Friday, August 21, 2009

Alexander Reinagle

Alexander Robert Reinagle (August 21, 1799 - April 6, 1877) was born into a musical family. His grandfather had been "trumpeter to the king" in Austria and his father was a cellist and friend of Haydn. His uncle, also named Alexander Robert, emigrated to the United States where he wrote instrumental pieces and much music for the theatre in Philadelphia and Baltimore.

Our Reinagle became an organist at St. Peter-in-the-East, Oxford in 1822 and remained in that post for more than twenty years. He was also much in demand as an organ teacher;
John Stainer and Stainer's wife were both his pupils at one point. He wrote sacred music and two collections of hymn tunes:

Psalm Tunes for the Voice and Pianoforte (1830)
A Collection of Psalm and Hymn Tunes, Chants, and other Music, as sung in the Parish Church of St. Peter's in the East, Oxford (1840)

This tune, which probably still appears in nearly every denominational hymnal today, originally appeared in Reinagle's first collection, where it was sung to a paraphrase of Psalm 118. In his second collection it was named ST. PETER, after his Oxford church, and it was he who harmonized it in the form we know it today for the first edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861).

Have mercy on us, God most high,
Who lift our hearts to thee;
Have mercy now, most merciful,
Most Holy Trinity.

When heaven and earth were yet unmade,
When time was yet unknown,
Thou, in thy bliss and majesty,
Didst live and love alone.

Thou wert not born; there was no fount
From which thy Being flowed
There is no end which thou canst reach
For thou art simply God.

How wonderful creation is,
The work thou didst bless;
And O, what then must thou be like,
Eternal Loveliness!

Most ancient of all mysteries!
Low at thy throne we lie;
Have mercy now, most merciful,
Most Holy Trinity.

Frederick W. Faber, 1849
Tune: ST. PETER (C.M.)
Alexander Reinagle, 1830

The upward leap on the second note of the tune is part of its distinctive appeal, I think; it's a forceful jump that makes the melody cry out, lending itself to texts of supplication (like this one). While you may never have sung this particular hymn, you probably know at least two other texts used with this tune (and maybe more). I think we will be seeing it again; it's almost surprising it hasn't come up before.

One Year Ago: Civilla Durfee Martin

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