Sunday, April 11, 2010

Earth Awakes From Winter’s Gloom

Easter hymns and songs often incorporate the theme of renewal alongside resurrection, and use the imagery of spring. We see one of these texts today, by Grant Colfax Tullar, but in this case, the tune holds some interest (!) all its own.

The music of our worship encompasses a broad range of types and styles. Here on this blog we have focused on the music of Western Christianity, from plainsong chant through psalm tunes, developing into the standard four-part hymn tunes, from Sunday school songs developing into the gospel song style. We're all familiar with the contemporary style of song that many churches use today, not really covered here, partly because of copyright issues and also because I'd rather focus on things I like than complain about things I don't.

But I think that perhaps there has always been a contemporary strain of worship music that some people liked and some people didn't. Certainly, some tunes over the years have been criticized because they came from secular sources, such as those adapted from opera arias and ensembles. Not too far from these were melodies from the works of composers such as Mendelssohn, Handel, and Haydn (back then, they weren't "classical" yet), but we sing more of those today than we do the opera tunes. Also, one of the most widespread criticisms (or insults) made against some hymn tunes is that they were originally drinking-songs (often said, rightly or wrongly, about German tunes).

This song first appeared in Sunday School Hymns No. 1, published by the Tullar-Meredith company in 1903. The tune is very much of its time, and may sound a little unusual to us . With my uneducated musical ear, I wouldn't exactly call it ragtime, but there does seem to be a hint of Scott Joplin.

Morning light was dawning o’er the distant hills,
Banished was the midnight gloom;
Silently the angels clad in bright array
Came to guard the dear Redeemer’s tomb.
Soldiers were affrighted and in terror fled,
While the angels roll the stone away.
Then with joy proclaiming, “Jesus Christ is ris’n”
“See the place where once the Savior lay.”

Joy dispels our sorrow -- pleasures banish pain—
Earth awakes from winter’s gloom;
Easter anthems ringing tell the joyful news
“Christ is risen from the tomb.”

Loving ones who sought him at the break of day,
Found the angels waiting there;
Joy dispelled their sorrow -- fear gave way to faith—
Hope succeeded all their deep despair.
For the angels told them, “Jesus is not here,”
But had surely risen as he said.
Then with eager footsteps joyfully they tell
How that Christ had risen from the dead.

Easter tells its gladness all the year around—
Happy birds their tribute bring;
Fragrant flowers blooming after winter days
Speak to us the joys of coming spring.
Earthly pleasures vanish, flowers soon shall fade,
But the joy of Easter shall endure.
Hope of resurrection never shall grow dim
While the Word of God abideth sure.

Grant Colfax Tullar, 1903; alt.
Tune: AWAKENING (Irregular with refrain)
Joseph Lerman, 1903

Joseph Lerman was the music editor at Tullar-Meredith and composed many tunes for their hymnals and songbooks, but if much of his music was in this style, it's not surprising that we don't know it today. But it's fun to hear once in a while.

Two Years Ago:
Christopher Smart

1 comment:

AuntE said...

I agree, CWS, the tune is rather Joplin-esque! In the case of this tune, I'd even paraphrase the words to say - "Music dispels our sorrow" as it's hard to feel sad when I listen to that tune.

I like the phrase "Earth awakes from winter's gloom". It sure feels like that up here, north of the 49th! I think I'd have a hard time celebrating Easter in the S. hemisphere as Easter and spring seem so intertwined for me. I also celebrate an April birthday - all the more cause for 'new life'.