Music Notes | Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost

Eric Mellenbruch Associate Director of Music and Organist

Sunday’s Communion hymn, ‘This is the hour of banquet and of song’ [317], is actually made up of the slightly altered stanzas 3, 4, and 10 of ‘Here, O my Lord, I see thee face to face’, whose unaltered 1st, 2nd, 5th, and 7th stanzas are found at 318. It was written in 1855 by Horatius Bonar, a minister of the Church of Scotland (later of the Free Kirk) and prolific hymn-writer (see also Hymns 455/456, 692, and 700). The editors’ work is welcome: the stanzas at 318 are cast entirely in the first person singular and make a strong and cohesive statement of individual devotion; on the other hand, of the text at 317 only the first stanza is in the singular, while the revised version of the remaining stanzas moves beyond the individual to the corporate nature of the Eucharist and ultimately to the universal reality of which each celebration is a morsel.

A ten-syllable line is long as far as English-language hymnody is concerned; most of our hymns consist of lines of six to eight syllables. A tune written for such a text of such long lines must move along quickly enough that the singer can sing each line in one breath, while allowing some points of repose in what would otherwise often be a long, unrelieved series of moving notes. Most, though not all, of the tunes in our Hymnal for hymns of ten-syllable lines opt for a flowing style of uncomplicated rhythms and few large leaps; the present tune, ‘Morestead’, certainly exhibits a warm and flowing style, while at the same time skillfully balancing similarities and differences of rhythm (specifically, the placement of longer notes and of upbeat versus downbeat beginnings) among its four lines. 

Skillful too are many aspects of the melodic contour. The key (D Major) and range (D to D) of the piece are announced right away with a rising arpeggiation of the tonic triad. The opening gesture is mirrored with a falling D-major triad not only in the second half of the first line but also again at the very end of the tune, before which, beginning with the only other occurrence of the upper tonic, is found a modified version of the second half of line 1. The falling motive B-A-F# in line 1 also appears, a step higher and modified (C-B-G), in line 3. The opening gestures of lines 2 and 3 also reflect one another; moreover, the opening of line 2 is (slightly surprisingly) also heard two bars later, while the opening shape of line 3 is also heard, one step higher and in augmentation, at the end of the same line. Other felicities could doubtless be pointed out in this graceful tune, the work of 20th-century English church musician, teacher, and composer Sidney Watson.

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