Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Saint Michael and All Angels

A happy and blessed Michaelmas to all!  A few churches may have celebrated this feast on Sunday, but technically it falls today. There are many, many hymns about angels so we have not nearly run out.

Praise to God who reigns above,
Binding earth and heav’n in love;
All the armies of the sky
Worship God's great sovereignty.
Seraphim God's praises sing,
Cherubim on fourfold wing,
Thrones, dominions, princes, powers,
Marshaled might that never cowers.

Speeds th’archangel on his race,
Bearing messages of grace;
Angel hosts God's words fulfill,
Ruling nature by One will.
Yet on earth they joy to wait,
All that bright celestial state,
For in us their Ruler see,
Christ, th’incarnate deity.

Oh, the depths of joy divine,
Thrilling through those orders nine,
When the lost are found again,
When the banished come to reign!
Then, in faith, in hope, in love,
We will join the choirs above,
Praising, with the heav’nly host,
God and Christ and Holy Ghost.

Richard M. Benson, 1861; alt.
Jakob Hintze, 1678; harm. J. S. Bach (18th cent.)

Richard Meux Benson was a priest in the Church of England who founded the Society of Saint John the Evangelist, the first Anglican community of monks since the time of the Reformation. They were also known as the Cowley Fathers because their first community lived in Cowley in Oxfordshire.  The order spread to Scotland, Canada, the United States, India, South Africa, and Japan before dwindling in the twentieth century.  The UK branch finally closed down in 2012, but maintains a trust fund for the benefit of retired members.

The Society survives still in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in a beautiful building on the banks of the Charles River. It seems unlikely that they would be singing Benson's hymn today but you never know.

Surprisingly, I have apparently only used the familiar tune SALZBURG once before in the last eight years.

Seven Years Ago: Around the throne of God a band

Six Years Ago: Stars of the morning, so gloriously bright

Five Years Ago: They are evermore around us

Three Years Ago: O Captain of God's host

One Year Ago: High on a hill of dazzling light

Monday, September 21, 2015

Saint Matthew

By all your saints still striving,
For all your saints at rest,
Your holy name, O Jesus,
Forevermore be blessed!
For those passed on before us,
We sing our praise anew
And, walking in their footsteps,
Would live our lives for you.

Praise, Lord, for him whose Gospel
Your human life declared,
Who, worldly gains forsaking,
Your path of suff'ring shared.
From greed and gain for power
Free us in all we do
That we, whate'er our calling,
May rise and follow you. 

We pray for saints we know not,
For saints still yet to be,
For grace to bear true witness
And serve you faithfully,
Till all the ransomed number
Who stand before the throne
Ascribe all power and glory
And praise to God alone.

Horatio Bolton Nelson, 1864; alt.
German folk tune; 17th cent.

Of course, Matthew the apostle was originally a tax-collector, and is thus represented by three bags of money.

Seven Years Ago: Come sing, ye choirs exultant

Six Years Ago: He sat to watch o'er customs paid

Five Years Ago: Arise and follow me!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Saint Hildegard

Today in some churches the feast day of Hildegard of Bingen (c.1098-1179) is celebrated. Hildegard was a Christian mystic, and an abbess of the Benedictine order at Disibodenberg, in Germany. She was also a writer, philosopher, and botanist, and most especially for our purposes, a composer, one of the oldest composers whose work we still know today.  Her music has been extensively researched, particularly in the last thirty years or so, and many works have been recorded.

There are a number of modern hymn texts, that have been derived from her life, her poetry, and her theology -- perhaps the best known being O Holy Spirit, root of life by Jean Janzen. Today's text below dates from the nineteenth century and is a translation of her poem O ignis Spiritus Paracliti, also about the Holy Spirit.  Richard Frederick Littledale translated many texts from Greek, Latin, and other languages, the most well known being Come down, O love divine.

O Fire of God, the Comforter,
O life of all that live,
Holy art thou to quicken us,
And holy, strength to give:
To heal the broken-hearted ones,
Their deepest wounds to bind,
O Spirit of all holiness,
Thou Love of humankind!
O sweetest taste within the breast,
O grace upon us poured,        
That saintly hearts may give again
Their perfume to the Lord.

O purest fountain! we can see,
Clear mirrored in thy streams,
That God brings home the wanderers,
That God the lost redeems.
O breastplate strong to guard our life,
O bond of unity,
O dwelling-place of righteousness,
Save all who trust in thee:        
O surest way, that through the height
And through the lowest deep
And through the earth dost pass, and all
In firmest union keep.

From thee the clouds and ether move,
From thee the moisture flows,       
From thee the waters draw their rills,
And earth with verdure glows,
And thou dost ever teach the wise,
And freely on them pour
The inspiration of thy gifts,
The gladness of thy lore.
All praise to thee, O joy of life,
O hope and strength, we raise,
Who givest us the prize of light,
Who art thyself all praise.

Hildegard; tr. Richard F. Littledale; alt.
Tune: NOAH (
Hubert P. Main, 19th cent. 

This is perhaps not exactly the right tune for this text, but the meter is an unusual one and there aren't many choices among the available sound files.

Hildegard has long been regarded as a saint in Germany, but it was not until May 2012 that her sainthood was officially recognized by the Roman church. Later that year, in October, she was also named a Doctor of the Church, one of four women among the total of  thirty-five.

Five Years Ago: Josiah Conder

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Trivial Round, The Common Task

Just some administrative notes and referrals today.  Post title, of course, is from this hymn.

Check out the online Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology if you have not discovered it yet. This project was conceived as a successor to the classic Dictionary of Hymnology (1892) by John Julian, but the modern scope is much broader than a single book could contain. As described on the webpage, the online Canterbury includes more than 4000 entries written by more than 300 people, from 30 countries, and is regularly updated with new entries added. Full access requires a paid subscription, but they make three random entries available each day for free. A daily grab-bag of hymnological knowledge!

If you have ever thought about attending a conference of the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada but could not do it for various reasons, you can now get a small taste of the experience through several regional hymn festivals that the Society is planning in the upcoming year. One may be near you!

The Facebook page for this blog is finally up and running (at Conjubilant W. Song).  It's apparently easier to access that way for some people - I get as much traffic from Facebook now as from anywhere else.  I don't see Twitter links in the future, though.

Also, just FYI (who knows, there may be readers nearby...), the hymn festival below will be held on September 27 at St. Paul's on the Green Episcopal Church in Norwalk, CT (60 East Avenue), led by yours truly.  We'll be singing hymn texts spanning more than four centuries (several previously discussed here), to a mixture of familiar and unfamiliar tunes (including two of my excavated tunes by 19th century women composers).

Seven Years Ago: Horatio Parker

Six Years Ago: Horatio Parker

Five Years Ago: Horatio Parker

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Catherine Winkworth

Catherine Winkworth (September 13, 1827 - July 1, 1878) is best known for her translations of German hymns into English.  She contributed to at least three major collections: Lyra Germanica (1855), Chorale Book for England (1863, and Christian Singers of Germany (1869). In our time, she is regarded as the most significant single individual to make the heritage of German hymns known to the English-speaking world. A memorial stone on the wall of Bristol Cathedral commends her for "open(ing) a new source of light, consolation, and strength in many thousand homes."

Winkworth was also active in the social causes of the Victorian era, particularly in the area of women's education. While living in Bristol, she served as secretary for the Clifton Association for Higher Education for Women, and supported the Clifton High School for Girls, founded in 1877. She also served as governor of the Red Maids' School.

Today's hymn, originally written in seventeenth-century Germany, was by Tobias Clausnitzer (1619-1684).  Nearly two hundred years later it was translated by Winkworth, and two hundred years after that it will still be sung.

Bless├Ęd Jesus, at thy Word
We are gathered all to hear thee;
Let our hearts and souls be stirred
Now to seek and love and fear thee,
By thy teachings sweet and holy,
Drawn from earth to love thee solely.

All our knowledge, sense and sight
Lie in deepest gloom enshrouded,
'Til thy Spirit breaks our night
With the beams of truth unclouded.
Thou alone to God canst win us;
Thou must work all good within us.

Glorious Lord, thyself impart!
Light of light, from God proceeding,
Open thou our ears and heart;
Help us by thy Spirit’s pleading;
Hear the cry the earth upraises;
Hear and bless our prayers and praises.

Tobias Clausnitzer, 1663;
tr. Catherine Winkworth, 1858; alt.
Johann R. Ahle, 1664

This hymn is still widely sung across denominations and appears in many newer hymnals. As Winkworth herself wrote in the preface to Lyra Germanicahymns like this can "make us feel afresh what a deep and true Communion of Saints exists among all the children of God in different churches and lands."

Seven Years Ago: Catherine Winkworth

Six Years Ago: Catherine Winkworth

Sunday, September 6, 2015

To Love With All Our Might

Today's hymn for morning worship (or gathering) comes from a fourth-century Latin text written by Saint Ambrose, a bishop of Milan who was later declared a Doctor of the Church. Ambrose is also remembered for his hymns (which inspired others to write texts in a similar form), and was said to have promoted the practice of antiphonal chant, where two sides of the choir sing different portions of the chant or psalm.

The Latin text beginning Splendor paternae gloriae has been translated by various people and even the Latin has been altered over the intervening centuries. This version draws from a few different translations and includes fewer stanzas than the original.

O splendor of God’s glory bright,
From light eternal bringing light;
O Light of light, the fountain spring,
O Day, all days illumining.

Come, very Sun of heaven's love,
In lasting radiance from above,
And pour the Holy Spirit's ray
On all we think or do today.

Teach us to love with all our might;
Drive envy out, remove all spite;
Turn to the good each troubling care,
And give us grace our name to bear.

All glory be to God Most High;
To Jesus Christ let praises rise;
Whom with the Spirit we adore
Forever and forevermore.

Ambrose of Milan, 4th cent.; tr.composite
Michael Praetorius, 1609
harm. George Woodward, 1901