Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Tacky Hymns 92

Before continuing with the Lent and Passion Week sections of Christian Worship: Hymnal (Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 2021), I repeat:
Please understand the following three "types" of comments for which I'm interested in singling out hymns for special mention. "Type 1" means I wish the editors had shown better taste than to include such-and-such in the book, because it clashes with the decor (i.e. doctrine and spiritual culture) of an intentionally Lutheran church body. "Type 2" is just a point of trivia that I want to raise, like "what an interesting choice of a tune to go with this hymn," etc.; not necessarily an example of tackiness, as such. "Type 3" is the reverse of tackiness: a hymn so marvelous that its appearance in CWH shows up other hymnals that don't include it. (Also, let's assume references are "Type 3" unless otherwise specified, and "tacks" are awarded on a five-tack scale of tackiness.)
395 is "What grace is this," about which I have previously commented (not altogether negatively). Wisconsin Synod folks may be used to it, but I still have some doubts about the musical setting's chances of success with a musically average congregation.

397 and 399 (Type 2) are both "My song is love unknown," a beautiful Lenten hymn by Samuel Crossman, with 398 "Not all the blood of beasts" stuck between them (on the bottom half of a right-hand page) to economize on space. To start with, it's a little weird to see alternate-tune settings of the same hymn spread out with other hymns between them, though I can't honestly say I haven't seen it before. More to the point, I like both tunes – 397 has LOVE UNKNOWN by John Ireland, and 399 has RHOSYMEDRE by John Edwards – but to be honest, Ireland's tune is so beautiful that it really puts the Edwards in the shade, and it seems a shame not to play, sing and hear it at every opportunity. Also, RHOSYMEDRE requires the singers to repeat the last couple phrases of each stanza to make the text fit the melody, so it isn't quite as perfect a match for the hymn as the tune expressly written for it. Though I suppose it's the one some people are used to, I'm for deploying RHOSYMEDRE elsewhere.

401 (Type 1) is William Cowper's "There is a fountain filled with blood," to which I have previously objected in the strongest terms, not once but twice. Elsewhere, I have seen it set to E.J. Hopkins' tune ST. HUGH, Lowell Mason's COWPER, William Horsley's HORSLEY and I don't recall what else, but CWH pairs it with the 18th century American traditional tune CLEANSING FOUNTAIN. To say that it might be the best pairing with this text yet is not altogether a compliment. 4 tacks.

403 is "Lamb of God," a paraphrase of the Agnus Dei interspersed with verses from Psalm 103 by Kenneth Kosche, who also wrote the tune. It's kind of a modern concept, musically, but the idea of inserting additional material into a liturgical text goes back to the middle ages (cf. "Kyrie, God Father," etc.) Other than sounding a little commercial and having a bar of rest at the end of each verse, which leads me to suspect there's an accompanist's score hidden somewhere, I see no harm in it.

405 (mild Type 1) is "On my heart imprint your image" by Thomas Kingo, a one-stanza Lenten hymn that I memorized (to two different tunes!) as a kid, only to be continually tripped up by each new hymnal's tendency to change the lyrics at least a little bit. CWH follows the version in CWALH, but that's as new to me as the variants in LW and LSB so you might as well tie my shoelaces together and give me a little push. 1/2 tack.

408 is "He stood before the court" by Christopher Idle, set to Leland B. Sateren's tune MARLEE (which I associate with "Deep were His wounds and red"). Idle's text explores the rich, judicial paradox of Christ fulfilling all justice by being condemned under the Law in our stead, the innocent for all the guilty. And Sateren's tune, though my mind's ear has difficulty loosing its grip on that prior association, jives beautifully with the serious character of the hymn.

415 is "Exult today, Jerusalem" by Stephen Starke, paired with a tune called ZEHNDER by Scott Hyslop. It's a Palm Sunday hymn that crams in a lot of prophetic references to Jesus, including "royal Son of Bethlehem" (Micah 5), "greater Jonah" (Matthew 12, Luke 11), "Zion's daughter" (Zechariah 9), a prophet like Moses (Deuteronomy 18), "Lift up your heads, you mighty gates" (Psalm 24), Melchizedek (Genesis 14, Psalm 110), concluding with a song to Jesus that joins the Hosanna of Palm Sunday to the "O Come, Emmanuel" (Isaiah 7).

416 is "When you woke that Thursday morning," about which I've previously grumbled twice without ever awarding any tacks. Unlike a certain WELS hymnal supplement I was reviewing back here, CWH goes back to pairing this hymn with JOYOUS LIGHT, which, I now know, comes from Marty Haugen's Holden Evening Prayer, and to which it was set when I first critiqued it.

417 (Type 1) is "It was a dark and dismal night," an altered version of Isaac Watts' Maundy Thursday hymn that I know (from TLH) as "'Twas on that dark, that doleful night." Updated language hasn't done this 18th century poem any favors; instead, it has invited impious minds to connect it with Edward Bulwer-Lytton's infamous novel-opener, "It was a dark and stormy night." 1 tack for not knowing when to leave well enough alone.

418 is "The Blood of the Lamb," first line "The Father sees his children's chains," with words by Laurie Gauger and a reasonably decent modern tune by Sarah Lambrecht. The text stresses the connection between the first Passover and Jesus' sacrifice for sinners and finally links this to the Sacrament. It's the third text by Gauger that I've had occasion to review and all of them got good marks; maybe we should be paying attention to this lady's talent.

421 is "Son of God, by God forsaken" by Herman Stuempfle, set to the 17th century chorale OMNI DIE. It's really a very fine Passion poem by an author whom this book has repeatedly forced me to speak well of, despite all differences I've had with his work in the past.

423 is "The Power of the Cross," first line "Oh, to see the dawn of the darkest day," by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend, an OK passion hymn in a contemporary Christian music idiom. I would rate its merit somewhere below a Lenten hymn written by authors and composers at the top of the art form, but considerably above the old timey Americana and repetitive, content-minimal spirituals that seem to inspire most of the CCM repertoire, so that's a plus.

424 is "The Garden of Gethsemane" by Michael D. Schultz (words and music), who views the entire Passion of Christ from the point of view of Gethsemane – His agony there, then moving on to Calvary and the result, that for us "there is no cup ... to drink, no curse, no penalty." It's a tightly structured text that makes its appeal via a kind of hymnological equivalent of the Aristotelian unities. The tune is inoffensive, but I don't think it adds much in originality to the repertoire already extant.

426 (Type 1) is "Were you there" – and indeed, I've been there. 4 tacks.

433 is "God was there on Calvary" by Kurt Eggert (words and music). It's a very simple, tightly argued little hymn that briefly tells us how God, all the world, sin, love, life and we ourselves were involved on Calvary.

436 is Michael D. Schultz's "Their nails were freshly driven" – a seven-stanza hymn on Jesus' seven last words on the cross. I would just like to point out that my record (for doing a hymn like this in the fewest words) still stands. Set to the fine chorale HERZLICH TUT MICH VERLANGEN and with the accompanying biblical text for each stanza provided at the bottom of the right-hand page, Schultz's hymn is a fine contemporary addition to this little corner of hymnody. It draws specific gospel comfort from each of the seven words.

437 is "Rest, O Christ, from all your labor" by Herman Stuempfle, paired with the tune O MEIN JESU, ICH MUSS STERBEN (better known, at least in my circles, as the tune to "Stricken, smitten, and afflicted"). It focuses on the crucified Lord's Sabbath rest in the tomb. From the top, it reminds me of the concluding chorus of Bach's St. Passion ("Ruht wohl ihr heiligen Gebeine"), at least in the role it could play as the fitting end of a Good Friday ceremony or the beginning of an Easter Vigil.

I think I awarded 9-1/2 tacks this time, bringing CWH's running total to 23-1/2 tacks in 147 hymns, or an average of approximately 0.16 tacks per hymn. It's a slight uptick but still a respectable number, I suppose; if I'd kept a running score like this, I wonder how TLH and LSB would have fared? Not that you'll have noticed, because I omitted mention of perfectly fine hymns that I've seen elsewhere, the book also seems to be keeping a pretty strong representation of high-quality, historic hymnody, while also sticking its neck out to introduce new(ish) numbers with, I think, maybe better judgment on the whole than CWALH showed. On deck: the Easter hymns (438-471).

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