Our Processional hymn — “When morning gilds the skies” — is a translation of an anonymous German hymn dating from the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century. It is one of many hymns describing the inescapability of song in the life of the believer. Worship, especially through music, is the fitting response to Jesus Christ not only by believers but — as the hymn’s final stanza declares — by all of Creation.
In 1899, the poet laureate of Great Britain, Robert Bridges (1844-1930), translated this hymn for use in English-language hymnals. Other translations by Bridges in our Hymnal include “Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended” (#71) and “O sacred head, sore wounded” (#75).
The tune LAUDES DOMINI was composed by Joseph Barnby (1838-1896) for use with an earlier translation of this hymn’s text. Barnby was a lifelong church musician from the age of seven. Educated at the Royal Academy of Music, he was also a noted conductor and composer and rewarded with a knighthood. In 1897 a collection of 246 hymns by Barnby was published; our Hymnal contains nine of these.
Our Sermon hymn — “In heavenly love abiding” — 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 could better appreciate the poetry of the Old Testament. This comforting hymn is a restatement of Psalm 23. The tune NYLAND is a Finnish folk melody adapted for use as a hymn in the early twentieth century, a time when many hymnal editors were acknowledging the virtues of setting hymn texts to durable folk tunes. It was arranged by David Evans (1874-1948), a noted Welsh organist and music professor.
At the Offertory, the choir sings a movement from one of Johann Sebastian Bach’s motets, Jesu, meine Freude (BWV 227). The tune that is used in many of the eleven movements of this work is a Lutheran chorale melody by Johann Crüger (1598-1662) It’s a melody that will be familiar to the congregation from its use in hymn #453, “Jesus, all my gladness.” Listen for the melody sung in its simplest form by the alto part, below the two intertwined soprano voices, sung in short phrases with long “pauses” between each phrase.
As is the hymn, the text in Bach’s motet is from a poem by Johann Franck (1618-1677). Franck’s poem depicts the desire of the faithful soul to avoid all distractions that might draw it away from Christ. Bach’s motet alternates stanzas from this poem with verses from Romans 8, in which St. Paul contrasts the believer’s being “of the Spirit” with the sinful state of being “of the flesh.” In the movement sung by our choir, the believer bids goodnight to worldly pleasures:
Gute Nacht, o Wesen, das die Welt erlesen,
Good night, existence chosen by the world,
Mir gefällst du nicht. Gute Nacht, ihr Sünden,
you do not please me. Good night, you sins,
Bleibet weit dahinten, kommt nicht mehr ans Licht!
stay far behind me. Come no more to the light
Gute Nacht, du Stolz und Pracht! Dir sei ganz, du Lasterleben,
Good night, pride and splendour, once and for all, sinful existence,
Gute Nacht gegeben.
I bid you good night.
Below is a performance of the entire motet, Jesu meine Freude (BWV 227), sung by the Vocalconsort Berlin directed by Daniel Reuss.
During Communion, the choir sings a setting of the eucharistic hymn O sacrum convivium. The composer is Giovanni Croce (1557-1609). Croce was best known for his Italian madrigals, but also wrote a number of sacred motets. His compositions were quite popular in England during his lifetime and later.
Our first communion hymn, “Humbly I adore thee,” was not originally intended for congregational singing but for private devotion. And it was probably not written by Thomas Aquinas (1227-1274) as indicated in our Hymnal, but it does date to the 13th century.
“Father, we thank Thee Who hast planted” is a metrical paraphrase of several brief devotional prayers found in The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, known also as the Didache, a Greek treatise that may date back to the first century. The paraphrase we sing is by F. Bland Tucker. The tune RENDEZ À DIEU is the work of the renowned French Psalmodist Louis Bourgeois (c.1510 to 1515–1559 or later), editor of the Geneva Psalter.
The first two stanzas of our closing hymn — “God the Omnipotent! King who ordainest” is by the writer and critic Henry F. Chorley (1808-1872). Chorley was a prolific art, music, and literature critic who wrote these verses in 1842 to supply words to the tune which is known as “Russian Hymn” or simply as RUSSIA. The final two stanzas are by John Ellerton (1826-1893), an Anglican priest and hymn-writer. During the latter half of the 19th century, Ellerton was consulted in connection with the compilation of every noteworthy English hymnal.
RUSSIA was written by violinist Alexis Lvov (1799-1870) at the command of Tsar Nicholas I, who demanded of the composer a hymn tune that would capture the spirit of Russia.
In his memoirs, Lvov recalled:
I felt the necessity of composing what would be majestic, powerful, full of sentiment, comprehensible to all, suitable to the army and suitable to the people, from the learned to the illiterate. All these conditions frightened me, and at first I could compose nothing. One night on returning to my quarters at a very late hour, I composed and wrote the tune on the spur of the moment.
With a stirring text by poet Vasily Zhukovsky, it became the Russian national anthem until the revolution of 1917. Tchaikovsky used the tune in his 1812 Overture, which was composed to commemorate the successful Russian defense against Napoleon’s invasion in 1812. Because the playing of this work often involves a volley of cannon-fire, it has been traditional to feature it at July 4th fireworks displays. If you hear it this week, keep in mind the text of our hymn, which exceeds the expectations of patriotism, Russian or American.