Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Tacky Hymns 87

We continue with the 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.
(502) Lord of the Church, we humbly pray is a "ministry" hymn by Edward Osler, based on a longer hymn by Charles Wesley, which TLH sets to the chorale KOMMT HER ZU MIR. ELHy's choice of PURLEIGH by Arthur Henry Brown is nice but maybe not so memorable.

(503) Fling out the banner! let it float is a "bottom of the page text block" (BOTPTB) by George Washington Doane, whose five stanzas all begin with the same four words, the same running metaphor of the cross as a flag or battle standard to which angels (stanza 2), heathen lands (st. 3) we ourselves (st. 4) and all creation look. I'm ambivalent about the martial imagery, which (once again) could be read as coded language for baptized imperialism. But if you're not reading it that way, it scores some interesting points, like the one about angels desiring to look into these things (redemption), and how "nations, crowding to be born, baptize their spirits in its light," and how "our glory (is) only in the Cross, our only hope, the Crucified," and that it excludes our skill, might or merit (st. 5). Worth discussing, and maybe using for a home devotion, but I'd be careful not to breathe a word of politics anywhere near a church service where this hymn is sung.

(505) O Lord, who in Thy love divine (didst safely leave the ninety-nine) is a Christopher Wordsworth hymn that TLH 493 has as "Thou who the night in prayer didst spend." Explanation: TLH omitted six of the 10 stanzas, including stanza 1, included in ELHy. It's kind of weird to see the stanza-omitting boot on that foot, isn't it?

(506) Forth in Thy name, O Lord, I go is a nice little Charles Wesley hymn, here presented as a BOTPTB with the suggested tune PUER NOBIS NASCITUR (cf. 106, "On Jordan's bank the herald's cry"). LW and LSB both set the tune to the modern melody LAKEWOOD by Barry Bobb, which is how I learned the hymn and is all very nice, but I'm OK with substituting a more historic tune.

(509) Father, Son and Holy Ghost, (bless the young before Thee) is a confirmation hymn from early 19th century German, set to the chorale tune STRAF MICH NICHT. I guess we could use more confirmation hymns, provided we retain enough baptized youngsters long enough to confirm them.

(510) Fear and love thy God and lord is a Scandinavian confirmation hymn, here set to SPANISH CHANT – TLH's underpowered tune to the Ash Wednesday litany hymn "Savior, when in dust to Thee," which LW, LSB and ELHy all improved by upgrading to ABERYSTWYTH. I'm afraid putting "Fear and love" to SPANISH CHANT was a downgrade for this hymn. In the old LHy, the hymn begins "Fear, my child, thy God and Lord," has each stanza shortened from eight lines to seven, and is set to the striking and powerful tune SINGEN WIR AUS HERZENS GRUND (a.k.a. DA CHRISTUS GEBOREN WAR, also the tune to "Jesus, let my soul be fed" in The Concordia Hymnal). Despite losing a line of each stanza, I'd go with the SINGEN WIR version, personally.

(512) My God, accept my heart this day is a Matthew Bridges confirmation hymn that you can take or leave, as far as I'm concerned. I'm not a big fan of William H. Havergal's tune EVAN ("Oh, that the Lord would guide my ways"), which reeks to me of Old Lady Church in the golden age of American Methodism to which too many Lutherans look with misplaced nostalgia. I'm also ambivalent about Bridges' words, which smack just a bit of making a decision to ask Jesus into one's heart. To be sure, there's always a proper way to understand words like this, particularly in the context of confirmation Sunday ... unless you question the high place confirmation has held in post-Reformation Lutheranism ... but that's a topic for another knock-down-drag-out.

(514) Our Lord and God, O bless this day is a Johan Nordahl Brun confirmation hymn that was in TLH, set to the tune REUTER (best known to Missouri Sinners as the tune to "God's Word is our great heritage"). However, ELHy suggests singing this BOTPTB to the isometric version of EIN FESTE BURG ("A mighty fortress"), a tune preference that LHy and ELHy also extend toward "God's Word is our great heritage." I've mentioned before, somewhere on this blog, witnessing a debate at the end of a Bible study about which of the two tunes to sing the latter hymn to, which broke almost 50-50 along party lines (folks who grew up with LHy vs. folks who grew up with TLH). Fun times. I'm for Reuter, obviously. But not just because I'm a TLH boy, born and raised – I mean, I did the LHy thing, too, and liked it – but because I don't hold with isometric EIN FESTE BURG. Let the congregation learn one version of the tune and let it be the rhythmic one, I say.

(516) O(h,) watch and pray, my soul, the way is a Hans Adolf Brorson confirmation hymn with the Lenten chorale melody O TRAURIGKEIT ("Oh, darkest woe"). It's a stern admonition to confirmands to use God's Word to defend themselves against the foe's assaults. Like a lot of confirmation hymns, some of the word choices (possibly due, in this case, to George Rygh's translation) leave you wondering, such as st. 3: "O(h,) make thy choice the Spirit's voice" – but let's be charitable and assume this hymn is preaching to the already regenerated, K? Anyway, you've got to enjoy a hymn that uses words like "havoc" (st. 4) and "foul spell" (st. 6).

(529) Vain world, now farewell is a Thomas Kingo burial hymn (section title: "Death: A Sleep") presented as a BOTPTB. I think this does a disservice to the hymn because the beautiful, expressive Norwegian folk tune FAR VERDEN, FAR VEL (cf. Hymn 575, "The sun has gone down") is quite tricky if you don't know it well.

(531) O blessed Sun whose splendor is a three-stanza K.J. Philipp Spitta hymn, billed as a burial hymn although it only directly addresses the topic of death during the latter half of stanza 2. As texts go, it's a nice, warm expression of dependence on Jesus. Musically, it's saddled with Felix Mendelssohn's tune HEAVENLY LOVE ("In heavenly love abiding"), to which I object on two grounds – first, my usual quibble about dragooning themes by classical composers into service as hymn tunes; and second, its excessive syrupiness, Romantic to a fault, which in my opinion is a (excuse the strong language) damning fault in the context of hymnody.

(534) The world is very evil is a cento from Bernard of Cluny's De Contemptu Mundi, combining the parts that TLH split into four hymns (also including "Brief life is here our portion," "Jerusalem the golden" and "For thee, O dear, dear country"). The entire, 14-stanza omnibus, still a cento, is set to the tune EWING that TLH used for several of those fragments.

(536) O Son of God, we wait for Thee is a Philipp Friedrich Hiller hymn welcoming the Day of Judgment, set to the (perhaps incongruously) cheerful chorale WAS GOTT TUT. Translator Joseph Seiss (author of "Beautiful Savior") may have done this hymn a favor, because I see a hymn that addresses Christ throughought, while an alternate translation that seems more in line with the original German suggests a more inward-directed gaze ("Aspire, my heart, on high to live").

(537) Day of wrath, O day of mourning is based on the 13th century funeral sequence Dies irae, well known to anyone who has heard or peformed almost any setting of the Requiem. (I've had the pleasure of singing in the chorus of Mozart's and Verdi's, myself.) Among other hymnals, I've seen this long, oddly structured hymn set to several different tunes, including a brief (three-line) Latin melody called DIES IRAE in TLH, as well as longer, more through-composed tunes by John B. Dykes and Ludvig M. Lindeman. This is the odd case in which a hymnal actually tried to set the hymn to an arrangement of the Gregorian melody for the Dies irae, often quoted in classical music as a musical symbol of death, though the way the strains of chant melody are stitched together makes for a larger stanza structure (nine lines) than the original hymn. And like I may have mentioned before, while this hymn definitely does hit some people right where they feel death and burial, its overall tone of existential terror at facing the judgment of God needn't always be the way to go at a funeral. It may be more appropriate, as this hymnal sections it, for a service focusing on Judgment Day.

(542) In heaven above, in heaven above is one that I've reviewed before, though a brother in hymnology hit back in the comments. Note, this hymnal cites the author as L.L. Laurinus, which I suppose helps to distiguish him from the other hymn-writer named Laurentius Laurentii, though I imagine all those Laur- names made signing checks rather tedious for him. I still feel a bit squinty in the soft-focus brightness of this hymn's depiction of heaven; it's so heavenly I just can't stand it.

Finding nothing else to remark on by Hymn 550, I feel this is as good a point as any to quit for today. Still feeling pretty positive about the book, on balance.

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