Service music

Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity (October 20, 2019)

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 today is “O for a closer walk with God.” The text is by William Cowper (1731-1800). Cowper (pronounced “COO-per”) suffered from periods of darkest depression, and once attempted suicide. One of the most popular poets of his day, his work anticipates the later English Romantic poets, such as Coleridge and Wordsworth. John Julian, in his 1907 Dictionary of Hymnology, writes:

Cowper’s poetry marks the dawn of the return from the conventionality of [Alexander] Pope to natural expression, and the study of quiet nature. His ambition was higher than this, to be the Bard of Christianity. His great poems show no trace of his monomania, and are full of healthy piety. His fame as a poet is less than as a letter-writer: the charm of his letters is unsurpassed. Though the most considerable poet, who has written hymns, he has contributed little to the development of their structure, adopting the traditional modes of his time and [John] Newton’s severe canons. The spiritual ideas of the hymns are identical with Newton’s: their highest note is peace and thankful contemplation, rather than joy: more than half of them are full of trustful or reassuring faith: ten of them are either submissive, self-reproachful, full of sad yearning, questioning, or dark spiritual conflict. The specialty of Cowper’s handling is a greater plaintiveness, tenderness, and refinement.

We sing this hymn to the tune known as CAITHNESS, which is from a 1635 Scottish Psalter. The text and tune were set for use as an anthem by one of Ireland’s most celebrated native composers, Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924). It is sung below by the Choir of Trinity Church, Boston.

Today’s Offertory anthem is a setting of the first verse from Psalm 122: “I was glad when they said unto me, ‘We will go into the house of the Lord.’” The Latin text is known by the first two words: Laetatus sum, and has been set by many composers. Our setting is by Alessandro Scarlatti, an Italian Baroque composer best known for his work in opera. His setting captures the contagious, overflowing joy of the Psalmist. Here is a recording of this anthem (sung a bit faster than our choir can manage) sung by the Nederlands kamerkoor, conducted by Harry Van der Kamp.

At Communion, the choir will sing Ego sum panis vivus (“I am the Living Bread”), by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (c.1525-1594). Here is this motet sung by the King’s Singers.

The Communion hymns, “Now, my tongue, the myst’ry telling” and “Therefore we, before him bending,” are from a hymn by St. Thomas Aquinas (c,1225-1274) for use at Vespers on the Feast of Corpus Christi. It was written in 1263.

Our closing hymn is “All hail the power of Jesus’ Name!” was written by Edward Perronet (1721-1792), a sometime associate of the Wesleys. Sung to the tune CORONATION, here is an appropriately regal rendition of the hymn with brass and organ, sung by St. Paul’s Chamber Choir.