Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Opus One or, Embarking on a New Adventure

If you recognize the title of this blog, you’re in the right place. Or, you might sort of recognize the verse above from which it’s taken. It’s the second verse of Jerusalem the golden, a very proper Victorian hymn generally paired with an extremely Victorian hymn tune (EWING).

They stand, those halls of Zion,
Conjubilant with song,
And bright with many an angel
And all the martyr throng...

I don’t remember when I first encountered this hymn but I always loved that word. Conjubilant! Some hymnals (even the online one I linked to!) render the phrase “All jubilant with song,” no doubt in an effort to keep the congregation from stumbling over an unfamiliar word, but diminishing the sumptuous text in the process. Hymnal editors and their notions! (I can say that as someone who’s done a fair amount of that work myself). Microsoft Word’s spellcheck doesn’t recognize it either, but Bill Gates is no Victorian.

It was
John Mason Neale who came up with that word in that particular place when he translated a large portion of De contemptu mundi by Bernard of Cluny. Bernard wrote a poem of nearly three thousand lines, “a satirical arraignment of the twelfth century for its vices in Church and society.” Parts of the work, however, proclaimed the beauty of the heavenly Jerusalem, and those parts made up Neale’s Rhythm of Bernard de Morlaix, Monk of Cluny, in the Celestial Country, published in 1858. In addition to Jerusalem the golden, Neale also cut-and-pasted together at least three more hymns from his translated Rhythm:

Brief life is here our portion
For thee, O dear, dear country
The world is very evil (not much in use these days, as you might imagine)

The more I look into this, the more interesting it looks. So maybe you’ll be hearing more about the Celestial Country. I’ve been told that Jerusalem the golden is not particularly relevant or useful to a modern congregation: the tune’s “unsingable” (I don’t think so, though admittedly, it's not
ELLACOMBE) and the text is overly archaic (OK, maybe). Maybe there’s another hymn waiting to be excavated from Bernard’s opus that would be more useful in these times.

I’m a singer. Not a Singer! (as in pro) Hymns were probably the first things I sang, and my interest in them has only grown over the years. Moved on to choral music through church choirs and other singing and theater societies, even a little opera chorus work. It’s all singing, and it’s all a deep, deep part of who I am and what I do in my spare time. Lately I decided that I wanted to put down some of my thoughts about it all, and here we are. More to follow!


Dorothy said...

I'm so sorry, C.W.S., that I didn't read your blog back in January. But I've loved that phrase, "conjubilant with song," since I first saw it at Rebecca Writes on the list of Sunday Hymns! Now I know where it comes from. Thanks for referring us back here.

Leland Bryant Ross said...

I wonder when "conjubilant" was dumbed down to "all jubilant". The earliest hymnal I've yet indexed, the New Baptist Praise Book of 1917, gives the hymn both to EWING and to URBS BEATA (Le Jeune), both times with "all jubilant". Note that George F. Le Jeune's URBS BEATA is not the Sarum melody by that name given in The CyberHymnal™. My MIDI of Le Jeune's tune is melody only, I'm sorry to say (haven't had time to transcribe the other parts). But I really like it as an alternative to EWING, and will definitely do a complete MIDI of it soon...

Leland aka Haruo