Friday, June 19, 2020

Tacky Hymns 67

Let's see how quickly we can get through the hymn selections in The Lutheran Hymnal (St. Louis: Concordia, 1941), a book that for the most part serves the interests of Confessional Lutheran congregations in the U.S. This brief (I hope) survey will only pause to comment briefly on hymns that show either either (1) poor judgment, in my opinion, on the part of the hymn selection committee; (2) an interesting variant of the usual text-tune combination; or (3) an unsung gem that deserves to be sung more often and more widely.

(6) Kyrie, God Father in heaven above is a "troped" version of the Kyrie eleison (Lord, have mercy), the first part of the Ordinary of the Divine Service, adapted from Medieval Latin by way of Reformation-era German attributed, by some, to Martin Luther himself. By "troped" I mean that the body of the hymn is inserted between the words "Kyrie eleison" as well as the subsequent "Christe eleison" and "Kyrie eleison." It's a worship song that I would urge all Lutheran congregations to learn to know and love, and if they're occasionally going to replace the ancient liturgy with something more contemporary, to do it with hymns like this. It has timeless beauty, freedom, reverence and the advantage of being the common possession of Lutherans worldwide and throughout post-Reformation church history, which I feel we look for in vain in the poetic and musical products of Baby Boomers and post-Boomer writers.

(19) All praise to God, who reigns above is another underappreciated gem, with words by J.J. Schuetz (1675) and the tune LOBET DEN HERRN, IHR by Melchior Vulpius (1609). Rhythmically exuberant, joyful music combines with hymn of praise. It has the mixed blessing of a line (middle of stanza 2) that reminds you of a sitcom starring Burt Reynolds. But it also has wonderful thoughts in it like, "I cried to Him in time of need: ... For death He gave me life indeed," and "All idols underfoot be trod," etc.

(25) I will sing my Maker's praises, set to the tune SOLLT ICH MEINEM GOTT by Johann Schop (1641), is a beautiful hymn by Paul Gerhardt (1659) that I have also found in other hymnals, set to different tunes. But like hymn 19, I particularly enjoy this book's pairing of a hymn praising God's "tender love to me" with a melody of great strength and confidence. Its key could, however, stand to be lowered a step or two.

(26) Priase the Almighty, my soul, adore Him is still another favorite praise hymn, good for practically any purpose or season, and again demonstrating that TLH (for one) has its repristination dial set on the right era. With words by J.D. Herrnschmidt (1714) and the tune LOBE DEN HERREN, O MEINE (Onolzbach, 1665) it again demonstrates how joyful, powerful and beautiful a hymn can sound, while proclaiming such thoughts as "Trust not in princes, they are but mortal; Earthborn they are and soon decay," and "Penitent sinners, for mercy crying, Pardon and peace from Him obtain," etc.

(28) Now let all loudly sing praise, a 1644 hymn by M.A. von Loewenstern set to its own tune NUN PREISET ALLE, is one that I mention here because, even more than the hymns above, I don't think it's gotten into the ears and voices of many American Lutherans. I think it's got a fascinating, distinctive sound, however, joined to a text that invites "heathen races" into the "pleasant places Your Savior doth prepare, Where His blest Word abroad is sounded, Pardon for sinners and grace unbounded." It also emphasizes God's providential grace: "Richly He feeds us ... Gently He leads us," etc. It gives a lot more than the "contemporary" praise songs in vogue today.

(32) Redeemed, restored, forgiven, with words by 19th-century author Henry W. Baker, is a hymn that revels in the atoning blood of Jesus that makes us heirs of heaven – "Oh, praise our pard'ning God" – and confesses that when we were lost, Jesus found us, washed us, put his "cords of love" on us and leads us as his own lambs. In other words, our salvation, and that of "each recovered soul," is entirely His doing, as is the work of keeping us in the faith – quite the reverse of much of the "altar call" stuff in Baker's time. To all this, I'd like to add that the 16th century chorale ICH DANK DIR, LIEBER HERRE (also known as LOB GOTT GETROST MIT SINGEN) is a fabulous example of the effort the editors of TLH made to reintroduce rhythmic chorales into usage within American confessional Lutheranism. The music is, I'm sure, more challenging than the isometric arrangements, by which chorales from the Reformation era and the "age of Lutheran orthodoxy" survived through the era of Pietism – see, for example, the chorale harmonizations of J.S. Bach. The rhythmic chorales' strong rhythms have an appeal for me that would probably take a whole long essay to discuss – another time.

(33) The Lord hath helped me hitherto is a late 17th century hymn by Aemilie Juliane, here set to Nikolaus Decius' 1539 tune ALLEIN GOTT IN DER HOEH, which, apart from being a fabulous and versatile tune, is a hymn that I loved choosing for my congregation's worship services when I was in a position to do so. The fact that it frequently uses archaic words like "hitherto" and "henceforth" works, I feel, in its favor, lending it a certain something that makes an impression on the memory. "God hitherto hath been my Guide, Hath pleasures hitherto supplied," etc. And "Help me henceforth, O God of grace, Help me on each occasion, Help me in each and ev'ry place," etc., all the way to "Help me as Thou hast helped me." In three stanzas, this hymn covers its subject very thoroughly and with amazing directness and simplicity.

(37) Lord, 'tis not that I did choose Thee is another 19th century hymn – in this case, by Josiah Conder – that gets it right as to whose decision made me a child of God. The biblical reference to John 15:16 at the top of the hymn text credit line is very apposite and reminds me to mention that each hymn in this book comes with a similar Scripture verse that could be profitable to spell out in the service program or read aloud as an introduction to the hymn – though, in my recollection, these citations mostly went unnoticed.

(44) Ye lands, to the Lord make a jubilant noise is a hymn by Ulrik V. Koren (1874), one of the three founding fathers of the Norwegian synod that is now known as the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (along with Jacob Aal Otteson and Herman Amberg Preus, lest you doubt my retention of the church history I was taught while I attended Bethany Lutheran College in the 1990s), a paraphrase of Psalm 100, set to a 19th century Scandinavian chorale by Erik Hoff called GUDS MENIGHED, SYNG which I never heard, played, or sang in all my childhood, growing up (in part) in churches that used TLH, until I went to that ELS college in Mankato, Minn. and learned to love it in the campus chapel and choir. It was such a beautiful discovery that I took it home to my LCMS home church, of mostly German heritage, and tried to introduce it there, along with some other Scandinavian hymns, but the people's response ranged from tepid to downright hostile. I seem to recall some of the Norwegian tunes being described, by my Teutonic neighbors, as sounding like a random series of notes. I guess it goes back to what I was saying a few posts ago about people responding best to whatever they were immersed in from childhood. I'd like to suggest immersing some of our children in frisky, rhythmic, eloquently simple yet endlessly interesting songs like this.

Up to this point, I have to admit that I'm apparently terrible at scoping out tacky hymns because, so far, I haven't spotted one in TLH – other than the sense that it's tacky to leave these wonderful, worshipful hymns on the ash heap of church history in favor of Marty Haugen ditties and cheesy pop songs. However, I see something coming up that gives me that feeling that I'm going to be bad, and since I've been good so far, I don't want to spoil it. So, this post breaks here, and there will be more TLH to come – with some actual tackiness in it, even!


Unknown said...

I enjoy your many reviews of hymnnals, including this great survey of The Lutheran Hymnal, and your comments on church music in general. I tend to agree with you about 99.9%! Keep up the good work. Donald Zimmermann, life-long Lutheran church musician.

RobbieFish said...