25 July 2010
Singing with gusto is an interesting phrase using a word to describe feeling that is usually associated with taste: zest or relish. It’s a good word to use to describe today’s music.
We probably all agree that at times we are more fond of the melody of a hymn than of the words. Sometimes as soon as I read the title of a hymn the melody starts bouncing in my brain. Of course, that melody may not be one that was written for the text (or vice versa), but it has come to be identified with it at least in my brain. It’s also interesting that in different countries, different tunes are more happily identified with texts we all know.
Sunday’s Introit hymn, ‘Morning has broken’, for example, is sung to an ancient Gaelic tune we have come to call ‘Bunessan’, after a Scottish village. Ralph Vaughan Williams and Percy Dearmer, compiling the second edition of their hymnal Songs of Praise, heard this tune (previously used for a Christmas carol) and asked Frances Farjeon to write a text for it in 1931. ‘Morning has broken’ has been associated with it ever since. Those of us old enough to remember can associate this text and tune with a 1971 Cat Stevens album that hit #1 on the adult contemporary charts in 1972. The text has some nice poetry, but I love the tune most of all.
We could just roll into the Sequence hymn, singing the same tune, since it has the same meter as the Introit hymn and is typically sung to this meter. The text, ‘Baptized in water’, was written in 1981 by Anglican priest Michael Saward to remember the 25th anniversary of his ordination. It provides a pithy summary in three verses of the theology of baptism. We’ll sing it to the hymn tune ‘St Elizabeth’, often also known in the Lutheran tradition as ‘Schönster Herr Jesu’ (‘Fairest Lord Jesus’). This also is a tune that is often more loved and remembered than many of the texts to which it is sung.
The Postcommunion hymn, ‘O Day of radiant gladness’ (earlier translated ‘rest and gladness’ – the pace of life is speeding up!), is set to a singable German folk tune, ‘Es flog ein kleins Waldvögelein’ (‘There flew a little woodbird’, the opening line of the original secular German lyrics), that appears twice in our hymnal.
In general, this Sunday’s liturgy has so many singable tunes that we should leave worship humming and whistling. I hope you’ll join me.
Sunday’s Gospel from Luke includes Jesus’s giving of the Pater Noster to his disciples. To reflect this, a venerable version of this prayer will be sung and played during Communion.
Martin Luther and his associates, looking for ways for the whole congregation to sing more of the liturgy, made strophic, metrical, vernacular paraphrases of many of the fixed parts of the Mass and Offices – the Kyrie and Gloria, the Nicene Creed, the Sanctus and Agnus Dei, the Pater Noster, the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis, and so on. Some of them were fairly close translations; others were extended tropes or glosses on the texts. The Pater Noster was one of the latter: Luther’s own version runs to nine stanzas of six lines each. Published in 1539, it was originally set to a tune written by Luther himself, but Luther later revised an existing tune which has been wedded to this text ever since, and of which many settings for voices and for organ have been made. In the early days of the English Reformation, this text and tune crossed the Channel along with some other Lutheran hymns and the metrical Psalms developed in the Calvinist tradition; various English paraphrases of the Pater Noster were written to fit this tune (as well as others).
This Sunday this piece is being sung in a modern three-stanza English version by Henry L. Lettermann in both a straightforward setting by the great late-Renaissance composer Hans Leo Haßler (the music found at Hymn 575 in our Hymnal) and a more ornate setting, with the tune in the tenor voice, by Johann Walter, a close associate of Luther and editor of the first Protestant hymnal, the Geystliches gesangk buchleyn of 1524. Interspersed with these, in a fashion once typical for liturgical music, will be organ settings of the hymn by Heinrich Scheidemann, a leading German organist-composer of the early seventeenth century.
The hymn that follows this, ‘ ‘‘Thy kingdom come!’’ on bended knee’, reminds us that when we say the ‘Our Father’, so far from simply reciting a familiar formula, we make a powerful prayer asking for all things to be fulfilled and made right, for earthly things to be conformed to the heavenly pattern – and in so doing open ourselves and the world up to the transforming Spirit of God.