Monday, October 29, 2007

John Goss

I've done Barnby and Stainer, I might as well keep whaling on the leading Anglican Romantic composers who contributed hymn tunes to Anglophone Lutheran hymnals. Understandably, English-speaking Lutheranism has imbibed the language's indigenous hymn tradition, tapping into various Reformed kegs to do so, rather than holding exclusively to German-Lutheran tunes. So again, the purpose of this study is to evaluate whether intoxication with Anglican hymn tunes has blurred our vision toward the line between Lutheran and Protestant theology - or caused us to stagger to and fro along that line - or even, God forbid, to wake up in bed with Reformed spirituality, not remembering how we got there.

Eurgh. I should stick to my strengths, among which metaphor is not one. So, without further *hic*:

John Goss (1800-1880), like his successor Stainer, sat on the organ bench at St. Paul's Cathedral. He also received a knighthood after serving 16 years as composer to the Chapel Royal. A goodly handful of his hymn tunes show that Goss's influence extends well beyond the pale of the Anglican church. To wit:

Here is one of the more successful tunes in the tricky "Hallelujah Metre" (6666 88). I have found it in at least five Lutheran hymnals, joined to such hymns as "Arise, my soul, arise"; "Before the Lord we bow"; "Join all the glorious names" (or at least its cento, "Jesus my great high priest"); and "To Thee, our God, we fly." Goss's tune is simple yet memorable, filled with joyous energy that seems to burst forth in the breathless concluding phrases. For a plain, objective hymn with an upbeat character, you could hardly do better.

Glad Tidings
This blustery, martial tune goes with W. A. Muhlenberg's Christmas hymn, "Shout the glad tidings, exultantly sing." The text does not stint in pomp and circumstance, so why should the tune do so? I can see such a hymn going over well in a Sunday school Christmas program where trumpets and drums are involved; but Christmastime is already so loaded with must-sing carols and hymns that I doubt there will ever be room for such a little-known and mediocre hymn as this.

This tune is sometimes called See, amid the winter's snow, which is also the first line of the Christmas hymn it goes with. This classic children's carol by Edward Caswall almost faded into obscurity, but it has been making a comeback in recent years; recently it was included in the new Lutheran Service Book. In fact, my church choir sang it last Christmas. It is a touching, gentle, well-written carol; though perhaps it doesn't have the depth one hopes to find in the main body of a hymnal (as opposed to an appendix of "carols," etc.). By the way, the title Humility also comes from Caswall's text: "Teach us to resemble Thee In Thy sweet humility."

Lauda anima
Also known as Praise or Praise, my soul, this tune was paired with "Christ is made the sure foundation" in both hymnaries of the ELS. More prevalent, however, is the marriage between this tune and the Henry F. Lyte hymn, "Praise, my soul, the King of heaven." One hymnal, and a hymnal supplement of my aquaintance, have actually supplied Goss's entire set of alternate arrangements of this tune, to be performed one after another. This provides harmonic variety between the stanzas, and includes verses to be sung in unison over organ accompaniment as well as an SATB stanza or two.

Though, like some of my least favorite Barnby numbers, this tune squeezes a lot of mileage out of a few repeated notes, I must admit the overall effect of this hymn is very impressive. My vicarage bishop likes to use this hymn on Transfiguration Sunday to mark the congregation's "farewell to the Alleluia" before the beginning of Lent.

Not to be confused with the same-named tune by Ralph Harrison, this tune I have found paired with the hymns "O God of God, O Light of Light" and "O God the Father, draw Thou nigh." Since it hasn't been seen in any recent Lutheran hymnals, I doubt we need to concern ourselves with word-association matters, though interestingly the seventh phrase of this tune sounds much like its counterpart in O grosser Gott, the tune more generally paired with "O God of God, O Light of Light." On its own merits, Peterborough is a sturdy, well-designed, dignified tune, though perhaps a bit pale as to inspiration. Wherever texts are begging for tunes, I would deem this one fit for duty.

St. Augustine
The old Lutheran Hymnary used this tune twice, with "Jesus, my strength, my hope" and "Not what these hands have done." Since then it has been neglected, I think unjustly. To be sure, it is an unusual hymn tune. It begins in F major and ends in D minor; it combines a hint of Slavic folkdance with an air of gentility and mysterious depths. I imagine that the beginning of each verse would sound like the welcome return of a joyful refrain; thus the final, minor-key conclusion might come as a shock! With leadership by the choir and careful articulation by the organist, it might be possible to introduce this tune into congregational song. If not, I would like to hear it from the choir loft sometime.

The same Hymnary paired this tune with the hymn "O Jesus, source of calm repose." Again, its association with this text is not likely to be a factor in whether this tune could be used in today's Lutheran church. Any unattached text with six lines of eight syllables could happily get hitched to this tune. It is exceedingly pleasing and effective, endearing but not cloying in its Romanticism, and full of unusual turns of melody that may, at first, be disconcerting; though in time they should make this tune stand out in the congregation's memory.

John Goss allegedly adapted this tune from a German source. So I do not know whether his genius, or that of some unnamed German composer, deserves credit for this remarkable melody. It pours out so intuitively, so gracefully, that every phrase seems inevitable, though only one phrase is ever repeated. The text "Commit thou all thy griefs," which I found set to this tune, is a John Wesley translation out of Paul Gerhardt. Which raises the interesting question: is Thessalonica a very free adaptation of the old chorale Herzlich tut mich verlangen? This is a mind-blowing possibility, when you consider the vague similarities and vast differences between the two tunes. If that is the case, it might reveal a lot about the creative process of adapting a tune from one century and cultural context into another.

At the bottom of the list is a Goss tune I don't much care for. Set to the text "Arise, O God, and shine," it strikes me as stiff, jerky, and reminiscent of a mediocre showtune; uninspired and tricky business for a hymn-singing congregation. Goss seems to have started out with some good ideas and an intelligible structure, and then lapsed into disorganized hamminess. Oh, well. Everyone has to work on bad days. Such an underwhelming specimen can at least prompt us to thank God for humming such tunes as Lauda anima into Goss's ear!

Conclusion: Though not as consistently sublime as the works of his successor Stainer, the tunes Goss left behind include some splendid pieces that would be an asset to any hymn-singing church, Lutheran or otherwise. I respect the simplicity and honesty of these tunes, and would welcome the stroger ones into my congregation's repertoire.

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