Thursday, April 28, 2011

Hymns in the News

Even here you cannot escape the Royal Wedding Mania that has infected much of the world for the last few weeks. Today the music that will be sung and played during tomorrow's service at Westminster Abbey was announced to the media.

However, the broader and more long-range importance of the wedding music chosen by Kate and Wills will be understood by church musicians everywhere, because brides will want some of the same selections for their own ceremonies this summer and for years to come. The Prince of Denmark's March by Jeremiah Clarke became the fashionable processional after its appearance at the 1981 wedding of Charles and Diana. Somehow I do not see I was glad, an anthem by C.H.H. Parry, and tomorrow's processional, becoming equally popular (how many weddings today have a choir?), but the Fantasia on 'Greensleeves' of Ralph Vaughan Williams might be heard more often.

(That said, I will be singing in a wedding this Saturday, but the musical couple are two section leaders of our church choir, and the groom has composed the music for the Anglican chant to which we will sing the psalm. But I doubt they would have chosen I was glad for their processional, either, even if they had known about this.)

So tomorrow's hymns, like the rest of the music, will be British.

Guide me, O thou great Redeemer is assumed to be a tribute to Diana, at whose funeral it was sung.

Love divine, all loves excelling will be sung to BLAENWERN, as it often is in the UK and rarely is in the US.

Jerusalem (And did those feet in ancient times), also composed by Parry, is one of those songs that the British consider a hymn, but not everyone else does. (The corresponding "hymn" at Charles and Diana's wedding was I vow to thee, my country).

You could dismiss the hymn selections as no more than interesting trivia (like the fact that the other hymn in the 1981 royal wedding was Christ is made the sure foundation) but remember that they will be heard tomorrow by millions of people around the world. Some may even be singing along.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

See from his head, his hands, his feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were an off'ring far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Isaac Watts, 1707
Edward Miller, 1790

(#2 in The Best Church Hymns of 1899 and still fairly high on most lists today)

Two Years Ago: Good Friday

One Year Ago: Good Friday

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Maundy Thursday

Today we remember the final night that Jesus spent with his friends before his death and the events of their evening together as they gathered for a meal. That Last Supper has been depicted in art and poetry in many different ways (such as the painting above by Tintoretto).

Today's hymn is inspired by just one verse in the Gospel story of the day.
Matthew 26:26-30 recounts the disciples' gathering, and ends with "And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives." This text by Frances Ridley Havergal, part of a longer poem, imagines that the hymn they sang together, the last time they would sing before Jesus died, must have been something very unique.

Within an upper room they met,
A small, yet faithful band,
On whom a deep, yet chast'ning grief
Had laid its soft'ning hand.
Disciples seated 'round have heard
Their friend and Savior tell
That he with them no longer now
As heretofore may dwell.

The hour is come, but ere they meet
Its terrors, yet once more
Their voices blend with his who sang
As none e'er sung before.
Why do they linger on that note?
Why thus the sound prolong?
Ah! 'Twas the last, 'tis ended now,
That strangely solemn song.

And forth they go, the song is past;
But like the roseleaf, still,
Whose fragrance does not die away,
Its soft, low echoes thrill.
Through many a soul, and there awake
New strains of glowing praise
To Christ who, on that fateful eve,
That last sweet hymn did raise.

Frances Ridley Havergal, 1855; alt.
Sarah G. Stock, 1887

It's unlikely that this hymn would find its way into a service nowadays, dealing as it does with such a small part of the Passion story, but it's the part we celebrate here, of singing hymns together.

Sarah Geraldina Stock wrote both hymn tunes and texts, as well as several popular books for children on religious subjects. PENMAENMAWR (named for the town in Wales where she lived) seems like a tune that's just as unusual as this text, so they made a good pairing.

Three Years Ago: Maundy Thursday

Two Years Ago: Maundy Thursday

One Year Ago: Maundy Thursday

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Hosanna in the Highest

Come, faithful people, come away,
Your homage unto Jesus pay;
It is the feast of palms today;
Hosanna in the highest!

Go, Savior, thus to triumph borne,
Thy crown shall be the wreath of thorn,
Thy royal garb the robe of scorn:
Hosanna in the highest!

They thronged before, behind, around,
They cast palm branches on the ground,
And still rose up the joyful sound:
Hosanna in the highest!

Thus, Savior, to thy passion go,
Arrayed in royalty of woe,
Assumed for people here below:
Hosanna in the highest!

Gerard Moultrie, 1867; alt.
William J. Kirkpatrick, 1885

Friday, April 15, 2011

Lelia Naylor Morris

Gospel song writer Lelia Naylor Morris was born today in 1862. After the death of her father, her mother opened a millinery shop in McConnelsville, Ohio, to support the family and Lelia learned to sew there. She also showed an early interest in music, and practiced the piano at a neighbor's house because her family could not afford one. By age twelve she was playing the organ for local prayer meetings.

She did not begin writing and composing gospel songs until she was thirty, ten years after her marriage to Charles H. Morris. She has been working as a seamstress, but her long association with church music both as a singer and an organist probably led her to composition. She reportedly kept a pad of paper nearby to write down the texts as inspiration struck, and she composed the music at the organ of the Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church in McConnellsville where she served for many years as organist.

She would eventually write more than a thousand gospel songs, and many early twentieth century hymnbooks contain more than a dozen of them (always credited to Mrs. C. H. Morris).

Do we live so close to the Lord today,
Passing to and fro on life’s busy way,
That the world in us can a likeness see
To the Christ of Calvary?

Can the world see Jesus in me?
Can the world see Jesus in you?
Does your love to him ring true,
And your life and service, too?
Can the world see Jesus in you?

As an open book they our lives will read,
To our words and acts giving daily heed;
Will they be attracted, or turn away
From the Christ of Calvary?

Lelia Naylor Morris, 1917; alt.

CHRIST'S EXAMPLE ( with refrain)

Morris lost her eyesight in later years but found various ways to continue writing songs. Her songs traveled around the world; during her lifetime several of them were translated into various languages and used by Methodist missionaries (including one of her daughters).

Two Years Ago:
Lelia Naylor Morris

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Felice di Giardini

Italian composer Felice di Giardini (April 12, 1716 - June 8, 1796) was born in Turin. Showing musical talent at an early age, his father sent him to Milan to study voice, harpsichord, and violin. He became renowned as a violin virtuoso and played in opera orchestras in Rome and Naples beginning at age 12.

In an early encounter with a famous composer, di Giardini was the assistant concertmaster in a Teatro San Corlo performance of an opera by Niccolo Jommelli wherein he played his own elaborate ornamentations and variations on the violin part, which earned him a public slap in the face from the composer. He later called this incident "the most instructive lesson I ever received from a great artist."

In the 1750s di Giardini toured Europe as a violinist, eventually settling in England after successes in Paris and Berlin. He became the director of the Italian Opera Company in London and continued to perform as a solo artist in concerts arranged by Johann Christian Bach, who became a close friend. He was also the director of the Three Choirs Festival (which is still in operation today) for six years beginning in 1770.

He composed in many different musical forms, but focused primarily on opera and chamber music. Very little of his music is known today, though some solo songs and string trios are still in print.

However, one of his hymn tunes remains in nearly every hymnal published up to the present. During his time in London he was asked by the Countess of Huntingdon, a well-known evangelical leader, to contribute tunes to a hymnal she was sponsoring. In 1769 this Collection of Psalm and Hymn Tunes was published, edited by Martin Madan and benefiting London's Lock Hospital. Four of its tunes were written by di Giardini, including this most famous one.

Come, mighty Giver of Life,
Calm thou our discord and strife;
Help us to praise!
Maker, whose love unknown,
All things created own,
Build in our hearts thy throne,
Ancient of Days!

Come, thou incarnate Word,
By heav'n and earth adored,
Our prayer attend!
Come, and thy people bless;
Come, give thy Word success,
'Stablish thy righteousness,
Savior and Friend!

Spirit of truth and love,
Life-giving, holy Dove,
Come down this hour!
Move on the water's face,
Bearing the gifts of grace;
Fly to earth's farthest place,
Spirit of power!

To thee, great One in Three,
Our highest praises be,
Hence, evermore!
Thy sov'reign majesty
May we in glory see,
And to eternity
Love and adore!

Text Composite, 18th & 19th cent.
Felice di Giardini, 1769

There are several small variations in the melody that have crept in over the last two centuries; the one in your hymnal may not match this one completely. ITALIAN HYMN seems like an obvious name, but it is also sometimes known as MOSCOW, which is the city where di Giardini died in 1796, sadly in poverty. His fame turned out not to last even through his lifetime; while he was once known throughout Europe, painted by famous artists such as Sir Joshua Reynolds (above) and John Francis Rigaud (below), he went back to Italy for a few years in 1784 and suffered some financial setbacks. Returning to England in 1793 he found that he was no longer in favor with the public and eventually left for Russia, where he was also unsuccessful.

P.S. - This is post #500.