Monday, March 31, 2008

Franz Joseph Haydn

On this day in 1732 the composer Franz Joseph Haydn was born. Probably best known by musicians for his multitudinous symphonies and chamber pieces, yet he was also an accomplished composer of sacred choral music, several masses and the sublime oratorio The Creation.

Many years ago, someone told me that Haydn had claimed that the music of his masses was so joyful because he could never think of God without smiling. Since then I've never found that attribution in print, but it's not hard to imagine him saying something like that. The Haydn masses are happy compositions and well worth hearing if you haven't.

Haydn shows up in hymnbooks also. His most well-known tune, AUSTRIA, written as a national hymn for his native country, reportedly after a trip to England during which he was impressed and pleased on hearing God save the king sung. Sadly, in modern times the tune has fallen somewhat out of favor due to its use as the national anthem of Germany during World War II, and modern hymnals are likely to set John Newton's Glorious things of thee are spoken to other tunes.

Another tune was developed from the opening phrase of The heavens are telling, a chorus from The Creation.

The spacious firmament on high,
With all the blue ethereal sky,
And spangled heavens, a shining frame
Their great Original proclaim.
Th’unwearied sun, from day to day,
Does his Creator’s powers display,
And publishes to every land
The work of an Almighty hand.

Soon as the evening shades prevail
The moon takes up the wondrous tale,
And nightly to the listening earth
Repeats the story of her birth;
While all the stars that round her burn
And all the planets in their turn,
Confirm the tidings as they roll,
And spread the truth from pole to pole.

What though in solemn silence all
Move round this dark terrestrial ball?
What though no real voice nor sound
Amid their radiant orbs be found?
In reason’s ear they all rejoice,
And utter forth a glorious voice,
Forever singing as they shine,
“The hand that made us is divine.”

Joseph Addison, 1712
Franz Joseph Haydn, 1798

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Deeply Chuckling

A friend of mine in the choir told me that she was going to write to our organist/choir director to commend him on how well the Good Friday service went last week. She had actually typed that we "nailed it" before reconsidering.

For the record, we sang:
St. John Passion (Victoria)
The Reproaches (Victoria)
O vos omnes (Casals)
Crucifixus a 8 (Lotti)

A bit too bleak for my tastes, but there you go. I miss the Passion with Hymns - we "perform" it twice, as theater on Palm Sunday and in music on Good Friday. Why not just read it and reflect on it?

If the title of this post is too obscure, check out verse two here.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Feast of the Annunciation

The angel Gabriel from heaven came,
His wings as drifted snow, his eyes as flame;
“All hail,” said he, “thou lowly maiden Mary,
Most highly favored lady,” Gloria!

“For know a bless├Ęd mother thou shalt be,
All generations laud and honor thee,
Thy child shall be Emmanuel, by seers foretold,
Most highly favored lady,” Gloria!

Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head,
“To me be as it pleaseth God,” she said,
“My soul shall laud and magnify God's holy Name."
Most highly favored lady, Gloria!

Of her, Emmanuel, the Christ, was born
In Bethlehem, all on a Christmas morn,
And faithful folk throughout the world will ever say—
“Most highly favored lady,” Gloria!

Basque carol;
tr. Sabine Baring-Gould, 19th c.; alt.

Yes, because of Easter week the feast has been transferred this year, but this is the traditional date. Baring-Gould, of course, has a much more familiar hymn text to his credit.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

High and Holy Hymning

Another Holy Week down. Went well, but it seems longer each year I think. Too tired to post much of anything coherent after last night's Vigil service (breaking o'er the purple east as in olden SF days), two services this morning and Compline tonight.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Easter Eve

The German hymn for this night that begins

O Traurigkeit,
O Herzeleid,
Ist das nicht zu beklagen!
Gott, des Vaters einig Kind,
Wird ins Grab getragen!

was translated by the prolific Catherine Winkworth as

O darkest woe!
Ye tears, forth flow!
Has earth so sad a wonder?
God the Father’s only Son
Now lies buried yonder.

Charles Winfred Douglas, in the Hymnal 1940, begins his (copyrighted) translation

O sorrow deep!
Who would not weep (...)

That hymn has only two verses, and leaves us at the tomb. But the service of the Great Vigil goes all the way to resurrection. When we were working on our hymnal we wanted something different. Longer, certainly (we always wanted more verses**), and ending on a more hopeful note. We received permission from the Church Pension Fund to use Douglas's two verses, then added two more of our own:

Savior and Friend,
Our voices blend
In hymns and prayers and stories,
Telling of God's covenants,
Graces, gifts, and glories.

Rest from thy pain,
Then rise again!
O Jesus, soothe our sorrow
As we wait throughout this night
For the glorious morrow.

(German, 17th c.)

** The Episcopalians clearly felt it was too short also; they added two verses in the Hymnal 1982 by James Waring McCrady (who also added - actually replaced - a verse for Once in royal David's city).

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Maundy Thursday

'Tis midnight, and on Olive's brow
The star is dimmed that lately shone;
'Tis midnight, in the garden now,
The suffering Savior prays alone.

'Tis midnight, and from all removed,
The Savior wrestles lone with fears;
E'en that disciple Jesus loved
Heeds not the savior's grief and tears.

'Tis midnight, and for others' guilt
The dear Redeemer weeps for love;
Yet all that have in anguish knelt
Are not forsaken by our God.

'Tis midnight, and from heav'nly plains
Is borne the song that angels know;
Unheard by mortals are the strains
That sweetly soothe the Savior's woe.

William B. Tappan, 1822; alt.
William B. Bradbury, 1853

I miss this hymn very much but the Episcopalians don't use it. Though it's a thoroughly American hymn, both text and tune, I do wonder whether Bradbury wrote the tune with Anglican chant in mind. Each line has repeated notes at the beginning (slight variation on the fourth), then three moving chords at the end. Not quite chant set to meter, but suggestive perhaps?

Thanks to the William Bs (Tappan and Bradbury) for a memorable hymn.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Green Palms and Blossoms Gay (?)

Choices abound on Palm Sunday. The deliciously vulgar but beloved Jean-Baptiste Faure The Palms, or something more sublime like John Ireland's Greater love or Weelkes's Hosanna to the Son of David?

Ride on, ride on in majesty to
ST. DROSTANE or THE KING'S MAJESTY (copyrighted tune, sorry)? ** Some people apparently even do WINCHESTER NEW (though I haven't myself). Of course, it largely comes down to what denomination you are. and therefore what hymnal you use, though in these days of composition software, desktop publishing and whatnot you can pretty much mix and match whatever you want (copyright permitting).

For that matter, is it Palm Sunday at all, or Passion Sunday? Can you sing Hosanna, loud hosanna as the closing hymn, or must you do O sacred head, sore wounded? And if you do sing the Hosanna, and next week you sing The day of resurrection, will you sing

Personally, I think that if Passion Sunday predominates, you give everyone a pass on coming to church Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. They've heard the story - bring on the Resurrection!

** At church today this choice at least was apparently avoided by not singing it at all. Too much Passion, not enough Palm. (Definitely O sacred head as the recessional).

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Gregory the Great

Today is the feast-day of Pope Gregory I, also called "the Great." Lots to be found around the internets on his life and works, including several great hymns of the church that have come down to us and are still in use today. Most appropriately for the season, we present Gregory's Clarum decus jejunii as translated for The English Hymnal in 1906.

The glory of these forty days
We celebrate with songs of praise;
For Christ, by whom all things were made,
For us has fasted and has prayed.

Alone and fasting Moses saw
The loving God who gave the law;
And to Elijah, fasting, came
The steeds and chariots of flame.

So Daniel trained his mystic sight,
Delivered from the lions’ might;
And John, the Savior’s friend, became
The herald of Messiah’s Name.

Then grant us, Christ, like them to be
Full oft in fast and prayer with thee;
Our spirits strengthen with thy grace,
And give us joy to see thy face.

Creator, Christ, and Spirit blest,
To thee be every prayer addressed,
Who grace and pow'r doth freely share,
With all who turn to thee in prayer.

Gregory the Great, 6th century;
tr. Maurice R. Bell, 1906; alt.
from Joseph Klug's Geistliche Leider, 1543;
harm. J.S. Bach, c. 1735

There had been other translations of Gregory's hymn, including one by Henry W. Baker in 1875 in a slightly different meter.

But all those men! Moses, Elijah, Daniel, John, etc. -- were there no women "full oft in fast and prayer" with the Almighty? For our hymnal we removed the Daniel/John verse (though I like it) and replaced it with a verse by my friend Steve about Esther (it's his copyright, so I won't reproduce it here). Doubly appropriate, as the Feast of Purim frequently (if not always?) falls during Lent.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Blog Break

Been sick with one of those cold/flu/virus things that muddles up your head and makes any kind of concentration unpleasant. So I missed some commemorations I had planned to write about for the last few weeks, but there's always next year. If you use them all up in the first year of your blog, what's left for your second?

Sorry about that, St. Polycarp (February 23). You'll get your entry next year.