Service music

Third Sunday after Epiphany (January 26, 2020)

The author of today’s Processional hymn was identified simply as “K” when “How firm a foundation” was first published in 1787. The text’s remarkable popularity may account for the large number of tunes associated with it. In every previous edition of our Hymnal, a different tune was used. The tune appointed in this edition is LYONS, although in the Supplemental Tunes section in the back of the Hymnal, the more primitive and familiar FOUNDATION is available.

This Sunday, we’ll sing this confident and reassuring text to the sturdy tune named LYONS. While the Hymnal states that it is based on a work by J. Michael Haydn, more recent research argues that it was the work of Joseph Martin Kraus (1756-1792), a German composer who settled in Sweden (sometimes known as “The Swedish Mozart”) and who was best known for his music for the stage.

Note that much of the text in this hymn is printed within quotation marks, indicating that the words are addressed to the congregation from God. Two stanzas from the original are omitted in our Hymnal. Following the first stanza, this text once appeared:

“In every condition, in sickness, in health,
in poverty’s vale, or abounding in wealth;
at home and abroad, on the land, on the sea,
As thy days may demand, shall thy strength ever be!”

And before the final stanza were these four lines:

“E’en down to old age all my people shall prove
my sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love;
and when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn,
like lambs they shall still in my bosom be borne.”

On an afternoon in the spring of 1863, Folliott Sandford Pierpoint, a young classics instructor and aspiring poet, surveyed from atop a hill the countryside in the valley of the River Avon outside of Bath, his native city. His gratitude for what he saw resulted in the hymn we sing as our sermon hymn this Sunday, “For the beauty of the earth.”

What is not widely known is that Pierpoint was also profoundly grateful for the beauty of the Church and the gifts God had given it; the stanzas of his hymn that reflect this are not included in hymnals.

For thy Bride that evermore
lifteth holy hands above,
offering up on every shore
this pure sacrifice of love:
Christ, our God, to thee we raise
this our sacrifice of praise.

For thy martyrs’ crown of light,
for thy prophets’ eagle eye,
for thy bold confessors’ might,
for the lips of infancy:
Christ, our God, to thee we raise
this our sacrifice of praise.

For thy virgins’ robes of snow,
for thy maiden mother mild,
for thyself, with hearts aglow,
Jesu, victim undefiled,
offer we at thine own shrine
thyself, sweet Sacrament divine.

The Offertory anthem today is a setting of today’s Collect, “Almighty and everlasting God.”

Almighty and everlasting God, mercifully look upon our infirmities: and in all our dangers and necessities, stretch forth thy right hand to help and defend us, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Choir of Magdalen College, Oxford, Bill Ives, director

The composer of this setting — Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625) — had an impeccable C.V. As a boy he was a chorister at King’s College, Cambridge. He later he became a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal, where he served as an organist before accepting the position as organist at Westminster Abbey. Gibbons’s compositional style serves as a bridge between the late Renaissance English composers (e.g., William Byrd, Thomas Tallis) and the early Baroque (Henry Purcell and others).

During Communion, the choir sings the hymn “Draw nigh and take” set to a tune by Gibbons. That tune is in our Hymnal (#69) with the Holy Week text “Drop, drop slow tears.”

While the text to “Draw nigh and take” is one of the oldest in our Hymnal (late 7th century). the text to the first Communion hymn sung by the congregation — “Come, risen Lord, and deign to be our guest” — is one of the newest, dating to 1931. The second Communion hymn — “O food of men wayfaring” — is from the 17th century. (Both of these hymns have separate pages with more information about their history, accessible via the links in the titles.)

Our closing hymn this Sunday, “Hail to the Lord’s Anointed,” is a loose paraphrase of Psalm 72, one of James Montgomery’s 400+ hymns. It was written in 1821 for use in a Moravian Christmas celebration. In addition to the five stanzas in our Hymnal, Montgomery (1771-1854) included the following text after stanza two:

By such shall he be feared,
while sun and moon endure,
beloved, obeyed, revered;
for he shall judge the poor,
through changing generations,
with justice, mercy, truth,
while stars maintain their stations,
or moons renew their youth.

Following stanza three, this text was included in the original:

Arabia’s desert-ranger,
to him shall bow the knee;
the Ethiopian stranger
his glory come to see;
with off’rings of devotion,
ships from the isles shall meet,
to pour the wealth of ocean
in tribute at his feet.

The sturdiness evident in the confident tune WOODBIRD is a hint of its origins in a German folk-tune, first published in an early-seventeenth-century manuscript. The tune is also employed in our Hymnal to sing “O day of rest and gladness” (#474).