Music Notes | Twenty-second Sunday After Pentecost

Eric Mellenbruch Associate Director of Music and Organist

The Psalms – the Church’s first hymnal – provide a bountiful store of praise, petition, and more for the use of the people of God. The Psalter sung in its entirety constitutes the core of the Daily Office and, in the Western Church, the proper chants of the Mass are also largely taken from often carefully selected Psalm-verses. Particularly in Reformation traditions, Psalms paraphrased in rhyming syllabic meter are also staples of congregational song. 

Our Entrance hymn this Sunday, ‘We will extol you, ever-blessèd Lord’ [404], is a good example of the genre and the general use to which many metrical Psalms are suited. This paraphrase of Psalm 145 was published in 1940 in a revision of the 1650 Scottish [metrical] Psalter and modernized for the Hymnal 1982. It is interesting to compare it to both Hymn 414, another paraphrase of the same Psalm (see the notes for July 25), and to a more literal translation of the Psalm, whether in the Prayer Book or another version. Making much less use of the kinds of poetic devices found in 414, the present text gains breadth (and thus the possibility of a less concentrated or distilled kind of diction) from its use of a 10-syllable line, and momentum from the dactylic-trochaic meter. Though the Hymnal 1982 Companion does not say so, the scansion and unusual five-line stanza of this text strongly suggest that its author intended it to be set, as it is in our Hymnal, to the Genevan (Calvinist) tune for Psalm 124, which (according to another entry in the Companion) was extremely popular in Scotland as in Geneva. That tune also lends a certain measured motion to the hymn.

Also not directly connected to themes of the day, but appropriate after any celebration of the Eucharist, is our Postcommunion hymn, ‘Come with us, O blessèd Jesus’ [336]. This text was derived from a ‘retrocessional’ [sic!] hymn for Christmas, the original being the work of John Henry Hopkins, Jr, an Episcopal priest who was also an organist and composer. Such an origin accounts for the present hymn’s incarnational language and the references to angels and their message of peace, while the modernity of the revision is most evident in the second half of st. 2, which clearly alludes to one of the most often quoted parts of the 1979 Prayer Book Baptismal Covenant (‘Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons…? [BCP 305]). The graceful 17th-century German tune, identified in our Hymnal by the incipit of one of the texts with which it has been used, ‘Werde munter, mein Gemüte’, is most familiar to us from Bach’s use of it in Cantata 147, ‘Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben’, where the four-voice harmonization used in our Hymnal is accompanied by strings (most prominently featuring a constant triplet-rhythm figure in the first violins), and whose final stanza, ‘Jesus bleibet meine Freude’ (‘Jesus remains my joy’), is often known in English as ‘Jesu, joy of man’s desiring’.

Our Sequence hymn, ‘Word of God, come down on earth’ [633, sung at 11:15], is connected to our Lessons – both the Gospel and its related Old Testament Lesson and Psalm, and in a way to the Epistle as well. It addresses not only the kind of physical healing recounted in the Gospel portion (the restoration of sight to Bartimaeus, which closes Our Lord’s three teachings about his identity and fate, and about true discipleship, on the way to Jerusalem in the Gospel of Mark) but also the spiritual healing which all stand in need of (as shown in the disciples’ reactions to the aforementioned teachings), and many other aspects of Christ’s identity and import besides. This richly written and richly allusive hymn is the work of James Quinn, a Scottish Jesuit priest who died in 2010. It is printed with a lovely tune written for it by Richard Wayne Dirksen, sometime organist/choirmaster of the National Cathedral (several of whose tunes grace the Hymnal), but as this parish has not learned this flowing, chant-like (and thus unmetrical) tune, the text is sung to the familiar ‘Liebster Jesu’. 

This entry was posted in Music Notes and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.