Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Tunes for 3-Line Hymns

For a general introduction to this thread, click here. For 2-line hymn tunes, click here. And now we continue with tunes for 3-line hymns represented in 20th century anglophone Lutheran hymnals, grouped by meter.


Heilger Geist, du Tröster mein
15th century melody; Bremen, 1633.
Stephen Langton's sequence hymn “Holy Spirit, come, we pray” is set to this Dorian-mode tune in LHA 120. The melody is simple and brief, yet hauntingly memorable, in part because of its unusual meter. Its modal harmonies give it a serious, ancient sound which, combined with the rhythms at the end of its last two phrases, makes it seem right at home with Reformation-era hymnody. An unusual tune all around, it is well adapted to the genre of sequence hymns, and so ought to be better known.

St. Philip
by William H. Monk, 1823-89.
I believe the 13th-century Latin hymn “Holy Ghost, my comforter,” set to this tune in LHy 378, may be a different translation of the Langton hymn referenced above. If so, that puts these two tunes in direct competition; and although this tune is simple, brief, and gently charming, I am afraid Heilger Geist, du Tröster mein comes out on top. Easy enough for children to learn, to say nothing of the average congregation, St. Philip only lacks distinctiveness. It also, frankly, sounds a bit unfinished; and the most memorable bit of it—the third phrase—is reminiscent of Orientis partibus (known to generations of Sunday School Christmas Program veterans through the carol "Friendly Beasts").


Stabat Mater
a.k.a. Mainz
from Gesangbuch, Mainz, 1661 (or 8.8.7. D).
“At the cross, her station keeping,” adapted from the Latin Stabat mater, is set to this tune in SBH 84 and LBW 110. These aren't the only anglophone Lutheran hymnals to make use of this Romanist hymn (cf. LHy 320, "Near the cross was Mary weeping") which, though it falls short of making Mary out to be a Coredemptrix, recasts the Passion of Christ from her point of view. My thinking on this hymn is influenced by conductor David Robertson, who conducted a performance of Rossini's Stabat Mater when I was in the chorus. During rehearsals, Robertson opined that the 13th-century Stabat mater marks the point at which the focus of Catholic theology moved from atonement (with all its violent, bloody, masculine themes of judgment and sacrifice) to empathy (a comparatively feminine point of view). Choosing this hymn on Good Friday invites the worshiper to experience Jesus' suffering and death from the point of view of a sympathetic observer, rather than as a central character in the drama of one's sin being expiated in the body of Christ. Be that as it may, this brief, simple tune—which can be sung either as three-line stanzas or as a six-liner doubled by a repeat sign, is handsome, humble, and plaintive enough to suit its purpose, though it may not wear well with much repetition.


Dies iræ (1)
Latin melody, 13th century.
The Latin sequence hymn from the Mass for the Dead—“Day of wrath! that day of mourning”—is found set to this tune in ELHb 555, TLH 607, and CW 209. This is the simplest of four musical settings of this text that I have found in anglophone Lutheran literature, and the only one that is strictly speaking a three-line hymn tune. The others qualify for the distinction mainly because the hymn text is mostly laid out in three-line stanzas except at the very end, and that textual twist is often edited away. So the larger tunes set to this text can be regarded as compound settings, whereby multiple stanzas can be sung to each once-through, or whereby the entire hymn is arranged in an elaborately through-composed manner. Setting 1, the tune above, is simple, short, and memorable. After singing it through 19 times in a row, you try and forget it! Humble and reverent in character, it may become tiring with too much repetition unless the stanzas are divided up between different groups of singers, such as congregation and choir, left side and right side, etc.

Dies iræ (2)
ad. from Latin melody, 13th century (or 8.8.8. 8.8.8. 8.8.8.)
“Day of wrath! that day of mourning” is set to this Dorian-mode tune in ELHy 537. Don't let the fact that it's only represented in one hymnal fool you. This is the best-known tune associated with this sequence hymn since the heyday of Gregorian chant. Many classic composers, such as Berlioz, Liszt, and Rachmaninoff, have quoted this tune in their instrumental works as a universally recognizable musical symbol of death. Strictly speaking, the hymn is a prayer for mercy on the Day of Judgment, and thus tends to be sung in Lutheran churches toward the end of the Church Year, if ever. Nevertheless, if you feel the gripping power of these verses, you may enjoy listening to various composers' settings of the Requiem liturgy, starting with the Gregorian setting in which this tune features prominently.

Dies iræ (3)
by Ludvig M. Lindeman, 1812-87.
Continuing to ascend in order of length and complexity (as well as in alphabetical order by source), this tune is the setting for “Day of wrath! that day of mourning” in LHy 601. By dint of its outer sections being in d minor and its middle part in A Major, it is also one of the few tunes in Lutheran hymnody to suffer a key change. It has room to do this because of the complicated way composer Lindeman planned to dramatize the text through changes of melody. The first sixteen three-line stanzas are divided up between the first two lines of music in the order A, A, B, B, A, A, B, B, etc. Stanza 17 is then sung to the third line of the tune, and repeated with a slightly different ending the second time round. Lindeman then dares to set the last six lines of the hymn to a single, non-repeating flow of melody, avoiding the necessity of doing violence to the unique meter of those two stanzas. As a thoroughgoing musical composition it is very impressive, distinctive, memorable, well-formed, and thoughtfully structured. It covers a range of moods from sternly dramatic to tenderly supplicating to ominous, and ends on a somewhat hopeful note. Even as an admirer of Lindeman's output, I consider this to be one of his stronger efforts. Grandly romantic, beautifully expressive of its end-times theme, it deserves to be kept in the quiver in case the possibility materializes of performing it—perhaps with the congregation and choir in alternatim. But on the other hand, that occasion may never come for those congregations that have an average or below-average aptitude for tackling musical challenges.

Dies iræ, dies illa
by John B. Dykes, 1861.
“Day of wrath! that day of mourning” is set to this tune in CSB 515. While it doesn't change keys like the previous tune, it does alternate between d minor and D Major. The amount of music it requires its singers to master is even greater than in the Lindeman tune. Here the first fourteen three-line stanzas (counting them according to their original three-line layout) are sung to the first six phrases of music, repeated over and over; then the last five stanzas are specially through-composed. All this wouldn't be so bad if it was even nearly as inspired as the Lindeman version, though it does strike supplicatory, cheerful, ominous, and peaceful notes in succession. It has a certain sweeping grandeur. But because of its length, complexity, tricky intervals, and lower degree of memorability, I would only recommend this piece to be sung by the choir. And thus the question arises: Why give space to this tune in the hymnal?

8.8.8. + Alleluias

by Charles R. Anders, b. 1929.
This is the tune set to “Christ is the king! O friends, rejoice” in LBW 386. It has the ring of a tune commissioned from a distinguished professor by the program committee of a national church convention: dignified, modern, a little impractical, a little catchy, well-constructed if not terribly inspired, etc.—a style characterizing a good number of tunes in this study. The text isn’t so hot, either. Anders's tune has an angular energy to it, and a certain memorable quirkiness, but its performance would probably require either a well-rehearsed choir or a strongly accompanied, musically fearless congregation. I like it, but that may be because I have studied so many hymn tunes that I value one that surprises me. On the other hand, the musical surprises in this piece may limit its accessibility to town-gown parishes, campus chapels, and a few other congregations keen for adventure. Will they find it worth the trouble? That's another question. George Bell's (1883-1958) poem is a verbal fanfare of praise calling on brothers and sisters to "let the world know [Christ] is your choice" and to "seek again the way his faithful followed then," to unite in serving the Lord, with the result(!):
So shall the Church at last be one;
So shall God's will on earth be done,
New lamps be lit, new tasks begun...
Funnily enough, God doesn't do much in this hymn. We do it all. Even the phrase "love's all-reconciling might" is about the love with which we love one other. But where is Christ?

Gelobt sei Gott
a.k.a. Vulpius
by Melchior Vulpius, 1609.
This is chiefly the tune to which Cyril Alington's Easter hymn “Good Christian men, rejoice and sing” is set in SBH 109, LHA 105, LBW 144, and LW 129. Other texts I have seen put to this music include “O Lord of life, where’er they be” (SBH 600), “The strife is o’er, the battle done” (LHA 97), and the first-Sunday-after-Easter hymn “Ye sons and daughters of the King” (TLH 208, CW 165, ELHy 366). Because of my TLH upbringing, if given the choice between singing "Ye sons and daughters of the King" to this tune or to the next one down, I would probably pick this one just to spare my congregation the trouble of learning a new trick—though I have spent enough time in churches that sang that hymn to O filii to appreciate its beauty too. Vulpius's tune, however, is an excellent property that Lutheranism would do ill to relinquish. Joyful, athletic, with a rhythmic vitality that makes the triple Alleluia at the end of each stanza all but impossible to sing without meaning it, it works particularly well at Eastertide.

O filii et filiæ
French melody, 15th century.
This Dorian-mode tune seems to have been tailor-made for the Sunday-after-Easter hymn “Ye sons and daughters of the King,” to which it is set in SBH 96, LBW 139, LW 130. Be aware that a triple Alleluia is supposed to be sung before and after the hymn to the portion of the tune to the right of the repeat-sign; plus, each three-line stanza ends with a single or double Alleluia, depending on which of the two versions you go with. The choice is significant. The first version is more ornate and technically difficult. The second version, omitting the F-sharp, has a more ancient, modal sound and "period" rhythm. Hauntingly memorable, distinctively shaped, susceptible to a variety of contrapuntal arrangements (I should know; I've written a set of variations on it), this tune brings a graceful reverence to the Easter solemnities, supporting the verse narrative of Christ's appearance to the apostles (with the institution of absolution, doubting Thomas, and all) with a strange combination of lithe energy and awesome seriousness. I wouldn't want to lose Gelobt sei Gott, but I can see a congregation trying this tune once and getting hooked.

a.k.a. Palestrina
ad. from G. Pierluigi da Palestrina, 1591 (or CM or SM).
The Eastertide hymn “The strife is o’er, the battle done” goes with this hymn in LHy 324, CSB 109, ALH 434, TCH 198, TLH 210, SBH 90, LBW 135, LW 143, CW 148, ELHy 357. Between these books, one can find arrangements in both E-flat and D Major, in case the organist needs help transposing it. In addition, ELHb 307 pairs the CM ( version of this tune with the hymn “Lord, we confess our numerous faults”; and ALH 231 puts the SM ( variant, harmonized by W. H. Monk, with the text “Take Thou my life, dear Lord.” Neither these anomalies, nor the fact that "The strife is o'er" is set to Gelobt sei Gott in LHA 97, contradict the clear evidence that this tune and that text are inextricably wedded in anglophone Lutheran hymnody. Though the melody runs on a minimum dose of inspiration, it is highly engaging, distinctive, and memorable. It is also easy to perform, provided the organist does not commit the enormity of playing the triple Alleluia after every stanza. The one complication is, after all, that this is virtually the only hymn tune in our repertoire that has (or ought to have) a dal segno al coda symbol in it. Besides the SM arrangement, Monk is probably responsible for the triple Alleluias, which are laid out differently in each hymnal and call for alertness on the part of the musicians and the congregation.


St. Sebastian
by Percy C. Buck, 1871-1947.
LHA 209 sets “Sing Alleluia forth in duteous praise” to this tune. The text is a Mozarabic hymn with two 10-syllable lines per stanza, followed by the refrain "An endless Alleluia," with a melisma on the Al-. Strikingly unusual, lyrically graceful, noble, and devout, it is also compellingly structured with its inverted arch shape and a conclusion that may remind some of Vruechten ("This joyful Eastertide"). It's a fine, relatively new hymn with much potential, made more impressive by the text's imagery of glorious worship in the spirit of "Ye watchers and ye holy ones."


Parting Hymn
Danish tune.
TCH 69 sets the hymn “Brothers and sisters, we now must depart” to this tune. It's a nice little close-of-worship hymn translated from a Danish original written partly by Jens Larsen (ca. 1860) and partly by Frederik Boye (ca. 1750). I think it would be especially appropriate for morning devotions before going to work, or at a farewell-and-Godspeed for people leaving the community, since the first stanza says: "Follow we Jesus with gladness of heart, each in his lawful vocation." The second stanza does, I'll admit, admonish worshipers to "open your hearts unto Jesus," but only in the context of "treasur[ing] God's word with devotion and care." The last two stanzas together are a strong doxology to Christ, "the Lamb who for sinners was slain," concluding with not one but two Amens. All this—four three-line stanzas—takes but half a page in the book, and flows over a guileless, cheerful, folk-songy melody that even unfamiliar ears may find comforting.

10.10.10. + Alleluias

by Charles V. Stanford, 1904.
Here is a tune whose harmony changes at the end of the final stanza, so that where there has previously been a half-cadence leading directly back to the beginning of the tune, there is a full and convincingly final cadence. A clever arranger could possibly give the tune a Mixolydian inflection as well. Such creativity has been expended on a tune that one can find paired with the hymns “All praise to Thee, for Thou, O King divine” (LHA 174), “We know that Christ is raised and dies no more” (LBW 189), and “When in our music God is glorified” (CW 248, ELHy 380). It's a warm, appealing, pomp-and-circumstancy number, again the sort of thing that sounds as if it might have been commissioned for a special church service—though, intriguingly, the tune is in public domain. I may as well say here as under the next tune below that, in spite of my high view of church music, I despise the hymn "When in our music God is glorified." It's one of those annoying instances of an author talking about what he's doing rather than doing it, of telling rather than showing. As a didactic poem that makes a pertinent argument, it's all right. But on the terms of its own argument, it isn't a hymn. While I'm at it, I might add that "We know that Christ" is also pretty weak.

by Charles R. Anders, b. 1929.
“When in our music God is glorified” gets paired with this tune in LBW 555 and LW 449. It doesn't make me like the text any better than Engelberg does. Instead of the Stanford tune's single Alleluia, this tune provides scope for a triple Alleluia at the end of each stanza—though it somehow comes off sounding a little sad. I like it. It's so peaceful, gentle, even wistful, that it seems to float along in disregard of regular bar-lines, eliciting the sympathy of the hearers so that they don't mind the challenge of learning to sing it. A perverse arranger could perhaps write a harmonization of this tune in the Phrygian mode, but the tune would forgive him because that's the kind of nice tune it is.

Pro omnibus sanctis
a.k.a. Sarum
by Joseph Barnby, 1869.
This, believe it or not, is the original tune to “For all the saints who from their labors rest,” and remained in circulation at least through the middle of the past century (cf. CSB 250, SBH 144b). By the way, that lower-case "b" after SBH 144 means that this had become the "Second Tune" for that hymn. By that time it must have been hard not to assume that W. W. How's All Saints' Day hymn would always be sung to the next tune below. Time and changes of style have not been kind to this tune. Uninspired, awkwardly pompous, it makes up for its insipidity by being tricky to perform. It's funny how hymn tune composers like Barnby and Dykes, whose facility often outran inspiration, so often seemed to christen their most mediocre tunes with the most venerable, ancient, and catholic sounding names. Perhaps this gives a glimpse into Romantic artists’ conceits about the achievements of antiquity, and their unsuccessful attempts to imitate or equal them. They couldn’t resist writing tunes for hymns they didn’t understand—that is, if their comprehension of text is to be judged by the strength of their music. But arise, let us move on to

Sine nomine
by Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1906.
Now that's more like it! “For all the saints who from their labors rest” is graced with this magnificent tune in TLH 463, SBH 144a, LHA 213, LBW 174, LW 191, CW 551, ELHy 554... pretty much every hymnal whose compilers had time to assimilate The [Anglican] Hymnal 1940, to which Vaughan Williams contributed much. I remember discovering this hymn when I was in first or second grade. It was the first time I was really conscious of the hymn tune as a distinct art form, and of a particular hymn tune as a great piece of art. To be sure, the rhythm of this hymn can be a bit challenging for those unfamiliar with it, though I suspect every congregation that tries it will gladly make the effort. The one real complication is the text underlay (i.e. which notes the syllables go with), which varies from text to text owing to author How's irregularity of diction and composer Vaughan Williams's care to avoid barbarous effects. It's a powerful, joyful, energetic piece of music with a benign case of pomp and circumstance, and the advantage of being both widely known and wedded to a single text. What with the variety of festive settings that have been arranged for it, it screams "processional hymn" with choir, brass, timpani, and whatever other instruments can be brought to bear. If there is ever any doubt that this hymn should be in a Lutheran hymnal, it will arise not from the tune but from the text.


Paschal Alleluias
by Harry Bartels, b. 1929.
I recently had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Bartels, who wrote the hymn “Now Christ is risen! Death’s reign is over” as well as this its tune (cf. ELHy 355). Interestingly, he pronounces his name "BAR-təlz," though his son (whom I met at the same time) styles himself "bar-TELZ." These saints belong to the ELS, of which I was a member for three years during the mid-1990s, and so I also know Mark DeGarmeaux, who made ELHy's very effective arrangement of this tune. But enough name-dropping. I'm sorry to say I wasn't around the ELS much after its new hymnary came out, so I never became acquainted with this hymn until this study forced me to look at it. And at the risk of losing the favor of a new and interesting friend, I have to admit that I don't foresee having much use for this hymn. There is already an over-abundance of fine Easter hymns. Several of them may be more popular than they deserve, but a wise pastor makes some small concessions to popularity at times of year like Easter. All that Mr. Bartels says in this hymn is good, but neither how he says it, nor the tune to which he sings it, distinguishes this hymn above the crowd.


by Allan Mahnke, b. 1944, 11 7 10.
The hymn “Oh, gladsome light of the Father immortal” (LBW 279) is an altered version of Longfellow's translation of the third-century Greek hymn Phos hilaron, best known to Lutheranism from the Robert Bridges version "O gladsome Light, O grace" (cf. TLH 101). Just now I sat down and played and sung my way through all three stanzas of the Longfellow version and I admit that I found it beautiful. I may even be ready to reconsider my initial assessment, noted down years ago: "An uninspired, almost random-sounding mess... No congregation will ever sing this." Yes, that is a bit harsh. But it's also true that LBW has it laid out across a page break with the trickiest rhythm in the piece, in terms of the way words and music come together, jammed into the crease, exactly where your eye is going to miss it while it's shooting from the bottom of the left-hand page to the top of the right. What this spells is disaster. Some kind soul is going to have to rescue this hymn, and to do so they will probably have to photocopy the hymn, cut up the printout and paste it back together in a more reader-friendly format, copy it again, and teach it to the choir or the school-children before the congregation can be brought on board. Meanwhile, someone is bound to ask why they can't just sing the Bridges version. It's a fair question. Maybe this will just have to stay in the choir folder, then.


by Jack Schrader, b. 1942, 12 12 12.
Fred Pratt Green's hymn “This is the threefold truth” goes with this hymn in CW 406. If it seems more familiar than that obscure reference would warrant, you might have seen it in a hymnal supplement. It's the hymn whose stanzas all end with the refrain "Christ has died! Christ is risen! Christ will come again!" I would like to quote the hymn in full, but its text, tune, and setting are all under copyright, and I have probably stretched Fair Use to its limit by presenting the melody here for discussion. Again, like too many modern hymns, it sounds as though the composer bathed his head in a bucket of Pomp and Circumstance before setting quill to parchment. It's also the type of tune that probably requires strong accompaniment to enable worshipers to negotiate its many bare leaps of a 4th or a 5th. I frankly think more of the text than of the tune, though it's also more than likely that the text's internal rhythm eternally condemns it to being sung to a mediocre tune. I have seen numerous cases like it, though perhaps someone reading CW 406 will be struck by the inspiration to write the tune this hymn deserves. Till then... oh, well!

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