Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Tacky Hymns 88

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.
Perhaps I should also beg indulgence for taking, perhaps, a more persnickety tone below than in my previous remarks on ELHy. Certainly, there are a lot of good hymns in this section of ELHy; but many of them happen to be in Missouri Synod books such as TLH, LW and LSB, with the same tune and all, so I thought I'd spare the blather of singling them out. Please take it as read that the missing hymn numbers below are all right in my books.

(555) Rise again, ye lion-hearted (Type 2) is a "saints and martyrs" hymn by an unknown 18th-century German author, translated by Martin Franzmann and set to STRATFORD, a tune by the same Alfred Fremder who also composed a setting of the Divine Service for this hymnal. It's a very impressive tune. The few Missouri Sinners who are familiar to this tune may know it better to the 19th century chorale LÖWEN, LASST EUCH WIEDERFINDEN (written, I daresay, for this hymn), used in TLH.

(558) From all Thy saints in warfare (Type 2) is a Bottom of the Page Text Block (BOTPTB) by Horatio B. Nelson (not the admiral), which this book confines to three general-purpose stanzas referencing "apostles, prophets, martyrs and all the sacred throng" (stanza 2) and suggests singing to AURELIA ("The church's one Foundation"). Both LW (193-194) and LSB (517-518) change it to "By all your saints in warfare"; set it to the majestic English folk tune KING'S LYNN, collected and arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams; and expand it to include separate stanzas for specific apostles, prophets and martyrs – so many of them that they end up spread across two numbered hymns and, in LSB's case, include additional stanzas written by Harlyn Kuschel and Gregory Wismar. I guess the latter version will be useful if you're going to observe every saints day that comes along in the church calendar, though I think the soundest liturgical advice is to give priority to Whatever Sunday of the Church Year. However, I do like KING'S LYNN and find AURELIA a bit watery after all the use it's been given.

(560) Now the day is over, a hymn by Sabine Baring-Gould of "Onward, Christian soldiers" fame, gets a Type 1 ding because of Joseph Barnby's boring tune MERRIAL. I mean, seriously: two out of four phrases are entirely made up of the note E repeated over and over. It manages despite that to exude shmaltz all over the place. One of my least favorite pieces by Barnby and, I think, a melody the church should have outgrown a century ago.

(565) All praise to Thee, my God, this night (Type 1-1/2) is an evening hymn by Thomas Ken, set here to the shmaltzy tune EVENING HYMN by Charles Gounod. This was one of the two tunes TLH had for this hymn and, I'm sorry to say, ELHy picked the wrong one to carry over. The one good thing ELHy did with it was to transpose it down to the white-note key of C, rather than forcing Mrs. Gundersen to read the five flats of D-flat major.

(566) Thus far the Lord has led me on (Type 3) is a BOTPTB by Isaac Watts, brief and accessible for an individual's or a family's bedtime prayer. The suggested tune, J.S. Bach's GOTTLOB, ES GEHT NUNMEHR, is what TLH aficiones may recall as the tune to the Maundy Thursday hymn "The death of Jesus Christ, our Lord." For what it's worth, the tune takes its title from a funeral hymn by Christian Weise, which Bach used in one of his cantatas.

(567) Christ, mighty Savior is a hymn credited to the 10th century Mozarabic community, translated into English by somebody McDougall and revised later by somebody LeCroy, and set to David Hurd's tune MIGHTY SAVIOR, about which I have commented before. In ELW and LSB, this hymn is set to the tune INNISFREE FARM, about which I have also commented before. To sum up, I like both tunes but I've learned by experience not to foist them on my little, small-town congregation. What this hymn needs is a tune they can sing.

(569) Now rest beneath night's shadow is a Paul Gerhardt bedtime hymn set to a J.S. Bach harmonization of Heinrich Isaac's O WELT, ICH MUSS DICH LASSEN (a.k.a. INNSBRUCK). While I love this piece of music and, as an ambitious music student in the town-gown community that produced this book, would have loved the idea of having it in the pew hymnal at that time, I've ripened (so to speak) to the point that, today, I wouldn't make that choice. It just doesn't reflect a realistic view of the service playing abilities of Mrs. Jorgensen or the singing skills of the folks at Sherpherd of the Cornfield Lutteran Church. However, you could just use a standard, hymnal-style arrangement of the same tune instead.

(570) Now the light has gone away is Frances Ridley Havergal's evening hymn, set to the trite yet boring chorale MÜDE BIN ICH, which achieves almost the same level of monotony as MERRIAL without the shmaltzy harmony.

(574) O Trinity, most blessed Light is a fine evening hymn by Ambrose of Milan, translated by John Mason Neale, which TLH sets to the Nicolaus Decius chorale O HEILIGE DRAIFALTIGKEIT. I'd also like to mention that there's a plainchant melody written for this hymn, O LUX BEATA TRINITAS, which I've personally arranged as a hymn tune and I think it also works pretty well, not that the editors of ELHy would have known about it. They went with the British ballad tune O WALY WALY, which American singers may associate with the song "The Water Is Wide." I'm ambivalent about the success of this pairing, or about any tune associated with well-known secular folk lyrics being yoked into hymnody. (Other examples are THE ASH GROVE and BUNESSAN.)

(575) The sun has gone down comes from the Danish author Samuel Olsen Bruun, and it's set to that Norsk folk tune FAR VERDEN, FAR VEL that was only hinted at in ELHy 529. It's a beautiful, atmospheric, expressive piece that perhaps relies a bit over-much on its harmony to make melodic sense. It'll probably be most warmly received by people who feel their Scandinavian heritage.

(576) Holy Father, in Thy mercy is a BOTPTB by Isabella Stephenson, with the suggested tune STEPHANOS ("I am trusting Thee, Lord Jesus"). While I'll naturally complain that this tune makes me feel starched and stifled the way only artifacts of English Romanticism can, I have to be fair and add that there could be a use for this hymn praying for absent loved ones.

(579) Abide in grace, Lord Jesus is just a different translation of Josua Stegmann's hymn, given in TLH as "Abide, O dearest Jesus," set in both places to the beautiful chorale CHRISTUS, DER IST MEIN LEBEN.

(583) God's Word is our great heritage is a one-stanza hymn by N.F.S. Grundtvig that Missouri Sinners are accustomed to sing to the tune REUTER, by Fritz of that name, whereas ELHy follows LHy in setting it to the isometric version of EIN FESTE BURG. And that pretty much epitomizes the everlasting schism between American Lutherans of Scandinavian and German extraction.

(584) Grant peace, we pray, in mercy, Lord (Type 2) is a Latin hymn adapted by Martin Luther, set to the tune VERLEIH UNS FRIEDEN. It's an interesting case study in hymnal editing, because there's a version of this hymn that goes on much longer than this in phrase after through-composed phrase; J.S. Bach's chorale harmonizations include a setting of it, of which ELHy's harmonization is only an excerpt. Then again, there's a more plainchant-like version of the same excerpt (minus the final phrase) that you can find in LW 219 and LSB 778, the latter opposite an alternate tune by Mendelssohn in LSB 777. Making this already complex picture even more confusing is the existence of a tune called CHRISTIAN LOVE, attributed to Paul Benoit, which is so similar to VERLEIH UNS FRIEDEN that they just have to be related; and while we're mentioning it, ERHALT UNS, HERR bears some similarity to it, too. Just sayin'.

(588) Lord, dismiss us with Thy blessing (Type 2) is the close-of-worship hymn that TLH and other Missourian books (plus LHy and TCH) pair with Henry Smart's tune REGENT SQUARE ("Angels from the realms of glory"). ELHy joins ELHb, CSB, ALH, SBH, LBW and ELW – basically, the ELCA side of American Lutheranism, plus the English-language forerunner of TLH – in going with the tune SICILIAN MARINERS (a.k.a. O SANCTISSIMA, a.k.a. O DU FRÖHLICHE, a.k.a. SICILIAN HYMN, a.k.a. SICILIAN MARINERS' HYMN), which the German side of Lutheranism probably associates with the Christmas hymn "O thou holiest, O thou happiest" (a.k.a. "Oh, how joyfully, oh, how merrily," etc.). So, either way you slice it, this Hymn to Depart lends a Christmassy note to the end of the worship hour.

(593) On my heart imprint Thine image (Type 2) is that one-stanza hymn by Thomas Kingo, which I learned by heart from TLH as set to the tune DER AM KREUZ ("Jesus, grant that balm and healing"), then had to re-learn at Bethany Lutheran College (the nursery of this hymnal) to the tune FREU DICH SEHR ("Comfort, comfort ye my people"), and in an isometric version at that. (Missouri Sinners have been singing the rhythmic version of this tune since TLH.) Hymn 598 is the same hymn, set to an eight (or more) voice choral arrangement of the same tune by Alfred Fremder, which was always the closing number of choir concerts at the college. I guess Fremder is Bethany's F. Melius Christiansen, and this hymn was his "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty." A consequence of this heavy exposure to the FREU DICH SEHR version of the hymn is that I'm OK with either tune, but I'm NOT OK with hymnals-come-lately such as LW and LSB altering the lyrics that I've known by heart since childhood. To this day I stumble when my heart leads me one way and the book points another.

(595) Peace to soothe our bitter woes (Types 2-3) is a Grundtvig hymn that, as it were, bookends the previously mentioned "In Jesus' name our works must all be done" (about which, see here and here.) In other words, it's the hymn that, I believe, the Norwegian Lutherans in America customarily used to close church meetings. The tune is FRED TIL BOD, but not the one by Ludvig M. Lindeman that you probably know from the Lenten hymn "Come to Calvary's holy mountain" (though I reckon it was originally written for this text). Rather, it's a tune of the same name by J.P.E. Hartman, which isn't quite as polished but definitely has a warm, devotional appeal that accords with the tone of Grundtvig's words. And what words! "Jesus bought our peace with God With His holy, precious blood; Peace in Him for sinners found Is the Gospel's joyful sound." That's just stanza 1. Stanza 2 describes peace as "our baptismal dow'r" and says it "shall bless our dying hour," before closing with a sweet benediction. I love this hymn and I'm heartbroken that it isn't better known across American Lutheranism. It's definitely something I'd like to import into Missouri.

(597) Savior, again to Thy dear name we raise is a benediction hymn by John Ellerton, about which see here, set to Edward J. Hopkins' tune ELLERS, about which see here. Type 1, don'tcha know; mostly due to the tune. There had to be at least one.

After a whole page of text-block hymns (three different table prayer hymns), the book concludes with (602) God bless our native land, set to an English tune improbably titled AMERICA, which is really "God Save the Queen," which is really the British national anthem, which the U.S. co-opted as the tune for its own patriotic song "My country, 'tis of thee," which is so widely known in the States that I've known a choir director at a state college who used it without a score to audition singers. The present hymn text, which reads to me as an attempt to convert this secular nationalist ditty into a church hymn about the nation, is credited to John Sullivan Dwight and Charles T. Brooks; however, Hymnary.org credits them as translators and claims the hymn was originally written in German by one Siegfried A. Mahlmann. I suppose we can debate all day whether the hymnal or the worship service is the proper place for a patriotic song or hymn to mark public holidays like July 4, but on the other hand, better this than "God bless America" (which my congregation sings every Memorial Day), or "America the Beautiful" or "The Star-Spangled Banner," either of which (and more) I've come across in other hymnals. The thing to watch for, I guess, in deciding whether the song has any business being in worship is whether the song sentimentalizes a particular country, exalts it over other countries or takes the "my country, right or wrong" line without adding "if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right." In other words, is it the kind of prayer for the nation that you could paraphrase directly from Scripture and that addresses God as the Lord of all nations?

So, that's ELHy. I have an idea for what book I'm going to tear to bits next. In the meantime, with a few reservations (fewer than maybe any other book I've looked at, including TLH) I recommend this hymnal for the consideration and use of all American Lutherans who are interested in being purposefully, distinctively Lutheran in doctrine and practice. It has much in it to enrich the repertoire of those, for example, who have been nourished on the TLH-LW-LSB line of hymnals, with only a few hymns whose addition to our literature I challenge as examples of "tackiness on holy ground."

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