Monday, March 24, 2008

So give three cheers

Although best known as the composing half of 19th century Britain’s dominant light opera partnership, Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan began his career as a church organist, and composed a series of hymn tunes in the 1860s and 1870s, the best known being St. Gertrude (“Onward Christian Soliders.”).

Hymnal 1940 lists Sir Arthur as the composer or arranger of 12 of its 600 hymns (double-counting the tune Hanford); if I had TEH (1906), I would expect to find even more. Three of the 12 are Easter hymns, including this week’s Easter processional, St. Kevin (Hymn 94, 2nd tune).

While the music for Hymn 94 is 19th century operetta, the words of this hymn can be traced back (via translation) to an 8th century text by St. John of Damascus:
Come, ye faithful, raise the strain of triumphant gladness;
God has brought his Israel into joy from sadness
Loose from Pharaoh’s bitter yoke Jacob’s sons and daughters;
Led them with unmoistened foot through the Red Sea waters.
Even if not an ancient hymn, this medieval sentiment is certainly one of the oldest extant hymns in the church today.

But, of course, in the TEC the need to “modernize” and “improve” the theology of worship continues unabated. At his blog The Continuum, Fr. Robert Hart this week offers an alternate Easter setting for St. Kevin, one more suited to contemporary TEC theology. Here are the first two of four verses:
Episcopalians, hide those eggs!
Display that branch a-greenin'
But remember, as you do,
The season's truer meaning!
No, I don't mean Jesus Christ,
Or even resurrection,
But what we preach to take His place:
Environmental protection!

Jews and Christians are at fault
For all the world's pollution,
By their foolish rejection of
The Caananite solution!
Fertility goddesses, and the Baals,
And Love Children of the '60s,
Were right instead -- but don't despair...
We've got your new B.C.P.s!
It seems hard to imagine that any sentiment so narrowly focused on contemporary issues — whether satirized or merely self-satirizing — would survive for use by Christians 13 centuries from now.


Anonymous said...

Parody is really only funny if it's well-written. And that includes, in the case of parodic "hymns" such as this, meter. This drivel simply can't be sung to ST. KEVIN as written.

Sir Arthur knew all about badly-done imitations - G&S had numerous folk try to do what they did, but few are known today.

dbonneville said...

Hi! I have been following your posts for a few months. I have a question for you. I'm looking to find really really old English hymns, or hymns that have a medieval or even Renaissance type sound to them. I'm also looking for minor key hymns. I'm new to Anglicanism and am part of a continuing Anglican church in New England, and am looking to introduce "new" old music of this type to another service we are planning. Any ideas for resources?

There is an old English Christian folk song called Lake Wyke Dirge that has the chord progression and melody type I'm trying to find. Also, the hymn "40 Days and 40 Nights" nails it. I'm looking for anything like those. I eschew sappy modern worship songs and hymns, and would love to find more of the serious minor or mixolydian type English melodies for worship.

I hope you can point me in a direction!

Thanks for the great blog! Keep it up!