chorales (CHRISTUS, DER IST MEIN LEBEN by Melchior Vulpius, 1609), a prodigious example of eloquence compressed into brevity and simplicity. There are, however, one or two numbers where TLH's editors' judgment is a bit suspect, like (587) Asleep in Jesus! blessed sleep, a sentimental chestnut by Margaret Mackay (1832) set to a teeth-rotting piece of spun sugar by William Bradbury (1843) titled REST.

The "Resurrection" section has all of one hymn, (603) In the resurrection, from an anonymous Slovak author and set to a Slovakian tune, both from the 17th century. TLH calls the tune RESURRECTION, which I suppose is easier to pronounce than the Slovak title. As I've said about several previously mentioned hymns from the Czechoslovak branch of Lutheranism, it's a striking, different and memorable piece, in spite of a few rough spots in its English versification. To the extent that preserving the legacy of a culturally and historically distinctive shoot from the stem of Luther, I think it deserves to be preserved; and by that I mean practiced and sung.

(607) Day of wrath, O day of mourning is a 19-stanza adaptation of the Dies irae, a 13th century Latin sequence hymn associated with the Roman Catholic mass for the dead. Often the most dramatic part of any composer's setting of the Requiem, the Dies irae is also, at the same time, both the only distinct part of the Requiem liturgy that readily transfers to Lutheran usage and perhaps the only use the church has ever made of the book of Zephaniah in worship, going all the way back to Messianic Judaism B.C. So, it's useful to keep around, even if its lens for viewing death and judgment is chiefly tinted in shades of abject terror. (It's basically a prayer for mercy to a God whose majesty becomes awfully, but understandably, real at the point of physical death.) Any hope or consolation this hymn has in it is gently shaded in toward the end. Meanwhile, the tune (called, funnily enough, DIES IRAE, and also found in ELHb and CW) comes from about the same period of the text, but is a little different from the Latin plainchant most widely associated with the sequence; for that, you should seek out ELHy 537. As for what I think of the through-composed DIES IRAE tunes by L.M. Lindeman and J.B. Dykes, click on the composers' names so I can spare the repetition. And by the way, (612) That day of wrath, that dreadful day is an abbreviated translation of Dies irae by Walter Scott (1805).

Moving from the "Judgment" section to "Life Everlasting," (613) Jerusalem the golden and (614) For thee, O dear, dear country are two of four hymns in TLH (cf. 448 "Brief life is here our portion" and 605 "The world is very evil") all cento'd from Bernard of Cluny's long poem De Contemptu Mundi (On Contempt of the World). Three of them are set to Alexander Ewing's 1853 tune EWING, while 614 switches to an 1876 English tune BONA PATRIA, which breathes a similar spirit of warm, Romantic pomp and circumstance. I suppose it's down to the power of the lyrics, which haven't suffered much from being translated by John M. Neale, that I just can't resist the emotional tug of these tunes. I'm kind of on a "Type 2" wavelength here, though, in case you didn't notice that these four hymns are all fragments of the same poem that other hymnals, perhaps, dismembered and put back together differently.

(615) A rest remaineth for the weary is the type of prolix poem whose negative example points up the importance of verbal economy when attempting to write best-quality hymns. Partly due to the tune having an alternate ending that the book includes (please don't play both endings!), just four stanzas of J.S. Knuth's 1730 hymn spread across two whole pages in TLH. (And this, mind you, is only a cento.) OK, I've written some hymns with a long stanza structure, too. But I recognize that they're not my best work. This is a hymn that I think is deservedly neglected and on its way to being forgotten. If it isn't taking its tune with it, that's only because the same melody (WIE WOHL IST MIR) also goes with TLH 362, "My soul's best friend," which we've already discussed.

(617) There is an hour of peaceful rest is a cloyingly sentimental "Life Everlasting" hymn by William Tappan (1818) whose tune, PAX CELESTE out of an 1824 Edinburgh publication, I've actually paired with one of my own, original hymns – but only because it's pretty much the only tune I could find that fits the meter of the words. I may have to knuckle down and write an original tune for that song.

(618) Jerusalem, my happy home is a "Type 2"-er if there ever was one. TLH's choice of the brief, straightforward tune ST. PETER might have been driven by page format (allowing the hymn to squeeze onto the lower half of a page), but I think the American tune LAND OF REST has become the more universally accepted choice. Evidence: SBH 587, LBW 331, LW 307, CW 215, ELHy 539, LSB 673 and ELW 628.

(619) Jerusalem, Thou city fair and high – words by J.M. Meyfart (1626) set to Melchior Franck's 1663 tune JERUSALEM, DU HOCHGEBAUTE STADT (also attributed to Michael Praetorius) – is, I think, another hymn that may be too prolix for its own good. The third line of stanza 1 ("My longing heart fain, fain, to thee would fly") is one of the most obnoxious dollops of syrup in TLH, which can only partly be blamed on translator Catherine Winkworth; the German reads "Mein sehnlich Herz so gross Verlangen hat," and so also packs in two words that mean "longing." In stanza 2, the thinness of poetic ideas expands to fill the space allotted by the tune, so far as to allow a line to call upon a "happy day and yet far happier hour," and to spread a question over four lines so that the question mark comes as a surprise and you have to reread the sentence to understand what you just sang. Stanza 3 takes the liberty of jamming two adverbs at the end of its first line ("gently, wondrously"). So as not to join in this hymn's prolixity, I'll let your imagination work on Stanzas 4-8 but let me assure you, what they add to the meaning of this hymn is out of proportion to the amount of space (and time) they take up. If you're going to do that, you might as well do Contemporary Worship Music. I'll just add, however, that the nagging sense that there should be a line about "gates adorned with pearl" somewhere in this hymn is a result of LSB 639 ("Wide open stand the gates"), which uses the same tune but is a much shorter and better structured communion hymn by Wilhelm Loehe.

(623) O perfect Love (all human thought transcending), from the section on "Marriage," is a hymn by Dorothy Gurney (1884) that TLH pairs with the tune CARITAS PERFECTA by F.C. Atkinson (1885). To be sure, there's no better occasion than a wedding for importing sentimental smarm into worship, and Gurney's lyrics certainly do bring a bit of that, but I think Atkinson's tune may put this hymn over the top. TLH stands alone on this pairing, among the hymnals I checked; Joseph Barnby's O PERFECT LOVE is the choice of ELHb, LHy, CSB, TCH, SBH, LBW, LW, CW, and the Australian Lutheran Hymnal of 1973 that I'd like your leave to call LHA from here on out. About Barnby's tune, and Gurney's text, I have previously written; suffice it to say, CARITAS PERFECTA vs. O PERFECT LOVE is a distinction without a difference. It's worth noting, neither ELHy, ELW nor LSB has this hymn at all. I think this is an encouraging sign that the bad taste of former times may be starting to heal.

(626) O happy home where Thou art loved most dearly, from an 1833 German poem by K.J.P. Spitta and set to an 1854 tune, O SELIG HAUS, by Edward Niemeyer, is another example of what I've suddenly decided to call toxic prolixity. What a great phrase! It has two exes in it! (Hopefully, unlike a marriage at which this hymn is sung.) In spite of having "ab." in its credit line (not to mention "alt." after Sarah Findlater's translation credit), its four stanzas spread across two whole pages – and that's without an alternate ending this time. Hold up, you say; duplication (such phrases as "high and honored" and "holy faith and blessed hope," both occurring in stanza 1) is a mark of the style of psalms and of German devotional writing. Yabbut, I say, Luther and many other hymn writers could pull off terrific fits of hymn-writing without saying as little in as many words as this hymn does. It could be a case like "O living bread from heaven" (TLH 341), which LSB 642 and ELW 542 both cut to fit tunes with a shorter meter, and arguably improved it in so doing; I've done this to some of my own hymns.

(628) Shepherd of tender youth comes from a third century Greek church father named Clement of Alexandria – a fact perhaps hard to guess when you're singing it to OLIVET by Lowell Mason (1832). Among other tunes found with this hymn are ITALIAN HYMN (LW 471, LSB 864), KIRBY BEDON (SBH 179) and MONKS GATE (ELHy 183).

I'm skimming lightly over the section of hymns about such "Special Occasions" as cornerstone-laying, dedication and church anniversary. They're just not going to be used often enough, per gross of copies of the book, to be worth fussing over. The fact that exactly one hymn (641) speaks to seminary life might be inconvenient for planning services in the seminary chapel, but you know how such institutions are; they're never short of custom-written hymns that blow in and out with a given academic year. There's also one hymn (642) for foreign missionaries, useful (but not spectacular) if one shows up as a guest speaker on Mission Sunday. Absent loved ones get their own hymn, too (643). Shall I criticize? I wrote a whole book predicated on the concept of "useful hymns" for this, that and the other seldom felt purpose, and I'm working on a sequel.

But this length of thread on "Tacky Hymns," so far as TLH is concerned, comes to a fitting end in the section titled "Carols and Spiritual Songs," hymn 645ff., which I'm going to save for Post 80 because I feel many of them will play to a theme I have in mind – that the designation "carols and spiritual songs" is a frank admission that the songs from that number on (excepting the canticles at the end of the book) aren't really fit for use in public worship. Fight me if you disagree. Did I say fight me? I meant write me. Like, a comment.

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