Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Tacky Hymns 85

We continue with the 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.
(330) Beneath the cross of Jesus, the reason I quit last time before proceeding into the Good Friday section of this book, is a hymn about which I have commented before so (sigh) I won't go into it again. Though I might not have mentioned that I don't think the tune ST. CHRISTOPHER by Frederick C. Maker is any better than Elizabeth Clephane's lyrics. The smarm dial on this one goes up to 11.

(332) O darkest woe is the most solemn Passion hymn imaginable, taking Jesus' death as its starting point and working through the grief of his burial to explore the comfort of the eternal blessing his sacrificial death and rest in the grave bring to the believer. However, this hymn isn't unique to ELHy; TLH, LW and LSB all have it, for example. What ELHy adds is a slight alteration to Catherine Winkworth's translation, which (according to a prof I heard speak on this when I was at Bethany College) is more faithful to the original German. Winkworth, stanza 2: "God's Son is dead." ELHy: "Our God is dead." German: "Gott selbst ist tot." You be the judge. I think this is a powerful confession of the correct side of the controversy, earlier in this century, between Lutherans who either agreed or denied that it is appropriate to say God died on Good Friday. It shows exactly how far God put himself out to save sinners.

(334-335) O sacred Head, now wounded is a beautiful 12th century Passion hymn by way of Paul Gerhardt's German, set to a 17th century tune (HERZLICH TUT MICH VERLANGEN) by Hans Leo Hassler that fans of Paul Simon might recall as "American Tune." Judging by its importance in, for example, J.S. Bach's passion oratorios, it isn't hard to understand why some simply call this tune the Passion Chorale. I'm preaching to the choir, as it were; you find this hymn practically everywhere. I quit counting at 28 instances of the tune in anglophone Lutheran hymnals, not including alternate settings of the tune within the same hymn (like in this pair of hymn numbers), set to a bunch of different texts but most frequently this one. While I'm OK with offering the choice of either the rhythmic (334) or isometric (335) version of the tune – even, in the latter case, with a harmonization by J.S. Bach – I do question the wisdom of arranging the stanzas, like in the previously discussed "Jesus Christ, our blessed Savior," celebration-style with odd stanzas on one page and even on the other. I don't think it's reasonable to expect a congregation to hop back and forth between two very different settings of the same tune; you should choose one or the other, and take into consideration whether your organist is up to the Bach arrangement.

(336) Of my life the Life, O Jesus is Richard Massie's translation of the same hymn that Winkworth (333) renders as "Christ, the Life of all the living." By either name it's one of my favorite hymns of all time. Massie's lesser known version ends most stanzas with the refrain "Thousand, thousand thanks to Thee, Blessed Jesus, ever be" – again, a slight variant of the Winkworth. The biggest difference will be the tune, for which both ELHy and LHy use Johann Crüger's magnificent DU, O SCHÖNES WELTGEBÄUDE instead of 333's better known (and also perfectly lovely) JESU, MEINES LEBENS LEBEN. More Lutherans need to be exposed to the Crüger tune. Toward that end, I paired it with one of my original hymns.

(338) So Rest, my Rest is a hymn by Salomo Franck about Christ's Sabbath rest in the tomb, presented as a "bottom of the page text block" (BOTPTB) but connected with the same chorale tune O TRAURIGKEIT as 332. I recommend this for the opening of a Saturday evening Easter vigil. Application: The grave is nothing to fear now that Christ has blessed it by his death and resurrection.

(339) The Lord into His Father's hands is another beautiful Passion hymn by Icelandic poet Hallgrimur Petursson. Three golden stanzas applying the moment of Jesus' death to my hope of resurrection and a renewal of life on this side of the grave.

(342) O Paschal Feast, what joy is thine by Swedish writer Olaus Petri (a.k.a. Olof Persson), is the first BOTPTB in ELHy's Easter section. Some Lutherans, whose catechesis has been sadly neglected, may need to be instructed that "Paschal" is an adjective form for "Easter" (or Passover). Jesus' redeeming sacrifice and resurrection, it says, free us from bondage to sin, give us strength in all our trials, and enable us to live resurrected lives now (from sin) and at the end (in eternal life). But stanza 2 is my favorite bit: "The Tree where Thou wast offered up Now bears the fruit of life and hope; Thy precious Blood for us was shed That we might eat of heav'nly bread."

(346) Death is dead, the true Life liveth is a BOTPTB by 19th century Icelandic writer Helgi Hálfdánarson – so, I would guess, new to you if you're not a Lutheran of Scandinavian background. The accent in this hymn is on the direct connection between Jesus' resurrection and ours. "Christ arisen bursts our prison," says stanza 1. On Calvary dying, Christ "wins a crown of life for me" and causes the grave to flower into life, says stanza 2. The blood from His wounds will bring flesh and spirit back together for those who sleep in Him, says stanza 3. Stanza 4 styles Him "death's Destroyer" and offers "day by day to die with Thee," the better to rise and live as His forever. Seriously, our hymnals could use more hymns like this, that pack as much power into as few stanzas.

(349) How rich, at Eastertide is the Dutch Easter hymn, set to the attractive tune VRUECHTEN, that LW and LSB render as "This joyful Eastertide."

(355) Now Christ is risen is an original Easter hymn by the same Harry Bartels whose paraphrase of the Athanasian Creed I remarked on – a gentleman I am proud to have met on at least one or two occasions. The tune for this hymn is Bartels' own PASCHAL ALLELUIAS, which is eloquent in its simplicity. In stanzas of two lines each (not including Alleluias) it covers the Easter story pretty thoroughly, which is a remarkable feat of verbal economy, and employs such muscular expressions as "Death could not hold Him, He would awaken; Hell's powers then by Him would be shaken." OK, so it's not the highest literary style; but some of my attempts to write hymns in a lofty register have been, perhaps rightly, sneered at for failing to achieve the direct effect that Bartels seems to hit with every line.

(359) This is the feast of victory for our God is John W. Arthur's hymn, set to the tune FESTIVAL CANTICLE by Richard Hillert (the setting Missouri Synod Lutherans will probably know best from LW and LSB), about which I'd like to say that at last a hymnal gets that this is a hymn, best used for an occasion like the Easter season; it does not truly belong in the front of the book as an alternative to, or more likely replacement for, the Gloria in excelsis in the Divine Service liturgy.

(360) Triumphant from the grave is an Easter hymn by Martin Franzmann, set to the tune TRIUMPH by Bruce Backer, both of which I like because of their modern-accented muscularity. Example: "He crushed – O Christian, mark it well! – Sin, Satan, death and hell." At the opposite end of the sliding scale from the eloquent simplicity of Harry Bartels' work in 355, it's nevertheless the kind of thing that I think could pierce a heart looking for strong affirmation of the Easter message. It may take a congregation with an understanding attitude and musical leadership of better-than-average skill to learn to negotiate its rhythmic and melodic twists. I think this tune has had a big influence on me as a hymn-tune composer.

(364) O for a faith that will not shrink (sic) gets a Type 2 mention because, instead of Alexander Reinagle's tune ST. PETER to which TLH folks know it, ELHy goes with Richard Redhead's tune WOLVERHAMPTON. It's a nice enough tune, though, and probably won't have to strain very hard to become well accepted and familiar. The "(sic)" above, as well as below, is about the misspelling of "Oh," which persists throughout this book.

(365) O sing with exultation (sic) is by "the father of Danish poetry," Anders Christensen Arrebo. I mention it again for the Type 2 reason that instead of AUS MEINES HERZENS GRUNDE, to which we Missouri Sinners are used to singing this hymn, ELHy pairs it with THOMISSØN, from a 1569 Danish psalter. It certainly has a Nordic texture.

(367) Gracious Savior, gentle Shepherd is my first (edit: OK, second) "Type 1" hit in this installment, pairing a precious children's hymn by Englishwoman Jane Leeson (of the Catholic Apostolic Church) with a tune by Norwegian organist and composer Erik Hoff. I find it a bit too sugary, personally. But if you want a sentimental hymn, more about children than for children, depicted in the musical and poetic equivalent of soft-focus photography, here's your shop. At least as Lutherans we have the opportunity to think sacramental thoughts when stanza 3 talks about being cleansed in the "Mingled stream of blood and water Flowing from Thy wounded side," and to choose to think "third use of the law" thoughts rather than being stifled by downy waves of moralism when the hymn goes on to stress being guided in our behavior by Christ's word. However, the word "lisp" in stanza 5 is pretty much the moment when I have to walk out of the church for a breath of air.

(368) The Lord my faithful Shepherd is, words by Arrebo set to the chorale ES IST GEWISSLICH, adds yet another Psalm 23 paraphrase to our hymnody's burgeoning literature for Good Shepherd Sunday (Easter 3 by this book's reckoning). It's a decent paraphrase, though.

(372) Jesus, Thy boundless love to me is that warm, devotional hymn by Paul Gerhardt that we Missouri Sinners always sang to the solemn, didactic chorale VATER UNSER until LSB switched us to Norman Cocker's warm, devotional tune RYBURN. ELHy took the initiative even earlier to pair Gerhardt's hymn about discipleship with Henry Carey's tune SURREY, which is more cheerful and dancelike than both alternate tunes.

(373) I know that my Redeemer is neither the "I know that my Redeemer lives" jingle everybody knows by Samuel Medley (ubiquitously paired with the tune DUKE STREET), nor the hymn with the same first name by Gerhardt (to which I wrote one of my original tunes, OXENFORD), nor even the aria from Handel's Messiah, but a completely different text from Petursson's Icelandic, with the word "Lives" bumped onto the next line ("Lives crowned upon the throne"). Here's some of the great stuff in this BOTPTB: "He conquered death by dying" (stanza 1); His pain "O'erthrew the king of terrors And broke the captive's chain" (st. 2); "Christ is my Rock, my Courage; Christ is my soul's true Life" (st. 3); and finally, "O grave, where is thy triumph? O death, where is thy sting? 'Come when thou wilt, and welcome!' Secure in Christ I sing." That's some ending! The suggested tune, JEG VIL MIG HERREN LOVE, is the tune of TLH 655, "I pray Thee, dear Lord Jesus."

(380) When in our music God is glorified is a hymn about which I've commented before, but rather than search for a hyperlink to where I did so, I'll just repeat as briefly as possible, from memory, that this poem by Fred Pratt Green really is no hymn but more of a verse treatise about hymnody and probably shouldn't be in the pew hymnal, despite the attractiveness of Charles Villiers Standford's tune ENGELBERG. Also, someone needs to say it, Standford's setting of the tune, with mittfuls of notes, is a little on the challenging side for a keyboard arrangment aimed at congregations where the best organist available is often a self-taught beginner (for life) who doesn't have a lot of time to practice. It's really, in the last analysis, more the kind of thing that you'd hear in a campus chapel or town-gown church.

(382) Lord, teach us how to pray aright (that's "a-right," not "all right") is a more than passable prayer hymn by James Montgomery, set to Justin Knecht's tune DOMINE, CLAMAVI known, in some Missouri Synod circles, with the funeral hymn "Why do we mourn departing friends."

(385) What a friend we have in Jesus (Type 2) is a tune switcheroo that I'm ambivalent about. I think Henry Smart's tune BETHANY is far superior to CONVERSE, the tune to which the hymn is popularly sung; objectively beautiful, not just standing up on the strength of sentimental attachment, it moves along at a pace that is less deadly to the lungs and larynxes of those singing it, and it offers the would-be accompanist less of a trap than CONVERSE's narrow and elusive range of tempo choices that someone isn't going to find fault with. I would be 100 percent in favor of substituting BETHANY for CONVERSE in any hymnal that has the latter, but I would probably be lynched if I did (I've had some narrow escapes as it is) and I'm not even sure I'd get away with playing BETHANY straight out of ELHy at a church that uses the book. But I'd like to think I'd at least have rear end coverage in that scenario – one of the reasons I sometimes envy organists who get to play out of this book every week.

(386) Lord God, who art my Father dear, another BOTPTB, is a very brief paraphrase of the Lord's prayer, attributed (perhaps spuriously) to a disciple of Luther named Mathesius. I have no previous familiarity with it, but I think it's well done and could be a useful ditty for the catechesis of young children.

The Ascension section begins next, so I reckon this is as good a place to pause as any.

No comments: