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.In this last installment regarding TLH, we tackle the section toward the end of the book titled "Carols and Spiritual Songs," which I foretold would carry a lot of "Type 1" tackiness in proportion to the rest of the book.
(646) Silent night! Holy night! has previously gotten lip from me.
(647) O little town of Bethlehem, or rather its tune ST. LOUIS, has also already been honored by my criticism. However, I might also note that besides ST. LOUIS and frequently seen alternate tune FOREST GREEN, I have detected ties between this well-known Christmas carol and several other hymn tunes, including Henry Walford Davies' CHRISTMAS CAROL (cf. SBH 27).
(649) Jesus, Savior, pilot me is another been-there, done-that.
(650) Behold a Stranger at the door is a flimsy little scrap of decisionistic, altar call rubbish that shouldn't be in a Lutheran hymnal. Written by a certain Joseph Grigg (1765), set to Lowell Mason's HAMBURG (itself adapted from the Gregorian First Tone) and based on an obnoxious interpretation of Revelation 3:20, it (or through it, the singer) reasons and begs and pleads and cajoles and nags some imaginary person whose tush is warming the anxious bench to "admit Him" before He departs in wrath, before "the hour's at hand when at His door denied you'll stand." Oh, let Him in, it insists; let His reign in your heart begin; open the door. And presto! Your Lutheran congregation has become Methodist.
I touched on (653) Now the light has gone away before – or at least, its too-precious tune, MUEDE BIN ICH. About Frances R. Havergal's children's bedtime prayer poem, I have to admit it hits many points that I think would be good for children to learn to pray about. It actually puts to shame a lot of other kiddie hymns, simply by including such lines as "Thou didst die that I might live. All my blessings come from Thee" and "Thou wilt love me to the end." Also to be commended to parents seeking a hymn for their children to learn by heart are (654) Now the day is over (words and music by Sabine Baring-Gould, best known for this hymn and "Onward, Christian Soldiers" and for his translation of the Basque carol, "The angel Gabriel from heaven came") and (655) I pray Thee, dear Lord Jesus, a one-stanza hymn from Thomas Kingo's Danish, set to Hartnack Zinck's beautiful tune JEG VIL MIG HERREN LOVE.
As evidence that a single remark made in passing can ruin something beautiful for you, I might mention (656) Behold a host, arrayed in white, which I thought was all right until a certain pastor mused aloud that the line at the end of stanza 2, "The Lamb, their Lord, at festal board Himself is Host and Guest" doesn't really make sense in the context of the paschal feast – or at least, fails to mention that He actually is the feast. Let's put it down to things inevitably going astray in translation and note that (1) TLH employs a pretty hymn-like arrangement adapted from Edvard Grieg's harmonization of the Norwegian folk melody DEN STORE HVIDE FLOK, which TLH titles GREAT WHITE HOST; compare the much more theatrical arrangement in LW 192. (2) Folks who can imagine no other tune being paired with this hymn may be astonished to learn that in LHy 492, the Grieg piece is only the second tune, while the first is a Ludvig Lindeman number by the same name. And finally, (3), I'm the organist who missed a repeat sign while playing the second tune out of LHy 492 and left the congregation hanging at the end of Stanza 3. Mea maxima culpa.
(658) Onward, Christian soldiers is that other well-known hymn by Sabine Baring-Gould, with music by Arthur Sullivan (yea, he of Gilbert & Sullivan), and (660) I'm but a stranger here also partakes of a Sullivan tune, and on both of them I have previously commented at least once; and beyond what I said there, peace.
Next time, I think, I will follow a reader's suggestion and begin a new segment, praising the beauties (and occasionally knocking the blemishes) of The Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary, the ELS hymnal that came out in 1996 when I happened to be in the ELS, and for whose editors I hold much personal and professional love and admiration. Could they be guilty of tackiness? Well, nobody's perfect. Wait and see. We might just find out that they've uncovered rare treasures worthy to be more widely known.