• Hymns

    We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing

    Text: Anonymous Music: Traditional Netherlands melody (pub. 1626) Tune name: KREMSER   THE TEXT This hymn was written by an unknown author in celebration of Dutch freedom from Spanish sovereignty at the end of the 16th century. It was translated into English in 1894 by Theodore Baker (1851-1934), an American music scholar, and included in a 1917 publication, Dutch Folk-songs. This hymn soon because associated with the American Thanksgiving holiday and (given the timing of its early popularity) with the idea of American Manifest Destiny, and hence with a sense of American exceptionalism. However, the commitment and desires in the text are more truly expressive of the life of the Church, the…

  • Hymns,  Repertoire

    To Jordan came our Lord, the Christ

    Text: Martin Luther (1483-1546) Music: Unknown source Tune name: CHRIST UNSER HERR ZUM JORDAN KAM   THE TEXT From the beginning of the Church’s liturgical life, hymns have been used to teach or, more accurately, to preach. The long history of hymnody contains many figures — not all of them orthodox — who recognized the power of singing to instruct, encourage, and inspire. Along with St. Ambrose, Martin Luther was one of the greatest champions of music’s theological and pastoral significance. First published in 1543 — late in Luther’s life — the hymn Christ, unser Herr, zum Jordan kam (“Christ our Lord came to the Jordan”) was written to offer instruction about…

  • Hymns

    The Music of Epiphany: Saw you never, in the twilight

    Other than “We three kings,” there aren’t many hymns or carols that are commonly associated with Epiphany. One hymn that we sing on average every other year (but we should probably sing it every year) is “Saw you never, in the twilight” (The Hymnal, #50). This hymn (originally entitled “The Adoration of the Wise Men”) was one of almost 400 hymns and poems written by the wife of an Irish bishop, Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895). Among her better known hymns are “All things bright and beautiful,” “Once in Royal David’s city,” “There is a green hill far away,” and “He is risen, He is risen!” Mrs. Alexander was especially concerned to write…

  • Hymns

    Dost thou in a manger lie

    Text: Jean Mauburn (c.1460-1503) Music: Hohenfurth Ms., 1410 Tune name: DIES EST LAETITIAE   THE TEXT The author of this text, Jean Mauburn, was an Augustinian canon of various French abbeys. In 1491 Mauburn published Rosetum exercitiorum spiritualium (“Spiritual Exercises for the Confraternity of the Rosary”). These exercises were for the laity, and included a long poem (thirteen stanzas of ten lines each)  on the birth of Christ. which began Eia mea anima, Bethlehem eamus (Now, my soul, to Bethlehem). Our hymn includes three of the stanzas and takes the unusual form of a dialogue between an individual believer, vicariously standing before the infant Jesus, and the Lord speaking — not as…

  • Hymns,  Repertoire

    How bright appears the Morning Star

    Hymn #329 Text: Philipp Nicolai (1556-1608) Music: Philipp Nicolai Tune name: FRANKFORT or WIE SCHÖN LEUCHTET THE TEXT The text for this hymn was originally published (in German) in 1599, with the first line “Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern.” Originally including seven stanzas, it bore the title “A spiritual bridal song of the believing soul concerning Jesus Christ, her heavenly Bridegroom, founded on the 45th Psalm of the prophet David.” This description may perplex us, as we often sing this hymn during the Epiphany or Advent seasons, and — based on the English translation in our Hymnal — for good reason. After all, the first stanza ends with the plea: “Great Emmanuel,…

  • Hymns

    O come, O come, Emmanuel

    Hymn #2 Text: Traditional antiphons Music: 15th-century plainsong, adapted by Thomas Helmore (1811-1890) Tune name: VENI EMMANUEL THE TEXT This is one of the most familiar of our Advent hymns. In its earliest form may date back to a community of fifth-century Jewish Christians. The first translation in English appeared in John Mason Neale’s The Hymnal Noted (1851). In Neale’s version, the first verse began with the words, “Draw nigh, draw nigh, Emmanuel.” Our Hymnal includes seven verses, each of which addresses the Messiah with a different Biblical name: Immanuel, Wisdom, Lord of Might, Branch of Jesse, Key of David, Morning Star, and King of Nations. Before these seven verses became…

  • Hymns

    Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin (In peace and joy I now depart)

    The Song of Simeon — commonly referred to as the Nunc dimittis, the first two Latin words in the canticle — has been part of Christian worship since Jesus was a baby. Before the Reformation in the West, it would typically have been chanted in Latin by clergy. In the 1520s, Martin Luther — eager to share the privilege of affirming the sentiments of Simeon’s song with all believers — wrote a 4-stanza hymn that paraphrased and amplified Simeons’s affirmations: 1. Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin / in Gotts Wille; In peace and joy I now depart / At God’s disposing; getrost ist mir mein Herz und Sinn, / sanft…

  • Hymns

    Creator of the stars of night

    Hymn #6 Text: Anonymous, 9th century; translated by John Mason Neale (1818-1866) Music: Sarum Plainsong, Mode IV Tune name: CONDITOR ALME THE TEXT This hymn is a translation and slight musical adaptation of a 7th-century Latin hymn, Conditor alme siderum. Not surprisingly — since this text refers to the stars of night and to the coming of the Savior into the world — this hymn was first sung in monasteries during Advent as part of Vespers (comparable to our Evening Prayer liturgy). The point of view presented in the hymn is clearly one anticipating the Second Advent in light of the history that led to and beyond Christ’s first coming.…

  • Hymns

    O God, our help in ages past

    Text: Isaac Watts (1674-1748) Music: William Croft (1678-1727) Tune name: ST. ANNE   THE TEXT Written in 1714 by Isaac Watts, this hymn is a paraphrase of Psalm 90. Originally published with nine verses, most hymnals (including ours) include only six. In Great Britain, this hymn is regarded by many as a second National Anthem. Ian Bradley, in The Book of Hymns, writes It is said that when Dr. Benjamin Jowett, that most eminent Victorian who was master of Balliol College, asked a group of fellow Oxford dons to note down their list of favourite hymns, all of them independently put down just this one, which each felt fulfilled all…

  • Hymns

    O Food of men wayfaring

    Text: Maintzich Gesangbuch, 1661 Music: [1] Louis Bourgeois (c. 1510-1559); [2] 15th C. German melody, adapt. by Heinrich Isaac (c. 1450-1517) Tune name: [1] O ESCA VIATORUM; [2] O WELT, ICH MUSS DICH LASSEN   THE TEXT The first known publication of the text for this anonymous hymn is in a Catholic hymnal published in Würzburg in 1647 (although the later 1661 hymnal, the Maintzich Gesangbuch, is credited as the source for the translator). In 1906 it was translated for the first edition of The English Hymnal by John Athelstan Laurie Riley (1854-1945). In addition to translating a number hymns from Latin and Greek, Riley is also the author of the “Ye watchers and…