Text: Johann Franck (1618-1677)
Music: Johann Crüger (1598-1662)
Tune name: SCHMÜCKE DICH
This is one of many German hymns translated into English by Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878). The complete text (with nine stanzas) first appeared in a 1653 Gesangbuch published by Johann Crüger, who wrote the tune. Franck practiced law for many years and held many civil posts including mayor of Guben. He wrote about 110 hymns, and was one of the most noted poets of his day.
In his classic text, A Dictionary of Hymnology (2nd. ed. 1907), John Julian summarized the text of this hymn as
an exhortation to the soul to arise and draw near to partake of the Heavenly Food and to meditate on the wonders of Heavenly Love; ending with a prayer for final reception at the Eternal Feast.
That Eternal Feast is a wedding feast, and what Julian doesn’t mention is that the exhortation to the soul presented in Franck’s hymn employs the imagery of a bride preparing to be united with her Bridegroom: “Hasten as a bride to meet Him and with loving reverence greet Him” The bedecking of the soul is the donning of a wedding gown.
Here is a translation of all nine stanzas of Franck’s hymn. The stanzas with which we are familiar are in bold.
1. Deck thyself, my soul, with gladness,
Leave the gloomy haunts of sadness;
Come into the daylight’s splendor,
There with joy thy praises render
Unto Christ whose grace unbounded
Hath this wondrous banquet founded.
Higher o’er all the heav’ns He reigneth,
Yet to dwell with thee He deigneth.
2. Hasten as a bride to meet Him
And with loving reverence greet Him;
For with words of life immortal
Now He knocketh at thy portal.
Haste to ope the gates before Him,
Saying, while thou dost adore Him,
Suffer, Lord, that I receive Thee,
And I nevermore will leave Thee.
3. He who craves a precious treasure
Neither cost nor pain will measure;
But the priceless gifts of heaven
God to us hath freely given.
Though the wealth of earth were offered,
Naught would buy the gifts here offered:
Christ’s true body, for thee riven,
And His blood, for thee once given.
4. Ah, how hungers all my spirit
For the love I do not merit!
Oft have I, with sighs fast thronging,
Thought upon this food with longing,
In the battle well nigh worsted,
For this cup of life have thirsted,
For the Friend who here invites us
And to God Himself unites us.
5. In my heart I find ascending
Holy awe, with rapture blending,
As this mystery I ponder,
Filling all my soul with wonder,
Bearing witness at this hour
Of the greatness of God’s power;
Far beyond all human telling
Is the power within Him dwelling.
6. Human reason, though it ponder,
Cannot fathom this great wonder
That Christ’s body e’er remaineth
Though it countless souls sustaineth
And that He His blood is giving
With the wine we are receiving.
These great mysteries unsounded
Are by God alone expounded.
7. Sun, who all my life dost brighten,
Light, who dost my soul enlighten;
Joy the best that any knoweth;
Fount, whence all my being floweth;
At Thy feet I cry, my Maker,
Let me be a fit partaker
Of this blessèd food from heaven,
For our good, Thy glory, given.
8. Lord, by love and mercy driven
Thou hast left Thy throne in heaven
On the cross for me to languish
And to die in bitter anguish,
To forego all joy and gladness
And to shed Thy blood in sadness.
By this blood redeemed and living,
Lord, I praise Thee with thanksgiving.
9. Jesus, Bread of Life, I pray Thee,
Let me gladly here obey Thee.
By Thy love I am invited,
Be Thy love with love requited;
From this supper let me measure,
Lord, how vast and deep love’s treasure.
Through the gifts Thou here dost give me
As Thy guest in Heaven receive me.
Johann Crüger composed this tune especially for Franck’s text (which is actually a rather uncommon practice in hymn history). It is in bar form (AABC), and evokes the holy delight described in the hymn’s text.
Our choir has recorded this hymn twice, once in 2016, with all of us present in the nave and Wallace Hornady at the choir. The second recording was made in May 2020, while we were all “locked-down” at our homes. Both recordings are below.
The choir of All Saints Anglican Church (2016), Wallace Hornady, organ
The choir of All Saints Anglican Church (2020), Wallace Hornady, organ
Johann Sebastian Bach used this melody — and three of the nine stanzas from Franck’s original hymn — in three of the movements in Cantata #180, Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele. Bach scholar and conductor William Gillies Whittaker (1876-1944) comments that this cantata “is one of the most constantly blissful in the series; there are no wars or rumours of wars, no disturbiubg demons or false prophets, no torture of mind, no thought of past sins, no fer of the hearafter; the soul surrenders itself in ecstasy to the Bridebroom and all things else are forgotten.”
The movement in this cantata that is most like our hymn is the final chorale, in which is sung the ninth stanza of the original, which we sing as the third stanza in our hymn
Jesu, wahres Brot des Lebens,
Jesus, true bread of life,
Hilf, daß ich doch nicht vergebens
help me so that not in vain
Oder mir vielleicht zum Schaden
or perhaps to my loss
Sei zu deinem Tisch geladen.
I may be invited to your table.
Laß mich durch dies Seelenessen
Grant that I may, through this food for my soul,
Deine Liebe recht ermessen,
measure out rightly your love,
Daß ich auch, wie itzt auf Erden,
so that I also, as here on earth,
Mög ein Gast im Himmel werden.
become a guest in heaven.
This final chorale from Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele is performed below by the Chamber Choir of Europe and the Chamber Ensemble of Europe, conducted by Nicol Matt.
That familiar melody is also embedded (and stretched out) in the opening chorus of that cantata. In this movement, the instruments get more attention than the choir, but listen to the slow melodic line sung by the sopranos and you’ll hear Schmücke dich serenely and elegantly presented. Conductor John Eliot Gardiner comments that the melody as sung here is “perfectly tailored to the idea of the soul dressing itself up in all its wedding finery. Initially it conveys an atmosphere of tenderness and expectation: the getting dressed and the journey to the wedding feast.”
Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele,
Adorn yourself, O dear soul,
Laß die dunkle Sündenhöhle,
leave the dark den of sins,
Komm ans helle Licht gegangen,
come into the clear light,
Fange herrlich an zu prangen;
begin to shine with glory,
Denn der Herr voll Heil und Gnaden
for the Lord, full of salvation and mercy
Läßt dich itzt zu Gaste laden.
has now invited you as a guest.
Der den Himmel kann verwalten,
He who can reign in heaven
Will selbst Herberg in dir halten.
wants himself to make his dwelling in you.
The Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists
conducted by John Eliot Gardiner
The most poignant presentation of this melody occurs in the soprano recitative and chorale. After some introductory observations about the preciousness of the Eucharist, the soloist sings the fourth stanza of the hymn:
Wie teuer sind des heilgen Mahles Gaben!
How valuable are the gifts of the holy meal!
Sie finden ihresgleichen nicht.
Nothing like them can be found anywhere.
Was sonst die Welt
What the world otherwise
Vor kostbar hält,
considers as precious
Sind Tand und Eitelkeiten;
are only toys and vanity;
Ein Gotteskind wünscht diesen Schatz zu haben
A child of God wants to have this treasure
Ach, wie hungert mein Gemüte,
Ah, how my spirit hungers,
Menschenfreund, nach deiner Güte!
Friend of man, for your goodness!
Ach, wie pfleg ich oft mit Tränen
Ah, how often I am accustomed with tears
Mich nach dieser Kost zu sehnen!
to long for this nourishment.
Ach, wie pfleget mich zu dürsten
Ah, how accustomed I am to thirst
Nach dem Trank des Lebensfürsten!
for the drink of the Prince of life!
Wünsche stets, dass mein Gebeine
Constantly I wish that my bones
Sich durch Gott mit Gott vereine.
could be united through God with God.
Soprano Magdalena Kožená with the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists, conducter by John Eliot Gardiner.
All seven movements of Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele is sung here by the Gabrieli Consort & Players. The soloists are Ann Monoyios, soprano; Angus Davidson, alto; Charles Daniels, tenor: and Peter Harvey, bass. The conductor is Paul McCreesh. The text is available here.
Bach also based his chorale prelude, Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele (BWV 654) on this melody. That piece is played here by organist Ton Koopman.