• Hymns

    A hymn for Sexagesima

    In the Epistle for this Sunday (2 Corinthians 11:19–31), St. Paul presents a catalogue of all of the suffering he has endured — and survived — for the sake of the Gospel. One of the hymns frequently sung on this day affirms that those who are committed to “follow the Master” are defended by the Spirit and promised eternal life at the end of their pilgrimage: No foes shall stay his might,though he with giants fight Thus promises the text of “He who would valiant be,” a hymn adapted from John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and especially fitting as the pilgrimmage of Lent approaches. Our Hymnal presents this hymn (#563) to…

  • Hymns

    A hymn for Septuagesima

    The weather is preventing our singing together in the parking lot this Sunday. But the choir has recorded a hymn for you to sing (or at least hum along with) at home on this first Sunday of the pre-Lenten season. “Awake my soul stretch every nerve” (Hymn #577 in our Hymnal, downloadable here if you don’t have a copy at home) was originally entitled “Pressing on in the Christian Race,” and is based on Philippians 3:12–14, a passage in which St. Paul — as he does in today’s Epistle reading from I Corinthians — compares the disciplined pilgrimage of the Christian life to the running of a race. Written by…

  • Hymns

    Our new (yet very old) Evensong hymn

    Last week we sang (for many of us, for the first time) hymn #176 in our Hymnal. The opening words are “O gladsome light, O grace.” Those words come from an ancient Greek hymn best known by the first two words in the text, Phos hilaron. (Attentive readers will recognize light and gladness in those words; our English word “phosphorescent” is based on the Greek word “phos,” meaning “light,” And “hilarious” is from the Greek “hilaros,” meaning “cheerful.”) Phos hilaron dates to the late 3rd or early 4th century and is sometimes referred to as the “Candlelighting Hymn,” or the “Lamplighting Hymn.” This nickname is a tribute to the place…

  • Hymns

    Choir in Quarantine (2020–21)

    On Easter Sunday 2020, our congregation had gone three weeks without worshiping together. In an effort to honor the spirit of this feast day with shared music, our choir made a recording of the Easter hymn, “Jesus Christ is risen today.” But as we made this recording, we were not in the same room, in fact not even in the same zip code. In order to record the hymn and still maintain a medically safe distance from one another, organist Wallace Hornady made a recording of the hymn from Alabama, where he was staying with his father. Wallace’s track was sent to choir members, who then recorded their own voices…

  • Hymns

    “I will fear no evil, for thou art with me”

    This week, we’ll sing together — weather permitting — a hymn first published in 1863. The caption that appeared above the hymn is the title I’ve used for this post. The hymn — “In heav’nly love abiding” — is one of many hymns inspired by Psalm 23, a text with great reassuring power especially treasured in times of uncertainty. The text is by Anna Laetitia Waring (1823-1910), a Welsh poet who was raised in the Society of Friends but converted to the Church of England because of her eagerness to participate in the sacramental life of the Church. She is also known to have learned to read Hebrew so she…

  • Hymns

    A hopeful hymn for anxious times

    This week, our parish welcomes a new hymn to our repertoire. “If thou but suffer God to guide thee” is not in our Hymnal, though it is familiar to many of us who have worshiped in churches that rely on other hymnals. The hymn has inspired many composers to incorporate it in their own work. Bach, Mendelssohn, and Schumann used the tune very straightforwardly, and Brahms may have allusions to it in his Requiem. The hymn also made an appearance in the 1987 film Babette’s Feast. Near the end of the movie, one of the two pious sisters at the center of the narrative sits at the piano and sings…

  • Hymns,  Repertoire

    Georg Neumark, Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten

    On this page: The text: comfort in contentmentThe tune: confidence in a minor keySome of J. S. Bach’s settings of this tuneFelix Mendelssohn’s cantata, Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten [Lawrence L. Lohr wrote an informative article in The Hymn (Vol. 49, No. 3, July 1998) titled “‘If thou but suffer God to guide thee’: The Journey of a Lutheran Hymn.” You may read and download a copy of that article here.] Origins of the text A hymn text and a chorale melody are both known by the name Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten (“Whoever lets our beloved God rule”). Both are the work of Georg Neumark…

  • Hymns

    Hymn for Trinity VIII

    We continue our outdoor singing after the services this week with a hymn that stresses God’s power and might: “Give praise and glory unto God” (#287). Throughout the hymn, divine power is portrayed as merciful and protective: God’s might is not a display of sheer unlimited will, but the agency of righteousness and justice. The hymn’s Lutheran author, Johann Jacob Schütz (1640-1690), practiced law in Frankfurt and is noted for his friendship with Philipp Jakob Spener (1635-1705), a central figure in the Pietist movement which transformed Lutheranism and later influenced John Wesley. The tune ELBING is named for the birthplace of its composer Peter Sohren (d. c. 1693), a Lutheran…

  • Composers,  Essays,  Hymns

    Not just a one-hit wonder

    by Ken Myers [This article originally appeared in the July/August 2018 issue of Touchstone magazine. Recordings of musical works mentioned are assembled at the bottom of this page.] If the name of the composer Hans Leo Hassler is recognized at all, it is probably in connection with a melody frequently sung and heard during Holy Week. In hymnals, the tune is often identified as Passion Chorale, and it is the melody to which we sing the passiontide hymn “O sacred Head, now wounded.” The tune first appeared in print in 1601, in a collection of secular songs by Hassler. The text that originally accompanied that tune was a wistful five-stanza song of…

  • Hymns

    Commit thou all that grieves thee

    Hymn #446Text: Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676)Music: Hans Leo Hassler (1564-1612)Tune name: PASSION CHORALE THE TEXT The Thirty Years War began when Paul Gerhardt was 12 years old. Raised in a town near Wittenberg, he witnessed first-hand many of the horrors of that era, experiences which no doubt affected his many hymns. As one admirer has observed, for Gerhardt “hope and joy in this life were taken away and confidence in another world was needed.” It was while studying at the University of Wittenberg that he came to appreciate the power of hymns to teach and to encourage. His piety and craftsmanship served to earn him honor as Germany’s most accomplished hymn-writer.…