Sunday, May 11, 2008

Favorite Whitsunday hymn

Today is Pentecost, née Whitsunday, a once major feast that has fallen into some neglect. Over on GetReligion, Lutheran Mollie Hemingway (one of the would-be saviors of Issues Etc.) had a very good article on the limited coverage of Pentecost, the birth of the church. At church today, we celebrated the occasion with birthday cake, although without the rector’s admonishment (as at our previous church) to wear the liturgical red that evokes the tongues of fire of the first Pentecost.

Today was the first time this year my wife and I got a chance to sing Vaughan Williams’ Salve Festa Dies. It is one of five Whitsunday hymns (plus two alternate tunes) in my favorite hymnal. (It is also one of eight Pentecost hymns — including alternate tunes — in the current PECUSA hymnal, although 33% of the verses have been lobotomized).

The music director at our current church refuses to schedule “Hail Thee Festival Day” at Easter, holding off to the last possible usage. My wife and I grew up singing it at all three major feasts — Easter, Ascension, and Whitsunday — so much that the feasts seem empty without it.

In his wonderful hymn companion, Ian Bradley notes that the Whitsunday version “is the most widely used nowadays, appearing in the hymnbooks of a number of different denominations and not just, as it once did, in those of a High Anglican persuasion.”

Dr. Bradley notes that the Fortunatus poem (reprinted in a 13th century Sarum missal) was the Easter version (the one that comes to mind when I hear the tune), translated for the 1906 COE hymnal by George Gabriel Scott Gillett. He concludes
All the Festival Day hymns owe much of their modern popularity to the vigorous unison tune Salve festa dies which Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) composed for their appearance in the English Hymnal in 1906.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I would have guessed that the Ascension version was most popular, though I'm not sure why I think so. Our rector doesn't like this hymn at all, but since he's on sabbatical we were able to sing it on Sunday.