It's been a while since I continued the thread about hymn tunes used in 20th-century anglophone Lutheran hymnals (whew). I began it with this post
, which contains a helpful list of abbreviations. I plucked a few of the low-hanging fruit first: tunes for hymns with two
- or three
-line stanzas. And now I'm going to skip to the other end of the metrical index and knock off those tunes with stanzas 13 or more lines in length - of which there not very many.
A couple outliers...
But first... A little housekeeping. In my posts on two- and three-line hymn tunes, I neglected to mention two irregular specimens which may or may not fall into those categories, partly because my metrical index of the relevant hymn-books lumped them under such headings as "PM" (peculiar meter) or "Irr." (irregular meter), without bothering to count their number of lines per stanza. I've since updated my index to show that. But there was another reason these two tunes slipped by me when I was writing those posts: It's unclear what "number of lines per stanza" category they belong in. To explain this problem, let's look at the tunes.
This tune by Richard Hillert (1923-2010) was set to the Jaroslav Vajda hymn "Amid the world’s bleak wilderness" in LBW, LW, and CW. No tune has ever better deserved the "Irr." meter designation, since for four stanzas it is a three-line-per-stanza hymn, and only the last stanza changes to a two-line variant. It's a weirdly structured piece of music, with a tepid mood that seems out of step with Vajda's text. I'm not sure, but I doubt this hymn is often sung outside academic and/or town-gown settings.
Christe, du Lamm Gottes
This arguably three-line-per-stanza hymn tune comes from Johann Bugenhagen’s 1528 Braunschweig Kirchenordnung
. It is a numbered hymn in ALH, TLH, and LBW, and it also appears in the liturgical sections of many American Lutheran hymnals (I didn't note which ones, but I think they include at least LHy, TLH, LW, CW, ELHy, and LSB), set with some rhythmic variations to a three-stanza translation of the Agnus Dei
: "O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us," stanza 1 and 2; "O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, grant us Thy peace," stanza 3. ALH's translation begins "Lamb of God, O Jesus," and the melodic setting is adapted accordingly. LW's liturgical arrangement does unnecessary violence to this tune, raising the middle stanza by a whole step. Some books include an optional, fancy setting of the Amen after the last stanza. It is such a familiar chorale setting of the ancient liturgical canticle that many present-day Lutherans probably don't realize it's a hymn paraphrase, and mistake it for the Agnus
itself - though, to be fair, it's a pretty transparent paraphrase of it. But believe it or not, it's a hymn, and a precious, indispensible part of the Lutheran church's hymnody, simple as it is. Helmut Walcha, for one composer, has given this hymn-tune the honor it deserves by making it the theme of a beautiful chorale prelude.
Some super-sized hymn tunes
And now, to the nitty-gritty: hymn-tunes that, judged according to the number of lines per stanza they were written to accommodate, are objectively huge. To put these tunes in perspective, I have curated 26 tunes for 12-line-stanza hymns, but only half that number (13), total, for all stanza structures of 13 lines or more. When you think of a Lutheran chorale that has a lengthy-stanza structure, the two examples that come to mind are probably the Queen and King of Chorales, Philip Nicolai's Wie schön leuchtet
and Wachet auf
; but they have only 11 and 12 lines respectively. Beyond that, we ascend into a rarefied atmosphere: a tiny bracket of relatively massive pieces, in the context of hymn-tunes, which are after all a miniature form of music. We're in a realm of such unusually, idiosyncratically lengthy poetic and melodic stanza-structures that there ceases to be any point in keeping count of the number of syllables per line, as we can safely stick an "Irr." or a "PM" in the meter slot, and we recognize that these tunes exist to serve exactly one hymn-text each. For some reason, this lofty peak of hymnody seems to be inhabited, at least in Lutheran books, mostly by historically and spiritually significant Lutheran chorales.
13 linesHerzlich lieb hab ich dich
The only hymn-tune I have indexed with 13 phrases, this melody attributed to Matthias Gastritz (1571) was published in Bernhard Schmid’s Orgeltablatur-Buch
, Strasbourg, 1577. It has been wedded from the first to Martin Schalling's beautiful hymn "Lord, Thee I love with all my heart," written in 1569. The pairing appears, with some rhythmic alterations of the tune and different translations of Schalling's text, in at least ELHb, LHy, TLH, LBW, CW, ELHy, LHA, and LW. It is one of those hymns that I have sometimes heard sung, loudly and with deep emotion, by a group of people gathered around a piano at a social gathering of Lutheran churchmen (and women). Its final stanza alone makes it an excellent alternative to the hackneyed choice of "How Great Thou Art" or "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" as a funeral hymn.
14 linesGott der Vater, wohn uns bei
This hymn-tune, which can be described in metrical-index shorthand as "7s. 14l." (7 syllables x 14 lines), to save the trouble of typing a row of 14 sevens, was based on a 14th century melody. It appeared in roughly its current form in Johann Walther’s Geystliche gesangk Buchlein
, Wittenberg, 1524 - one of the first Lutheran hymnals ever. It is set to the hymn "God the Father, be our Stay," by an unknown German author, in at least ELHb, TLH, LHA, LBW, LW, CW, and ELHy. Historically, this hymn takes the form of three one-line stanzas, each addressing the same 13-line refrain to a successive Person of the Trinity. Lately, the fashion has been introduced of replacing this threefold structure with a one-off, "Triune God, oh, be our Stay" version, to save the time spent repeating all those phrases of refrain. I think this does the hymn a disservice, since it then becomes a one-stanza affair, thus giving the congregation less time to grow familiar with it. Also, I think it's a funny way to transmit a worship tradition, altering a hymn that confesses the Triune God by praying to each divine Person by name into one that only says "Triune God." The sacrifice of just a bit of time to drive the lesson home is not incompatible with the idea of worship. (By the way, I used this tune with an original hymn in my book Useful Hymns
Mitten wir im Leben sind
This "Irr." bruiser, adapted from 13th-century material, also made its debut in its present form in Johann Walther's 1524 Wittenberg hymnal, and it has been set to some translation of Luther's burial hymn "In the midst of earthly life" in at least LHy, TLH, LBW, LW, CW, ELHy. (My notes, which were compiled in the last century, don't reflect more recent developments, but I know it's also in at least LSB1
.) It could be repeated as a theme with many of these early Lutheran hymns, that their representation in some American Lutheran hymnals, but not others, can be interpreted almost as a litmus test of how authentically Lutheran (in the orthodox, confessional sense, as opposed to pietistic) the church bodies were that published them. Interestingly, Luther reached across the Bosporus in this hymn, borrowing a bit of Eastern liturgy ("Holy and righteous God! Holy and mighty God! Holy and all-merciful Savior!" etc.; based on the Trisagion) and using it as a refrain. It's a good, serious, appropriately fearful (in the faithful sense) hymn for the occasion of a Christian's death and burial; and it has also been used as the basis of some good Organ preludes, such as (again) one by Walcha.
15 linesKingly Love
Except when I played it myself in private (and I rather liked it), I have only ever heard this hymn performed once - at a church where I was doing field work as a seminarian - and it was a mortifying train-wreck that I will never forget. The tune is by Richard Hillert, composer of Granton
; the words that go with it, but only in LW and CW as far as I know, are a hymn about Jesus' parable of the feast, "O kingly love" by Martin H. Franzmann (1907-76). I was so discouraged by the prospects of Franzmann's hymn ever catching on that, at some point during my seminary career, I wrote my own alternate tune in what I thought was a more accessible style; its title is COME TO THE FEAST, and it's in Useful Hymns
(for which I had to pay good money to get permission to reprint the text). Here's hoping fair use lets me quote the hymn tune, just to illustrate another direction a composer might go in setting Franzmann's frankly difficult-to-set-to-music poem. I can see, perhaps, why it wouldn't catch on very well; though I still think it's kind of neat.
Kyrie, Gott Vater
This German adaptation of the 9th century plainchant Kyrie, fons bonitatis
, was set to a German hymn of c. 1541, itself adapted from a 12th-century Latin hymn, in which the ancient Greek liturgical canticle "Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison" (Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy) is "troped" with additional lyrics, addressing each Person of the Trinity, inserted between the Kyrie/Christe and the Eleison. Where is it found in American Lutheranism? In this instance, TLH, LBW, LW, CW, and ELHy passed the 20th-century litmus test. In our century, I find, both ELW2
and LSB also have this hymn. It could be used as a hymn for Trinity Sunday, a hymn for a day of penitence and prayer (e.g. in a time of disaster or conflict), or even, if you're not one of those snobs who abhors the idea of a "chorale mass," an occasional replacement for the liturgical Kyrie. There are Reformation-era chorale paraphrases that could similarly replace each part of the Ordinary of the Mass, apparently for that purpose, and some Lutheran pastors and cantors think of them as part of the "kernel" of historic Lutheran hymnody every Lutheran congregation should learn to know and love - and I count myself one of them (with the understanding that I'm neither a pastor nor a cantor at the moment; but I've been both in the past and am no less qualified to be one now3
). OK. There are some sentences you just have to back out of. But I won't back out of this: If you can't imagine singing this hymn in church, you do not know Lutheranism the way I do.
16 linesChrist ist erstanden
This Dorian-mode melody dates back to a medieval Latin plainchant. It appears with some translation of the 12th-century German Easter hymn "Christ is arisen" in ALH, TLH, LHA, LBW, LW, and CW (again, naming only 20th century books). A rhythmically altered and abbreviated version of this tune, titled Christus ist erstanden
is used in ELHb, CSB, TLH, SBH, CW, and ELHy with Michael Weisse's 1531 Easter hymn "Christ the Lord is risen again." With more extensive adaptation, it becomes the hymn-tune Christ lag in Todesbanden
, which is wedded to an Easter hymn by Martin Luther. Again, if you find the Dorian mode sounds too sad to be used on Easter Sunday, you need to spend more time with hymns like these, becoming better acquainted with the confidence and strength of Reformation hymnody.
Salve festa dies
This tune by British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) may be construed as having either 12 or 16 distinct lines of melody, depending on how many repeats of the refrain you count; in the "Hail thee, festival day" version of Fortunatus' oft-translated sixth-century hymn, the refrain begins and ends the piece, and is also repeated between the two strains of stanza melody. The text is really organized into four-line stanzas (or eight, if you count the refrain as part of each stanza), but because RVW saw fit to alternate between two different melodies for the stanzas (always going back to the same refrain), the whole complicated mess arguably lands here, in the cloud-cuckoo land of almost impracticably long hymn tunes. The impracticality, or impracticability, of this particular specimen is a legitimate concern, given the way the music weaves back and forth between these strains. It may possibly put this hymn in the realm of "tunes never to be heard outside a campus or town-gown church." Other versions of Fortunatus' hymn, set to simpler music, include "Welcome, happy morning." Nevertheless, this tune is deployed in LBW, LW (three times), CW, and ELHy. Once the congregation masters it, it could get a lot of use, since there are versions of it for Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost.
Jesaia dem Propheten
This hymn by Luther expands on the liturgical Sanctus
by paraphrasing practically the whole of Isaiah 6, in one long stanza whose structure could be described, in that metrical-index shorthand I mentioned earlier, as "10s. 16l." The melody never repeats a phrase, except during that three-phrase region where the seraphim are singing "Holy is God, the Lord of Sabaoth" over and over. So, it could be a tricky piece to learn, for the same reason I said singing "Triune God, oh, be our Stay" might be detrimental to the congregation becoming familiar with Gott der Vater, wohn uns bei
. But good things are often worth a bit of work. Passing the historic-Lutheran litmus test with this hymn are TLH, LBW, LW, CW, and ELHy.
18 linesIn dir ist Freude
This 1591 tune by Giovanni Giacomo Gastoldi is set to Johann Lindemann's 1598 hymn "In Thee is gladness" in at least LHA, LBW, LW, CW, and ELHy. It is also of interest to organists as the theme of a spectacular prelude in J.S. Bach's Orgelbüchlein
. Unlike many of these other large-scale, 16th-century chorales, it zips along lightly, with short phrases, a tight and repetitive structure, and the popular appeal of a bouncy, major-key tune. Being a comparative lightweight, among historic German hymns, may be what kept it out of earlier hymnals that were focused on preserving more serious material, but I think it's the kind of piece that could help overcome some people's aversion to 16th century hymnody.
19 linesVictimæ paschali
This haunting 11th century Easter hymn, words ("Christians to the paschal Victim") and music attributed to Wipo of Burgundy, appears in LBW. As if this isn't massive enough, LW combines it with alternating sections of "Christ is arisen" (Christ ist erstanden
), our 16-line friend above. They're both single-stanza hymns, though, and the resulting "celebration" (to use LW terminology) is a very effective musical and textual mash-up that could involve antiphonal responses between some combination of congregation, choir, liturgist, cantor, soloist(s), or groups within the congregation. The Victimæ
is super-chantlike, though, so if your choristers are the type who will go off in a huff, complaining that you're trying to convert them to Greek Orthodoxy, you might have some educating to do before you use this. (EDIT: It bears noting, this is more of a solo or choir number than a really congregation-oriented hymn.)
20 linesPeace of God
LBW pairs this tune by Herbert G. Draesel, Jr. (b. 1940) with the hymn "They cast their nets in Galilee" by William Alexander Percy (1885-1942). My notes on this hymn, written back in the 1990s, describe it as "rugged, folkish, ballad-like ... a strange but interesting poem on discipleship, set to a quirky, folk-like American minstrel tune. It isn’t congregational and it may not be churchly." I don't have LBW handy at the moment, so I can't offer much improvement on this impression, other than to note the same hymn occurs in other denominations' hymnals (such as the Episcopal Church's Hymn-Book 1982
) set to a tune in CM (common meter, 22.214.171.124.). This suggests the Draesel tune's fourfold repetition of an 126.96.36.199.6. syllable pattern involves (1) cramming four of Percy's stanzas into each go-round, and (2) repeating every fourth line. I can't think of one thing about this tune that would make me choose it over any randomly selected CM tune.
21 linesHerr Gott, dich loben wir
Martin Luther's tune, adapted from plainchant material for his own metrical paraphrase of the Te Deum
("Lord God, Thy praise we sing"), tops everything with 21 distinct phrases of melody, not even counting the repeats
, of which there are many. Several pairs or groups of phrases are meant to be sung as many as six or seven times before going on to the next strain. Also, the whole thing is supposed to be sung responsively between two vocal forces (liturgist vs. congregation, choir vs. cantor, left side vs. right side, etc., the possibilities are practically endless); they join up for some "tutti" passages now and then, particularly at the end. This magnificent giant has only made the cut in one American Lutheran hymnal, ELHy. The version I know best was published in the LCMS Worship Supplement
of 1969, still being used (at least for this one hymn) during the late 1990s in the chapel of the seminary I attended at that time. The church where I did my vicarage (like a one-year, supervised internship before a final year of seminary study and ordination) also made use of that version, so I'm very fond of it and know it well. Later, during a short period when I was part of a church body that used ELHy, I attended a pastor's conference at which that book's version was used, and the differences threw me off-balance. But I would still urge whoever puts out the next big Lutheran pew book to be sure to include this piece, and the congregations that use that book to make the effort to learn Luther's Te Deum
. It hangs over the edge of what can usefully be described as a hymn, but being part of a group singing it is a really unusual and (given time to learn it) powerful experience. For an absorbing musical mediation on this hymn, I would recommend J.S. Bach's chorale harmonization. Meantime, I maintain a pile of 1969 supplements, as well as an accompanist's edition of the book, just to be prepared if the chance ever arises of using it in worship or group devotions. Besides that, I can only think of about two things in WS that give the book particular value for me. So, that's how cool this hymn is.
1The Lutheran Service Book
(Concordia Publishing House, 2006), the current LCMS hymnal.
2Evangelical Lutheran Worship
(Augsburg Fortress, 2006), the current ELCA hymnal.
...except for not being on a church body's clergy roster at present.
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