Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Henry Alford

The Reverend Henry Alford was born today in London in 1810.  Ordained in the Church of England in 1833, he eventually was named Dean of Canterbury Cathedral in 1857.  He is still known today for his four-volume translation and commetary on the New Testament.

For our purposes here he is best known as the author of Come, ye thankful people, come, but he wrote many other texts and even some tunes, and also edited hymnals, including Psalms and Hymns (1844) and The Year of Praise (1867) which was especially for use at Canterbury. Actually, as a boy of 11, he compiled his first hymnal, which he titled A Collection of Hymns for Sundry Occasions (unpublished, alas!). 

Today's hymn by Alford is a response to the parable of the Prodigal Son, from Luke 15:11-32, updated a bit for contemporary worship.

Hark! through the courts of heav'n
Voices of angels sound;
Those that were dead now live again;
Those that were lost are found.

God of unfailing grace,
Send down thy Spirit now;
Raise the dejected soul to hope,
And make the lofty bow.

In countries far from home
On earthly husks we feed;
Back to our shelt'ring home, O God,
Our wand'ring footsteps lead.

Then at each soul's return
The heav'nly harps shall sound,
Those that were dead now live again;
Those that were lost are found.

Henry Alford, 1844; alt.
Tune: SWABIA (S.M.)
Johann Speiss, 1745;
arr. William Henry Havergal, 1847

You might suspect that I like quite a few of Alford's hymns, as several have already been seen on the blog (click on his tag below).  My particular favorites include We walk by faith and not by sight and Ten thousand times ten thousand.

P.S. - The art above is detail from The Return of the Prodigal Son (1670) by Bartolome Esteban Murillo.

Seven Years Ago: Henry Alford

Six Years Ago: Henry Alford

Five Years Ago: Charles Crozat Converse

Three Years Ago: Henry Alford

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Our Morning and Our Sun

O God, your world is sweet with prayer;
The breath of Christ is in the air;
We rise on your free Spirit’s wings,
And every thought within us sings.
You are our Morning and our Sun,
Our work is glad, in God begun;
Our foot-worn path is fresh with dew,
For you created all things new.
O God, within us and above,
Close to us in the Christ we love,
Through him, our only guide and way,
May heavenly life be ours today!

Lucy Larcom, 1892; alt.
Francois H. Barthelemon, 1785

Hymnwriter Lucy Larcom overcame a difficult youth of manual labor to become a
teacher, editor, and a widely-published poet and author. In this text she widens the
concept of God with the names of "Morning" and "Sun."

Seven Years Ago: Harriet Auber

Six Years Ago: Saint Francis of Assisi

Five Years Ago: Harriet Auber 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Saint Michael and All Angels

A happy and blessed Michaelmas to all!  A few churches may have celebrated this feast on Sunday, but technically it falls today. There are many, many hymns about angels so we have not nearly run out.

Praise to God who reigns above,
Binding earth and heav’n in love;
All the armies of the sky
Worship God's great sovereignty.
Seraphim God's praises sing,
Cherubim on fourfold wing,
Thrones, dominions, princes, powers,
Marshaled might that never cowers.

Speeds th’archangel on his race,
Bearing messages of grace;
Angel hosts God's words fulfill,
Ruling nature by One will.
Yet on earth they joy to wait,
All that bright celestial state,
For in us their Ruler see,
Christ, th’incarnate deity.

Oh, the depths of joy divine,
Thrilling through those orders nine,
When the lost are found again,
When the banished come to reign!
Then, in faith, in hope, in love,
We will join the choirs above,
Praising, with the heav’nly host,
God and Christ and Holy Ghost.

Richard M. Benson, 1861; alt.
Jakob Hintze, 1678; harm. J. S. Bach (18th cent.)

Richard Meux Benson was a priest in the Church of England who founded the Society of Saint John the Evangelist, the first Anglican community of monks since the time of the Reformation. They were also known as the Cowley Fathers because their first community lived in Cowley in Oxfordshire.  The order spread to Scotland, Canada, the United States, India, South Africa, and Japan before dwindling in the twentieth century.  The UK branch finally closed down in 2012, but maintains a trust fund for the benefit of retired members.

The Society survives still in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in a beautiful building on the banks of the Charles River. It seems unlikely that they would be singing Benson's hymn today but you never know.

Surprisingly, I have apparently only used the familiar tune SALZBURG once before in the last eight years.

Seven Years Ago: Around the throne of God a band

Six Years Ago: Stars of the morning, so gloriously bright

Five Years Ago: They are evermore around us

Three Years Ago: O Captain of God's host

One Year Ago: High on a hill of dazzling light

Monday, September 21, 2015

Saint Matthew

By all your saints still striving,
For all your saints at rest,
Your holy name, O Jesus,
Forevermore be blessed!
For those passed on before us,
We sing our praise anew
And, walking in their footsteps,
Would live our lives for you.

Praise, Lord, for him whose Gospel
Your human life declared,
Who, worldly gains forsaking,
Your path of suff'ring shared.
From greed and gain for power
Free us in all we do
That we, whate'er our calling,
May rise and follow you. 

We pray for saints we know not,
For saints still yet to be,
For grace to bear true witness
And serve you faithfully,
Till all the ransomed number
Who stand before the throne
Ascribe all power and glory
And praise to God alone.

Horatio Bolton Nelson, 1864; alt.
German folk tune; 17th cent.

Of course, Matthew the apostle was originally a tax-collector, and is thus represented by three bags of money.

Seven Years Ago: Come sing, ye choirs exultant

Six Years Ago: He sat to watch o'er customs paid

Five Years Ago: Arise and follow me!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Saint Hildegard

Today in some churches the feast day of Hildegard of Bingen (c.1098-1179) is celebrated. Hildegard was a Christian mystic, and an abbess of the Benedictine order at Disibodenberg, in Germany. She was also a writer, philosopher, and botanist, and most especially for our purposes, a composer, one of the oldest composers whose work we still know today.  Her music has been extensively researched, particularly in the last thirty years or so, and many works have been recorded.

There are a number of modern hymn texts, that have been derived from her life, her poetry, and her theology -- perhaps the best known being O Holy Spirit, root of life by Jean Janzen. Today's text below dates from the nineteenth century and is a translation of her poem O ignis Spiritus Paracliti, also about the Holy Spirit.  Richard Frederick Littledale translated many texts from Greek, Latin, and other languages, the most well known being Come down, O love divine.

O Fire of God, the Comforter,
O life of all that live,
Holy art thou to quicken us,
And holy, strength to give:
To heal the broken-hearted ones,
Their deepest wounds to bind,
O Spirit of all holiness,
Thou Love of humankind!
O sweetest taste within the breast,
O grace upon us poured,        
That saintly hearts may give again
Their perfume to the Lord.

O purest fountain! we can see,
Clear mirrored in thy streams,
That God brings home the wanderers,
That God the lost redeems.
O breastplate strong to guard our life,
O bond of unity,
O dwelling-place of righteousness,
Save all who trust in thee:        
O surest way, that through the height
And through the lowest deep
And through the earth dost pass, and all
In firmest union keep.

From thee the clouds and ether move,
From thee the moisture flows,       
From thee the waters draw their rills,
And earth with verdure glows,
And thou dost ever teach the wise,
And freely on them pour
The inspiration of thy gifts,
The gladness of thy lore.
All praise to thee, O joy of life,
O hope and strength, we raise,
Who givest us the prize of light,
Who art thyself all praise.

Hildegard; tr. Richard F. Littledale; alt.
Tune: NOAH (
Hubert P. Main, 19th cent. 

This is perhaps not exactly the right tune for this text, but the meter is an unusual one and there aren't many choices among the available sound files.

Hildegard has long been regarded as a saint in Germany, but it was not until May 2012 that her sainthood was officially recognized by the Roman church. Later that year, in October, she was also named a Doctor of the Church, one of four women among the total of  thirty-five.

Five Years Ago: Josiah Conder

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Trivial Round, The Common Task

Just some administrative notes and referrals today.  Post title, of course, is from this hymn.

Check out the online Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology if you have not discovered it yet. This project was conceived as a successor to the classic Dictionary of Hymnology (1892) by John Julian, but the modern scope is much broader than a single book could contain. As described on the webpage, the online Canterbury includes more than 4000 entries written by more than 300 people, from 30 countries, and is regularly updated with new entries added. Full access requires a paid subscription, but they make three random entries available each day for free. A daily grab-bag of hymnological knowledge!

If you have ever thought about attending a conference of the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada but could not do it for various reasons, you can now get a small taste of the experience through several regional hymn festivals that the Society is planning in the upcoming year. One may be near you!

The Facebook page for this blog is finally up and running (at Conjubilant W. Song).  It's apparently easier to access that way for some people - I get as much traffic from Facebook now as from anywhere else.  I don't see Twitter links in the future, though.

Also, just FYI (who knows, there may be readers nearby...), the hymn festival below will be held on September 27 at St. Paul's on the Green Episcopal Church in Norwalk, CT (60 East Avenue), led by yours truly.  We'll be singing hymn texts spanning more than four centuries (several previously discussed here), to a mixture of familiar and unfamiliar tunes (including two of my excavated tunes by 19th century women composers).

Seven Years Ago: Horatio Parker

Six Years Ago: Horatio Parker

Five Years Ago: Horatio Parker

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Catherine Winkworth

Catherine Winkworth (September 13, 1827 - July 1, 1878) is best known for her translations of German hymns into English.  She contributed to at least three major collections: Lyra Germanica (1855), Chorale Book for England (1863, and Christian Singers of Germany (1869). In our time, she is regarded as the most significant single individual to make the heritage of German hymns known to the English-speaking world. A memorial stone on the wall of Bristol Cathedral commends her for "open(ing) a new source of light, consolation, and strength in many thousand homes."

Winkworth was also active in the social causes of the Victorian era, particularly in the area of women's education. While living in Bristol, she served as secretary for the Clifton Association for Higher Education for Women, and supported the Clifton High School for Girls, founded in 1877. She also served as governor of the Red Maids' School.

Today's hymn, originally written in seventeenth-century Germany, was by Tobias Clausnitzer (1619-1684).  Nearly two hundred years later it was translated by Winkworth, and two hundred years after that it will still be sung.

Bless├Ęd Jesus, at thy Word
We are gathered all to hear thee;
Let our hearts and souls be stirred
Now to seek and love and fear thee,
By thy teachings sweet and holy,
Drawn from earth to love thee solely.

All our knowledge, sense and sight
Lie in deepest gloom enshrouded,
'Til thy Spirit breaks our night
With the beams of truth unclouded.
Thou alone to God canst win us;
Thou must work all good within us.

Glorious Lord, thyself impart!
Light of light, from God proceeding,
Open thou our ears and heart;
Help us by thy Spirit’s pleading;
Hear the cry the earth upraises;
Hear and bless our prayers and praises.

Tobias Clausnitzer, 1663;
tr. Catherine Winkworth, 1858; alt.
Johann R. Ahle, 1664

This hymn is still widely sung across denominations and appears in many newer hymnals. As Winkworth herself wrote in the preface to Lyra Germanicahymns like this can "make us feel afresh what a deep and true Communion of Saints exists among all the children of God in different churches and lands."

Seven Years Ago: Catherine Winkworth

Six Years Ago: Catherine Winkworth

Sunday, September 6, 2015

To Love With All Our Might

Today's hymn for morning worship (or gathering) comes from a fourth-century Latin text written by Saint Ambrose, a bishop of Milan who was later declared a Doctor of the Church. Ambrose is also remembered for his hymns (which inspired others to write texts in a similar form), and was said to have promoted the practice of antiphonal chant, where two sides of the choir sing different portions of the chant or psalm.

The Latin text beginning Splendor paternae gloriae has been translated by various people and even the Latin has been altered over the intervening centuries. This version draws from a few different translations and includes fewer stanzas than the original.

O splendor of God’s glory bright,
From light eternal bringing light;
O Light of light, the fountain spring,
O Day, all days illumining.

Come, very Sun of heaven's love,
In lasting radiance from above,
And pour the Holy Spirit's ray
On all we think or do today.

Teach us to love with all our might;
Drive envy out, remove all spite;
Turn to the good each troubling care,
And give us grace our name to bear.

All glory be to God Most High;
To Jesus Christ let praises rise;
Whom with the Spirit we adore
Forever and forevermore.

Ambrose of Milan, 4th cent.; tr.composite
Michael Praetorius, 1609
harm. George Woodward, 1901

Monday, August 31, 2015

Hymns in the News

It's been a while since I've done one of these posts, and this news is a few weeks late, but I recently came across an article about an episode of the popular British television programme Songs of Praise, which, as you may know, has presented hymn singing every week since 1961 on the BBC, from a wide variety of locations.

Anyway, this piece from August 15 seems especially relevant here in the US, given this summer's ongoing coverage of various political opinions on immigration.  Unfortunately, the Songs of Praise episode can only be viewed for the next few weeks if you are in the UK (but that does include some of my readers there, who may have missed it).

Without getting into a long discourse on my own thoughts regarding the immigration question, it seems better to tell you about some relevant hymns. Modern hymnwriters have made the useful connection between the story of Mary and Joseph's flight into Egypt, briefly told in Matthew 2:13-15, and our understanding of what it might mean to be a "refugee."  I commend to you the following texts:

When Jesus was a refugee by Mary Nelson Keithahn (2002)

Gentle Joseph heard a warning by Carl P. Daw Jr. (1990)

Jesus entered Egypt by Adam M. L. Tice (2007)

The last two are particular favorites of mine.  We could certainly do worse than to sing these hymns and others like them as the immigration debate swirls around us in the coming months.

P.S. - This painting by Orazio Gentileschi, The Rest on the Flight into Egypt (1628) depicts the Holy Family as simple weary travelers, not attended by angels as in several other depictions.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Oliver Wendell Holmes

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., both physician and poet, was born today in 1809.  He graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1835 after a brief consideration of law school, and also having already published one of his most famous poems, Old Ironsides, in 1830.  He went into private practice, but during the first year of that practice his success as a poet was even greater. This did not enhance his reputation as a serious medical professional to potential patients, and eventually he moved into teaching and lecturing in medicine, first at Dartmouth and later at Harvard Medical School, where he taught until 1882.

Friends such as Ralph Waldo Emerson encouraged a parallel career as a poet and he published his first of several collections of poetry in 1836.  Twenty years later he was asked by his friend, poet James Russell Lowell, to assist him in editing a new magazine, the Atlantic Monthly (still published today) and Holmes's frequent writings in the magazine, both in poetry and prose, contributed to the success of the new venture.

His father, Abiel Holmes, was a Congregationalist minister, but Holmes became a Unitarian, perhaps due to the influence of his Harvard education.  His views seem to have been even more liberal than many Unitarians, and John Quincy Adams supposedly once accused him of preaching "wild atheism."  Several of Holmes's poems have been used or adapted as hymns, such as today's text, originally written for the fortieth reunion of his Harvard class of 1829.

O gracious Power, whose mercy lends
The light of home, the smile of friends,
Our families in your arms enfold
As in the peaceful days of old.

Will you not hear us while we raise,
In sweet accord of solemn praise,
The voices that have mingled long
In joyous flow of mirth and song?

For all the blessings life has brought,
For all its sorrowing hours have taught,
For all we mourn, for all we keep,
The hands we clasp, the loved that sleep.

Thank you, Creator; let your grace
Our widening circle still embrace,
Your mercy shed its heavenly store,
Your peace be with us evermore.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, 1869; alt.
Robert Schumann, 1839; adapt.

I made one significant alteration to this text, attempting to adapt it for modern use.  In the final stanza, Holmes wrote "our narrowing circle still embrace," which was appropriate for the original occasion, the reunion of an aging community of colleagues then approaching the twilight of their lives.  But after reading some of his other works, I think he would approve of the reversal, and agree that a worshipping community should be open to wider experiences and influences, as he was.

The line that may be remembered from one of his famous poems, The Chambered Nautilus (1858), opens the final stanza: Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul. The whole poem uses the spiral shape of the chambered nautilus as a metaphor for the constantly-expanding lives we live, if we are open to the experience. The final line of the poem is Leaving thine outgrown shell by life's unresting sea! 

P.S. - The Chambered Nautilus was set to music in 1908 by Amy Beach for women's voices and can be heard in a partial performance on YouTube (though the chorus's diction is not to be commended).

Seven Years Ago: Oliver Wendell Holmes

Three Years Ago: Oliver Wendell Holmes