Which came first, the text or the music? With hymns, texts are often written first, then tunes selected because they capture the spirit of the text. But sometimes, the text of a hymn is written with a very specific tune in mind. Our Processional hymn — “All praise to thee, for thou, O King divine” — is a case in point, but as it happens, we are not singing the tune that the poet had in mind when he wrote these stanzas. The story of text and tune in this case is complex.
Born in Norfolk and a graduate of the University of Virginia (1914), F. Bland Tucker (1895-1984) was the son of a bishop and brother of a presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church. Both his mother and father descended from the First Families of Virginia. Having served as a private in a hospital of the American Expeditionary Forces in France during World War I, Tucker was ordained a deacon in the Episcopal Church in 1918 and a priest in 1920. Later, he worked on the committee that revised the denominational Hymnal and produced the 1940 edition from which we sing every week. While that work was proceeding, he wrote the text to our hymn with the tune SINE NOMINE in mind. That’s the tune to which we typically sing “For all the saints.” But when the Hymnal was published, SINE NOMINE was indicated as an “Alternative Tune.”
The preferred tune selected for Tucker’s hymn— ENGELBERG — was first published in the 1904 edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern. It was composed by the Irish composer Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924) with the text to “For all the saints” in mind. During his career, Stanford taught composition at both the Royal College of Music and Cambridge University; among his students was Ralph Vaughan Williams, the composer of SINE NOMINE.
Our Sermon hymn is the result of the virtual collaboration of two gifted artists. The text of “My God, accept my heart this day” was penned in 1848 by Matthew Bridges (1800-1894). Bridges also wrote the text of “Crown him with many crowns.” The tune we sing, modestly known as SONG 67, is by the noted Elizabethan organist and composer, Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625). Our Hymnal has five other tunes by Gibbons, all part of a collection of 16 published in 1623. The “Amen” sung by the choir at the end of the service today is from one of Gibbons’s many anthems.
At the Offertory, the choir sings Verba mea auribus percipe, by Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672). The text is from Psalm 5:1-2:
Verba mea auribus percipe, Domine; intellige clamorem meum. Intende voci orationis meae, rex meus et Deus meus.
Translation: “Give ear, O Lord, to my words, understand my cry. Hearken to the voice of my prayer, O my King and my God.”
At Communion, the choir sings one of our favorite eucharistic motets, Caro mea, with music by Francisco Guerrero (1528-1599) and a text from St. John 6:55-56:
Caro mea vere est cibus, et sanguis meus vere est potus. Qui manducat meam carnem et bibit meum sanguinem in me manet et ego in illo.
Translation: “My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him.”
Our Communion hymns are “This is the hour of banquet and of song” and “Jesus, thou joy of loving hearts.” The first of these is one of five hymns in our Hymnal by Horatius Bonar (1808-1889). Born in Edinburgh, Bonar’s family had been well represented as clergy in the Church of Scotland for over 200 years. He was licensed to preach in that Kirk, but later joined the Free Church of Scotland. As I have commented before, Bonar’s poetry suggests a temperament and a piety closer to that of George MacDonald than of John Knox.
Our closing hymn is “O worship the King.” The text is by Robert Grant (1779-1838), and is a re-working of a 1561 paraphrase of Psalm 104 by another Scotsman, William Kethe (d. 1608). Grant was a British M.P., governor of Bombay, and amateur poet. The tune HANOVER first appeared in print in 1708. It was long attributed to George Frideric Handel, but was actually composed by his contemporary William Croft (1678-1727). Unlike the more famous Handel, Croft was very active in church music, serving as organist at Westminster Abbey and composer at the Chapel Royal. His tune ST. ANNE is the melody to which we sing “O God, our help in ages past.” His epitaph in Westminster Abbey reads: “Having resided among mortals for fifty years, behaving with the utmost candor . . . he departed to the heavenly choir . . that being near, he might add to the concert of angels his own Hallelujah.“