Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sweet Will Be the Flower

Continuing a look at the psalter tunes that originally set the style for hymn tunes as we know them today, we come to the Scottish Psalter. The version of 1650 is the best-known today, and was used most often by various churches, but there were earlier ones as well. Today's familiar tune comes from the 1615 version, published in Edinburgh by Andro Hart, a printer and bookseller. The tune we know as DUNDEE was one of twelve tunes included in Common Meter (C,M,. or - four-line stanzas beginning with a line of eight syllables) which were not specifically assigned to a particular psalm. Since many, if not most, of the psalm paraphrases were also written in Common Meter, they could be sung to FRENCH TUNE, as DUNDEE was originally called (though no French origin has yet been traced). The tunes in Hart's psalter were melody-only.

In 1621 The Whole Booke of Psalmes, based on the earlier psalm paraphrases of Sternhold and Hopkins, was published by composer Thomas Ravenscroft, which included FRENCH TUNE, now arranged in four-part harmony and called DUNDY TUNE, and matched with a paraphrase of Psalm 36. (You can see the original page from Ravenscroft's psalter here; scroll down for a version of Psalm 36 we would not likely sing today; the familiar melody is found in the tenor part). Ravenscroft re-named the tune in honor of the city of Dundee, which was known at that time as the Scottish Geneva because of its importance in the Reformation in Scotland. However, the name FRENCH TUNE persisted in many hymn and psalm collections well into the nineteenth century, while others came to call it DUNDEE. The Companion to the Baptist Hymnal (1976) calls it "a sturdy tune that should not be sung at too rapid a tempo."

Under whichever name this tune has been sung consistently for nearly four hundred years to a wide variety of texts. In addition to many many psalms, one hymn we have already seen here, and this text by William Cowper is also frequently sung to it.

God moves in a mysterious way,
Great wonders to perform;
And, planting footsteps in the sea,
God rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
God treasures up all bright designs
And works one sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not our God by feeble sense,
Trust only for God's grace;
Behind a frowning providence
God hides a smiling face.

God's purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan God's work in vain;
God is the one interpreter,
And God will make it plain.

William Cowper, 1774; alt.
Scottish Psalter, 1615

In 1635, Andro Hart, who first published this tune, published another psalter which matched each paraphrase to a particular tune, and the tunes in this book were in four-part harmony. A tune very similar to DUNDEE, called CAITHNESS (named for a county in Scotland), first appeared in this book, and they sometimes get confused, though they only share the first five notes. But I have stood next to people who started singing a hymn to DUNDEE and ended up singing it to CAITHNESS. I'm sure none of my readers would ever do that.

One Year Ago: Sarah Josepha Hale

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