Service music

Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity (November 17, 2019)

Our Processional hymn today — “The God of Abraham praise” — is based on a traditional Jewish hymn which in turn is based on a medieval Jewish creed. You may read more about it (and hear the Jewish hymn sung in Hebrew) here.

The Sermon hymn is “Master of eager youth.” It is a paraphrase by F. Bland Tucker (1895-1984) of one of the earliest known Christian hymns, appended to a treatise called “The Tutor” by St. Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 – c. 215). The hymn was called “Hymn of the Saviour Christ,” and it was a succession of metaphors addressed to Christ, some of them biblical, some of St. Clement’s own invention. The hymn originally began “Bridle of colt untamed,” which is a bit more colorful and expressive than “Master of eager youth.”

The tune MONKS GATE was adapted by Ralph Vaughan Williams from a Sussex folk song, originally intended for use with “He who would valiant be” (Hymnal #563). Below is Andrew Remillard’s rendition of this hymn on piano.

Here is MONKS GATE played by the Bedford Town Band, an example of the great British tradition of amateur brass bands. (If you’re unfamiliar with this musical institution, you may be interested in watching the 1996 film Brassed Off, starring Pete Postlethwaite and Ewan McGregor.)

Our Offertory anthem is a setting of Adoramus te, Christi, a text traditionally associated with Good Friday liturgies: “We adore thee, O Christ, and we bless thee, because by thy holy cross thou hast redeemed the world. O Lord, have mercy upon us.” The music is by Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643), best known for his pioneering work in opera, discovering techniques to unlock more expressive capacities of music.

Here is a performance of Adoramus te Christe by VOCES8.

The choir sings another work by Monteverdi at Communion. His Messa a quattro voci da Cappella (1650) is one of a handful of masses that Monteverdi wrote. For Communion we’ll sing the Agnus Dei.

In order to set that final portion of the Mass in context, here is a performance of the entire Mass, sung by the Ensemble Vocal Européen, conducted by Philippe Herreweghe.

At Communion are three shorter hymns: “Strengthen for service, Lord,” “O saving Victim,” and “Come with us, O blessed Jesus.” The second of these are stanzas from one of Thomas Aquinas’s Eucharistic hymns, written in 1263. The tune MARTYR DEI is from the Benedictine rite.

“Come with us, O blessed Jesus” was written by John Henry Hopkins, Jr. (1820-1891). Hopkins, a church musician, stained-glass window designer, and Episcopal priest, was one of the great leaders in the development of hymnody in the Episcopal church during the mid-nineteenth century. I imagine few people know him by name, but millions are familiar with his Epiphany hymn, “We three Kings of Orient are,” for which he also wrote the tune.

We sing “Come with us . . .” as a Communion hymn, but it originally had three additional verses which identify it as a Christmas hymn:

Thou art God from everlasting,
God of God and Light of Light;
thou art God, thy glory veiling,
that men may bear the sight.
Beyond these walls O follow us,
our daily life to share,
that in us thy great and glorious light
may shine forth everywhere.

Thou art man, of Mary Virgin,
born today in Bethlehem;
thou art man, with griefs and sorrows
and thorns for a diadem.
Forever thou art one with us,
our life, our love divine:
our flesh and blood art thou, Lord;
and thou hast given us thine.

Born a babe, yet our Creator;
born a babe, yet God on high:
born of babe, O Son of David,
thy kingdom now is nigh.
Before thy cross victorious
O make thy foes to fall,
till the whole world sing Hosanna,
and own thee Lord of all.

Our closing hymn is new to our parish’s life. “Children of the heav’nly King” is the most popular of many hymns written by John Cennick (1718-1755), a Quaker turned Methodist turned Moravian. His doctrinal perspectives may have adjusted over time, but his piety and sincerity have been much appreciated by those who sing his hymns. The tune BRASTED is from an 18th-century German manuscript.