Music Notes | Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Eric Mellenbruch
Associate Director of Music
and Organist

For notes on ‘Be thou my vision’, this week’s installment in St David’s favorite hymns countdown, please see the entry for 26 July, the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost.

Use this link (timestamp 10:00) to see a recording of ‘Be thou my vision’, Opening hymn.

This week’s Sequence hymn, ‘All my hope on God is founded’ [665], represents a fine confluence of author, translator/paraphraser, and composer. ‘Meine Hoffnung stehet feste’ is one of two hymns in the Hymnal whose originals were written by Joachim Neander, a German Reformed (i.e. Calvinist) pastor, teacher, and hymnist (the other being ‘Lobe den Herren’, or ‘Praise to the Lord, the Almighty’ [390]). It was published in 1679 and intended as a grace after meals. Robert Bridges, a physician, Poet Laureate of the UK 1913–1930, and a translator, promoter, and publisher of hymns, paraphrased Neander’s text for his 1899 Yattendon Hymnal, the immediate precursor to the important English Hymnal of 1906. The present tune was written around 1930 for this text by Herbert Howells, an important English composer of the 20th century now especially known for his church music. The text, occasionally obscure (as is not unusual for Bridges) but an always welcome reminder of human frailty and God’s providence, is given a good deal of thrust by the broad and somewhat irregularly phrased tune, which in turn is accompanied by some slightly unexpected harmony that still sounds fresh nearly a hundred years later.

Our opening hymn, ‘Sing praise to God who reigns above’ [408], is one of two Hymnal versions of ‘Sei Lob’ und Ehr dem höchsten Gut’, a song of praise by Johann Jakob Schütz, a German Pietist, published in 1675 (the other is found at Hymn 375). The translation at 408 was made by Frances Elizabeth Cox, a 19th-century English translator of German hymns (see Hymns 194/195 and 286 for other examples of her work). The text is set to a bouyant melody of, or related to one of, folk origin and also similar to a tune used in the Genevan (Calvinist) Psalter; the present version is taken from the 1566 hymnal of the Bohemian Brethren. In addition to singing it, we hear it in a setting for organ by the 20th-century German composer Hugo Distler.

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