Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Tacky Hymns 83

We continue with Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary (ELHy, 1996). I repeat:
I'm pointing up three types of hymns in this series of critiques: (1) Hymns that I think the editors should have known better than to put in the pew hymnal of a liturgical, confessional Lutheran church – the kind that, doctrinally and artistically, qualify as "tacky" in the sense I've been using it on this thread; (2) noteworthy text-tune pairings; and (3) hymns of such high quality that I feel they deserve to be better known and more widely sung. I'll try, but not too hard, to avoid vain repetition from previous threads. That's a lot of material to try to keep in mind, you know.
(166) Arise and shine in splendor is a fine enough hymn to open the Epiphany season section of the book. On a Type 2 note, ELHy sets it to a different tune (J.A.P. Schultz's DER MOND IST AUFGEGANGEN) than the one I'm used to (Heinrich Isaac's INNSBRUCK). It's an interesting alternative. There are a couple of phrases in it that remind me oddly of EWING.

(167) How lovely shines the Morning Star (Type 3) is Philip Nicolai's "Queen of Chorales." Enough said.

(169) Brightest and best of the stars of the morning (Type 1) I have previously discussed.

(170) O God of God, O Light of Light (Types 1 and 2) is the majestic John Julian hymn that I know better to the tune O GROSSER GOTT. ELHy, however, sets it to a bowdlerized-for-hymnody-purposes version of a chorus from Haydn's Creation, titled (ahem) CREATION. If you've been tuning in to previous episodes, you probably already know that I don't hold with this kind of thing – dumbing down pieces of fine art music to supply a tune for a hymn that already has a perfectly serviceable tune, and messing with musical associations surrounding a well-known hymn. I think it does a disservice both to Haydn's oratorio and to the singing of hymns, and I'll say the same thing whether it's Beethoven's 9th Symphony (HYMN TO JOY), Handel's JUDAS MACCABAEUS, Sibelius's FINLANDIA or Holst's Jupiter theme (THAXTED).

(172) Songs of thankfulness and praise (Type 2) is another instance where ELHy veers from the tradition I'm more familiar with, pairing this hymn with SALZBURG by J. Hintze instead of ST. GEORGE'S, WINDSOR. I happen to like the tune SALZBURG, but it's also worth noting that it's basically the same tune as ALLE MENSCHEN MÜSSEN STERBEN.

(176) How shall the young secure their hearts (Type 2) again offers an alternate text-tune pairing (with Carl Gläser's AZMON) to those who may be familiar with the tradition that runs through Missouri Synod circles of singing this bit of an Isaac Watts psalm-paraphrase to Alexander Reinagle's ST. PETER (cf. TLH 286 and LW 474). I'm not coming out for or against it; AZMON should, after all, be a familiar tune as well to followers of the TLH-LW-LSB line of hymnals and this particular hymn isn't what I'd call a hill worth dying on.

(179) Jesus loves me! This I know (Type 1 or 3) is an interesting case because the editors saw fit to replace the lyrics after stanza 1 with three original stanzas for what I can only assume were serious doctrinal reasons. Maybe if there were serious doctrinal reasons not to publish the hymn in its native form, it shouldn't be in the book at all. But I say this after rewriting "Amazing grace" the way I thought it should go. I understand the thinking behind this; I'm just not sure it holds up.

(181) Of the Father's love begotton (Type 2) comes up for discussion because ELHy's setting of its tune, DIVINUM MYSTERIUM, does even more violence to the original plainchant than TLH 98 did. I have heard the flowing, chantlike version in LW and LSB sung with good spirit in enough churches in my time to think that if anyone is so worried that people won't be able to swing it that they need to tamper with the tune, they're making themselves a nervous wreck about nothing. What really throws people, these days, is trying to sing the now-familiar hymn to TLH's version with its squared off rhythm or, I would imagine, ELHy's triangled-off one.

(183) Master of eager youth (Type 2), translated from the third-century Greek church father Clement of Alexandria and therefore one of the oldest hymns still in wide use, is paired here with the English tune MONK'S GATE. We Missouri Sinners might recall this hymn as "Shepherd of tender youth" and, depending on where or when we learned it, have other tunes in mind, such as Lowell Mason's OLIVET (TLH 628) or Felice de Giardini's ITALIAN HYMN (LW 471, LSB 864). Apparently, this hymn's tune is so changeable that there's no point arguing about it.

(186) Ye parents, hear what Jesus taught (Type 2) is a hymn that TLH 630 set to the way-overused HERR JESU CHRIST, DICH – used six times in just TLH! However, I think ELHy's choice, TENDER THOUGHT from Kentucky Harmony, while an interesting tune, might be a little harder to teach to an congregation that doesn't know it. I like challenges like this; it's the kind of tune I'd maybe put with an original hymn. But be alert to alternatives.

(188) Hear us now, our God and Father (Type 3), set to HYFRYDOL, is a wedding hymn that I think may need attention drawn to it, buried as it is in the "Second Sunday after Epiphany" section where, I suppose, it landed because of the gospel lesson about the wedding at Cana. Also interestingly, the hymn's text is stitched together from stanzas by two different authors. Still, it works.

(189) In house and home where man and wife (Type 3) is another wedding hymn, which may be more familiar among Missouri Lutherans in its "alt." guise as "O blessed home where man and wife." I'm just mentioning it because of the difference in translation.

(192) How beauteous are their feet (Type 2), another Isaac Watts ditty, is paired here with C. Lockhart's tune CARLISLE, which is really nice and perhaps more memorable than the alternative, ST. MICHAEL, used in TLH 487.

(194) Lift high the cross (Type 1) I've covered before.

(196) Thy hand, O God, has guided (Type 3) is a "bottom of page text block" with the suggested tune AURELIA. It's also quite a good missions hymn by Edward Plumptre, maybe better than the Henry Letterman number on the facing page ("On Galilee's high mountain"), which comes complete with music. (Actually, Letterman's hymn would be quite adequate if it were understood as to be sung by missionaries, or men training to be missionaries. It stretches credibility a bit to put his words in the mouths of the wider congregation, who do not have that particular vocation.)

(200) There many shall come from the east and the west (Type 3) is a good, Norwegian hymn that I learned to love out of that old German-American book, TLH. However, I want to draw attention to it because of the small change in the translation, where the first line as I learned it begins with "Lo."

(201) Spread, O spread, thou mighty word is a fine little missions hymn, here set to Justin Knecht's tune VIENNA. On a Type 2 note, I'll mention that TLH 507 has a very charming alternate tune for it titled HÖCHSTER PRIESTER, which I liked so much I stuck it with one of my original hymns.

(203) All my hope on God is founded (Type 2) is a hymn by Joachim Neander (original German: "Meine Hoffnung stehet feste") for which I seem to have found the beautiful, original tune, also by Neander, also called MEINE HOFFNUNG. However, ELHy sets it to the Herbert Howells tune MICHAEL, which is as lovely as 20th century hymn tunes come but, I think, on the difficult side for Grandma Smurf to play on your parish's Wurlizter draw-bar organ and, maybe too, for some folks to sing. I would like to keep MICHAEL on reserve for a choir performance and see if Neander's original tune couldn't make a comeback.

(204) God, my Lord, my strength, my place of hiding (Type 3) is a 17th century Czech hymn set to its own tune, titled (give or take accent marks) PAN BUH. It's also found in LBW and CW (the 1990s one) and I think it's quite interesting, in a strong, rugged, central European way. It might be a little on the challenging side so, if you really want it to go over big, you might want to start teaching it to your church's younger members first.

(208) Thy way and all Thy sorrows (Types 2-3) is Paul Gerhardt's hymn, translated in TLH 520 as "Commit whatever grieves thee," and comparing the first line of the text in the original German ("Befiehl du deine Wege") with the title of the tune ELHy gives it (Bartolomaeus Gesius' BEFIEHL DU DEINE WEGE) I would conjecture that this words-and-music pairing is more original than TLH's choice of HERZLICH TUT MICH VERLANGEN by Hans Leo Hassler. I welcome the opportunity to learn a new and beautiful piece of early Lutheran melody with the congregation.

(214) Glorious things of thee are spoken (Types 1-2) is an all right hymn, and I've seen it set to lots of different tunes, but for reasons I've already covered, I don't agree with ELHy's pairing of it with Beethoven's HYMN TO JOY theme – even though this particular arrangement preserves the syncopation of the original tune (in its final line) that most hymnals square off. No more do I think we should pair it with Haydn's AUSTRIA as in LW 294 and LSB 648 (as long as there are still people living who shudder at the memory of "Deutschland über alles"). Acceptable alternatives include Joseph Barnby's GALILEAN (TLH 469), or maybe Cyril V. Taylor's ABBOT'S LEIGH.

(215) O Father, may Thy Word prevail (Type 1) is a Hans Brorson hymn, set to its own tune by Ludvig M. Lindeman (AK, FADER, LAD DIT ORD) which, musically, is quite all right. However, I object strenuously to the text of this hymn, which I feel takes a lament about the lack of evidence of true faith too far. Stanza 1 concludes, "How slight the power in evidence / Of Word and Sacraments!" – an expression that, at least in translation, seems open to an interpretation that denies the efficacy of the means of grace. If that's an idea people are going to take away from the hymn, they may end up searching within themselves for a power that God's Word and Sacraments lack. Stanza 2 seems to underscore this point by observing, "Baptized are millions in Thy name, / But where is faith's pure flame? / Of what avail that we / Know of Thine agony / So long as we do not o'erthrow / In faith the wicked foe?" This could be the most virulently archpietistic thing ever sung out of an orthodox Lutheran hymnal. At least, it has that ring to me, seeming to score points off the stats that (sadly) show that most of the baptized lapse from the faith to question the power of baptism itself, and to require the individual Christian to make up what the sacrament lacks by a heroic effort of faith. In all charity, I can sympathize with the disappointment that no doubt lies beneath Brorson's complaint; but I would never, ever put words in a congregation's mouth that put their spiritual exercises ahead of the Means God has bound Himself to. Just as a personal note, I can never hear Lindeman's tune to this hymn without thinking of the last phrase of Stanza 3, "With purple fruits aglow."

(216) Of Zion's honor angels sing (Type 3) is a hymn by a Pennsylvania Lutheran pastor named Emanuel Cronenwett, set to Charles Burney's classically inflected tune TRURO, that contrasts wonderfully with the previous number. It's an excellent confession of the sufficiency of the Word (Stanza 2: "To her suffices: Jesus saith!"), the power of the Keys and the ministry of the Word, all in very simple, direct and concise language.

(218) There is a safe and secret place (Type 3) is by Henry Francis Lyte and set, in ELHy, to the same NEW BRITAIN to which most of us know "Amazing grace." While not entirely to my taste as sacred poems go, I have to admit that has a nice, warm, comforting softness that could be therapeutic to Christians struggling through hard emotional valleys.

The book goes on to the Gesima Sundays in hymns 226ff, so I'll give over here for now. Already what I can mostly observe from this survey is that ELHy is rich in Lutheran content, some familiar to us of the Missouri Synod persuasion, some not so much, and that it definitely represents a distinctive culture within American Lutheranism (if by "culture" you at least partly understand "preferences for certain hymns to be sung to certain tunes"). I think it would be fruitful to integrate much of what we find in this book into our local repertoire – but critically, of course. No hymnal is perfect and some of this book's blemishes are on display above.

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