Monday, December 28, 2020

Tacky Hymns 82

We continue with 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.
(91-92) Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates (type 2) is an "Advent 1" (First Sunday in Advent) selection by Georg Weissel, set (in 91) to August Lemke's tune MILWAUKEE (which The Lutheran Hymnal chose as its third tune for the hymn and called it MACHT HOCH DIE TÜR like the other two), and (in 92) to the tune of that name taken from Freylinghausen's Geistreiches Gesangbuch (the second of TLH's three). I've noticed a preference for MILWAUKEE in many congregations, but I'm firmly of the opinion that 92's tune is better. Also, I really like the George Herbert poem that the editors stuck at the bottom of the right-hand page of 91: "Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life," etc. In this case, no tune is suggested; it's really not meant to be sung, but read and pondered devotionally – and to rattle it off to a strain of music might be to leave it unpondered and thereby unappreciated.

(93) The new church year again is come (type 3), a Johann Olearius hymn relegated to the "bottom of page text block" after 92, is a fine little statement about the whole year's liturgical cycle: "The truth repeated o'er and o'er / Our faith will strengthen more and more," etc.

(95) Wake! the welcome day appeareth (types 2-3) is a Freylinghausen hymn appointed for Advent 1, set to Ludvig Lindeman's beautiful tune OP, THI DAGEN NU FREMBRYDER, which definitely deserves to be heard beyond Scandinavian (or pietistic) Lutheran circles. Freylinghausen's text stresses the "long expected" aspect of Jesus' coming in history in an impressive and memorable way.

(96) Hark, a thrilling voice is sounding (type 2) is an Advent 2 hymn I've previously mentioned as a master of disguise, cloaked in a variety of tunes as it moves from hymnal to hymnal. Here, it is happily married to W.H. Monk's tune MERTON.

(97) O Savior, rend the heavens wide (type 3) is a thrilling, confident Advent chorale set to the powerful tune O HEILAND, REISS DIE HIMMEL AUF. Nervous Nellie organists my quail at it, but my advice is to be bold. Played with rhythmic zest, I think you could quickly make this a favorite of the congregation.

(103) Hail to the Lord's anointed (type 2), a James Montgomery hymn earmarked for Advent 3, is set here to a tune called ES FLOG EIN KLEINS WALDVÖGELEIN, which users of Lutheran Service Book will think of as the tune to the paraphrase of the Gloria in excelsis in Divine Service 4. It's a nice tune, though I once described it as "the secret love-child of AUS MEINES HERZENS GRUNDE and BEREDEN VÄG FÖR HERRAN." I'm accustomed to singing this hymn to FREUT EUCH, IHR LIEBEN (See TLH 59, LW 82, LSB 398).

(104) O Bride of Christ, rejoice (type 2), though a "bottom of page text block," lists a suggested tune – AUF MEINEN LIEBEN GOTT – that is, indeed, a wondeful tune; I associate it with "In God, my faithful God (I trust when dark my road)," while I've always associated this hymn with WO SOLL ICH FLIEHEN HIN. I don't want to lose either tune.

(112) A Boy is born in Bethlehem (types 2-3) is a translated Latin Christmas carol with two musical settings: the first, the tune PUER NATUS IN BETHLEHEM as set by Michael Praetorius and included on the unforgettable recording "Mass for Christmas Morning" by Paul McCreesh and Co., thrills me a lot more than the second, Lindeman's ET BARN ER FØDT I BETHLEHEM, though I might go with the latter if having the children sing it for a Christmas program.

(118) Arise, my soul, sing joyfully (a confusing combination of all three types) is a lovely Christmas hymn by Johann Rist, set to J.S. Bach's harmonization of Johann Schop's tune ERMUNTRE DICH; the same combination is also found in LSB 378, though it omits the first stanza and begins with stanza 2, "Break forth, O beauteous heavenly light." As a cheapskate, fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants church choir director, I appreciated having this Bach arrangement right there in the pew book for the choir to sing. But I do feel that Bach's voice leading puts it a bit out of the reach of any but a musically exceptional congregation; I wish the option of a simpler arrangement had been included, either as a second choice or preferably as the first. Interestingly, the 1973 Lutheran Hymnal out of Australia to which both ELHy and LSB owe the translation of this hymn had a rhythmic version of the tune, which I also think would be awesome to teach to a congregation; in fact, I used it in my own book, Useful Hymns.

(119) Away in a manger (type 2), a Christmas carol commonly misattributed to Martin Luther, receives a fastidiously evidence-based text credit here (two, in fact), and Ralph Vaughan Williams' setting of CRADLE SONG as its tune. I rather appreciate LSB 364-365 for giving users the option of either this tune or AWAY IN A MANGER, out of respect for the significant part of the church that knows it better to the latter.

(120) Bright and glorious is the sky (types 1-3) is a hymn by Danish-American divine N.F.S. Grundtvig, who was considered a heretic within Lutheranism and, although some of his hymns are very fine, deciding whether to include them in Lutheran hymnals has at times been controversial. I've actually written an original tune for a Grundtvig hymn, but I've also destroyed a tune I wrote for another – in that case, because I decided it wasn't a very interesting hymn. Somehow or other, I've had opportunity to study enough Grundtvig hymns to become well acquainted with their uneven quality, and I frankly don't think this is one of his best. It takes six slow-burning stanzas to get to a point, and I'm not sure it repays us for long stretches of scenic description of the night sky over Bethlehem. Also, ELHy files it under Christmas, even though it is surely more appropriate for Epiphany. However, let's admit that the Danish tune DEJLIG ER DEN HIMMEL BLAA is a sweet, cheerful thing that the kids might enjoy singing, if only worthwhile words could be put to it.

(121) Behold, a Branch is growing – see what I said here.

(122) We Christians may rejoice today (types 2-3) is a "bottom of page text block" (hereafter BOPTB) that suggests the tune O JESU CHRIST, DEIN KRIPPLEIN IST, to which it is set in TLH 107. However, I'd like (once again) to push for restoring it to its powerful original tune, WIR CHRISTENLEUT, for which there is attestation among J.S. Bach's chorale harmonizations. It's basically the tune TLH 165 identifies as ECCE AGNUS, with minor alterations.

(126) God rest you merry, gentlemen (type 3), though only a BOPTB, is an interesting discovery in such a doctrinally and liturgically clean-cut book. Though I would generally classify it among carols best left for home use and social gatherings, the opportunity to see what it actually says (including four stanzas) reveals that there's a good deal to it, including defiance of death, hell and Satan (stanza 3), an admonition to embrace one another "in Christian faith and charity" (stanza 4) and confession of what Christmas "reveals to us (of) God's grace."

(127) I am so glad when Christmas comes (types 1-3, straight through) is another culturally Nordic Christmas carol that you can take or leave, with about equal pleasure. The tune JEG ER SAA GLAD is zestful and charming, in a folksy way. But again, the lyrics feint toward the Epiphany event rather than Christmas proper, conflating the star that led the magi to Bethlehem with the angels who serenaded the shepherds. But after this subtle faux pas, it quickly gets to the nitty gritty, confessing the Child of Bethlehem as the King of heavenly grace, whose reason for coming was "to save our fallen race" (stanza 2); it moves on to the re-ascended Son's promise to hear His little ones when they pray (stanza 3); it confesses that He "made me His own child by Water and the Word" (stanza 4); and it applies Christ's coming as a child to the salvation of children. So, I warm to it as it goes along.

(129) I stand beside Thy manger here (type 3) is a Christmas hymn by Paul Gerhardt, set to a lovely J.S. Bach tune (ICH STEH AN DEINER KRIPPEN), both of which the LCMS books have somehow missed. Here, Gerhardt muses that by coming to earth so long ago, God showed His love for me before He even made me (stanza 2); that His coming brought life and light to me "in death's deep, dreary night" and created my faith (stanza 3); that His suffering brings me eternal glory (stanza 4). It closes by echoing Luther's "From heaven above" (one of my all-time favorite hymns) and offering Jesus my heart as His cradle. Warm and fuzzy, yes; but faithfully so.

(130) I sing the birth was born tonight (type 3) is English playwright Ben Jonson's underappreciated contribution to Christmas hymnody. Presented, again, as a BOPTB, I find that it sings nicely (in my mind's ear) to the chorale KOMMT HER ZU MIR. Stanza 1 recognizes the child announced by the angels as "the Author both of life and light"; stanza 2 as the Son of God and maker of the world, who brought us all salvation; stanza 3, as the Word made flesh; and stanza 4 as "a martyr born in our defense." The only quibble I forsee (because it's been thrown at some of my hymns) is that the last line ends with a question mark, which is not ideal for a hymn.

(143) The happy Christmas comes once more (types 1-3 again) is another Christmas hymn by Grundtvig, somewhat of the "let us go to the manger in a flight of pious imagination" persuasion, and though I suppose most Christmas hymns do that to some extent, they aren't necessarily so open about it ("To David's city let us fly," etc.) It does put some useful ideas across, however, such as describing Christ's state of humiliation: "Laid off the splendor of the skies" (stanzas 4-5). It challenges believing hearts to wake and sing "living song from loving souls" (stanza 6). It finds glory blazing from the dim manger scene (stanza 7). It covers all that "long awaited" and "incarnate Word" territory in one stanza (8), and ends in a particularly beautiful version of that familiar invitation for Jesus to dwell in our hearts (stanza 9). Again, it kind of grows on me. And it can't hurt to have Charles Porterfield Krauth as its translator.

(144) Thy little ones, dear Lord, are we (type 3) is a warm, tender prayer for children to the Child of Bethlehem by H.A. Brorson, whom we've discussed before. The tune is J.A.P. Schulz's HER KOMMER DINE ARME SMAA, which I think is very learnable for little singers. The opportunity to try teaching it to them is, then, an opportunity to acquaint them with the connection between "the stable, manger, cross, and grave" (stanza 3). After a gasp of astonishment at how few people appreciate God's gift of His Son (stanza 4), the hymn moves on to pray, "O (sic) draw us wholly to Thee, Lord" (stanza 5, which someone made me memorize at some point in my life). That sic, by the way, is for another instance of confusing "O" and "Oh." Color me pendantic. Moving on, the hymn recalls "our baptismal cov'nant" (stanza 6), looks forward to Paradise (stanza 7), and recognizes Jesus' presence in the hour of worship (stanza 8). Not bad for such a simple and direct little thing.

(146) When Christmas morn is dawning (type 1) is another of those "culturally nordic Christmas carols" that confessional Lutherans of a German extraction may not be familiar with; and in case you haven't noticed it yet, offering them a chance to encounter such hymns is one of this book's strengths. In fact, that's a good part of why I would recommend it to Missouri and Wisconsin Synodites. I just wish this hymn were a more fortunate example of that. Paired with a German folk tune (WIR HATTEN GEBAUET), Abel Burckhardt's Swedish hymn begins, again, with the tired old sentiment that says, basically, "I wish I could look at baby Jesus in the manger" – but it doesn't improve much from there. Stanza 2 thanks the Savior for kindly coming to earth, then prays, "O (sic) may we not by sinning / Despise your lowly birth," which is an unexpectedly moralistic application of the Christmas miracle, but all right. Stanza 3 wraps it up with an explanation of what we need Jesus for: "To be our dearest friend. Your love will guard and guide us And keep us to life's end." Well, there's something to that, too. But any opportunity to proclaim gospel has been completely passed over.

(150) In this our happy Christmastide (type 3) is a Hans A. Brorson hymn for the Sunday after Christmas, by which point you might also have noticed that "culturally nordic Christmas carols" tend to mention the word "Christmas" – more, I think, than the Christmas hymns we Lutherans of a non-Scandinavian extraction are used to. (Full disclosure: I recently found out that I do have Scandinavian DNA in my blood, but apparently it comes by way of Viking invaders who intermarried with my Sicilian ancestors.) Anyway, Brorson moves on quickly from the joyful sound of bells ringing to confess that He "by whom the world was made, Now in the lowly manger (is) laid" (stanza 1); that the everlasting God comes "to rescue us who were forlorn" in "this world of sin and misery," "drawn to our earth, drawn by His love" (stanza 2); that since He was born, "in our camp the Ark we see" and "hell shall tremble at the sound" of our song of peace (stanza 3); and that God's Son comes to die and so deliver us from sin (stanza 4). It connects the "gospel in a nutshell" verse, John 3:16, with the angels' song to the shepherds (stanza 5); it puts the joy of Christmas in the context of day-to-day sadness (stanza 6); and sympathizes with Simeon's readiness to depart to be with Christ forever (stanza 7). So, really quite a substantial Christmas hymn.

(161) O Jesus Christ, Thy manger is (types 2-3) is a wonderful Gerhardt hymn, earmarked for the Second Sunday after Christmas, that was also in TLH and LSB (but somwhow, not LW). However, LSB replaced Johann Crüger's beautiful tune O JESU CHRIST, DEIN KRIPPLEIN IST with a new tune by Kenneth Kosche, IN PARADISUM – not only unnecessarily, I feel, but tragically. Now that I'm an organist at an LSB church, I miss KRIPPLEIN so much; IN PARADISUM doesn't hold a candle to it. Abandoning Crüger's melody is a mistake and, if it isn't reversed in the next LCMS hymnal, could signal a sad loss for Missouri's corner of American Lutheran culture.

(162) This little Babe so few days old (types 2-3) is a poem by a Jesuit martyr, St. Robert Southwell, that artsy types like me will recognize as a thrilling piece from Benjamin Britten's A Ceremony of Carols, with the harpist energetically pounding the strings and the choir building up tremendous echo effects. Sung to ELHy's suggested tune HEUT TRIUMPHIERET GOTTES SOHN, it is nearly as dramatic as that, only more likely to lie within the musical ability of the congregation. The "alt." in the text credit mercifully spares us from having to negotiate the word "pight" (a stand-in for "pitched") in stanza 4. "Alt." really is an underappreciated hymn writer, you know. But let's talk about Southwell for a moment, spinning a powerful hymn about the incarnation out of military metaphors: The babe "is come to rifle Satan's fold; All hell doth at His presence quake" and "In this weak unarméd wise The gates of hell He will surprise" (stanza 1). Ironies and paradoxes build from there: "His battering shot are babish cries, His arrows looks of weeping eyes, His martial ensigns cold and need" (stanza 2) – I have to stop. I'm getting choked up.

So, we've done the seasons of Advent and Christmas. Next time, let's pick up with the Epiphany section, which starts at hymn 166. Till then, I wish you the seasonally appropriate words at the end of ELHy 163, stanza 4: "Holy peace and godly cheer!" (Stumble, fumble ... Wh-what happened to "Holy peace, a glad New Year"? See TLH 96).


Rev. Alan Kornacki, Jr. said...

When I was at Bronxville, we sang a piece called "Five Mystical Songs," all texts by Herbert. "Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life" was one of those texts. The tune for it--according to, the tune is THE CALL by RVW--is lively, quite appropriate for the text. Of course, when it comes to music, I'm not on the gifted end of things.

By the way, my favorite of the five, "Love (III)," is a gorgeous Eucharist text. It wouldn't be a good hymn, but as a choral/solo piece, it's fabulous.

RobbieFish said...

I've seen "Love (III)" brought in as an interpretive aid to "Come, My Way" - that line about "such a strength," I think.

RobbieFish said...

It's wonderful to sing RVW, by the way. I've had a few opportunities, but never the Herbert cycle.