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.
(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.
(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.
(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 "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).
(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.
(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.
(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.