Sunday, August 31, 2008

Neo-medieval plainsong

Today in church the bulletin said “Hymn 482". The first stanza is written
"Lift up your hearts!" We lift them, Lord, to thee;
Here at thy feet no other may we see.
“Lift up your hearts!” E’en so, with one accord,
We lift them up, we lift them to the Lord.
In Hymnal 1940, there are actually two tunes, but whoever printed the bulletin forgot to designate which tune, so I was wondering which one we’d end up singing. The choir director normally picks the oldest tune of the two. We have a great choir (and sanctuary) for renaissance and baroque music, so it makes sense to pick a 16th century tune over a 19th century one, both for their tastes and also their abilities.

This time, however, the choice was between two 20th century tunes: Sursum Corda (1941) and Magda (1925). The former was obviously written just in time for Hymnal 1940. My money was on the latter, because at the bottom it said “R. Vaughan Williams.”

However, the organist played the former, a tune by Alfred M. Smith, and I was very pleasantly surprised (as was the choir director). The tune is very singable, but has a very Mode V, medieval plainchant feel to it. The lines are reminiscent of Divinum Mysterium (“Of the Father’s love begotten”), but with a much simpler rhythm.

The 1881 words by H. Montagu Butler are set to two other tunes in the CoE hymnals. The English Hymnal (1906) and New English Hymnal (1986) use All Souls by J. Yoakley. The Songs of Praise Enlarged Edition (1931) prints only Pfigysbren, a Welsh tune.

Regular readers of this blog know that I’m resistant to (or perhaps even surly about) musical change. With the exception of a few pieces by Britten, Rutter and Bernstein, there’s not much church music worth keeping that was composed since Vaughan Williams’ prodigious contributions to The English Hymnal. 20th century tunes seem to range between unsingable tonality bending (Stravinsky without the talent) and the more recent, rock-influenced pop pablum.

Here is proof that such modernist failings have little to do with the times, and everything to do with choices made by the composers who lived in those times. This is particularly true if you flip to the back of Hymnal 1940, and see that Smith contributed three separate plainsong tunes. Living in the 20th century is no impediment to making lasting church music.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Curious hymnal heresy

Earlier this summer, I visited London and worshipped at St. Paul’s Cathedral. My choirmaster recommended that I attend either St. Paul’s or St. Martin’s, but the latter choir had the day off.

St. Paul’s as a sanctuary has a tremendous history. The location has been the center of Christian worship in England since the 7th century. The current structure, designed by Christopher Wren after the 1666 fire, was for centuries the tallest building in London and remains one of the few sanctuaries to rival St. Peter’s in Rome for scale and grandeur. (Given that the cost of building St. Peter’s brought us Luther’s 95 Theses and the Reformation, that’s saying something).

As with other famous cathedrals, the crowd was a mixture of tourists with backpacks with a few locals. Most went up for communion, and it seemed as though at least half knew the creeds (which is more than I saw at a trip to Westminster Abbey last year).

The choir performed a mass setting by Palestrina, the Missa Papae Marcelli. The program notes (er, seat bulletin) said that with this setting, “Palestrina is often credited with having rescued sacred polyphony,” because it was his first setting approved after the Council of Trent ruled that music must not subordinate the clarity of the text.

The hymn choices from the New English Hymnal were, to put it mildly, uninspiring. At the Offertory, we sang Toplady’s famous hymn “Rock of Ages” (alas to the tune Petra rather than Toplady), and the congregation came alive. But on the other hymns and service music it was the choir (with its overmatched boy trebles) doing all the singing, as the tunes were unfamiliar and (because they violate most understood principles of meter and harmony for the past 400 years) unsingable.

What really caught my attention (other than the building and the tourists and the musicians...) at the service was the opening hymn, #461 from the NEH. (The hymn tune was too new to be from an earlier hymnal). Entitled “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,” this verse grabbed my eye:
For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of man’s mind
At the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.
But we make his love too narrow
By false limits of our own;
And we magnify his strictness
With a zeal he will not own.
In other words, forget about the commandments and any other rules promulgated by your faith leaders across the millenia. This clearly ignores one side in the longstanding debate in theology about the appropriate balance between law and gospel, and today seems a pointed controversy on the whole controversy tearing apart the Anglican Communion with the GAFCON and Lambeth conferences.

What was even more odd was that a few minutes later, one of the priests read Matthew 7:21-29. Multiple translations are authorized in the COE, but to my ear it sounded similar to the ERV/RSV, so here’s the first seven verses from the RSV:
“Not every one who says to me, `Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

On that day many will say to me, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, `I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.’

“Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.

And every one who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it.”
Or, as the subsequent sermon from Rt. Rev. Michael Colclough (former Bishop of Kensington now resident canon) put it, the passage is an admonishment ”against those who build upon the shifting sands of fashion and fancy.” I could imagine no more telling indictment of the modernized theology than Canon Colclough’s sermon or the Gospel passage. The blatant contradiction of these two parts of the modernized service was actually funny (in a way that hiding or misinterpreting the Matthew passage would not be.)

But where did the heretical hymn lyrics come from? The bulletin reports it composed by F.W. Faber (1814-1863). The CCEL has a (public domain) 1915 book on hymn authors which lists Frederick William Faber as a Church of England priest who became a Catholic priest under Cardinal Newman. It lists 11 hymns by Faber in the 1905 Methodist hymnal (most notably “Faith of our Fathers”), and concludes:
Dr. Faber ... not only succeeded in large measure in his undertaking to give Roman Catholics good modern hymns, but he wrote many which have had a wide circulation among Protestant Churches. It has been found necessary, however, to eliminate objectionable Romish expressions from many of his hymns in order to adapt them to use in Protestant worship.
The Catholic Encyclopedia reports
Faber’s hymns, composed especially for these services, display a combination of accurate theological doctrine, fervent devotion, musical rhythm, and true poetic talent.
Doesn’t sound like a heretic to me.

COE seems to be consisent in its presentation of Faber. It’s not among 11 Faber hymns in Hymns Ancient & Modern (my copy is the 1916 update of the 1869 original). However, the words printed in 1906 The English Hymnal (#499) match that from the NEH seat bulletin (#461).

For PECUSA, it’s in the 1916 hymnal (#240), Hymnal 1940 (#304), and Hymnal 1982 (#469, 470). It turns out the 1916 hymnal paraphrases the text, but here is the version from the 1940 hymnal:
For the love of God is broader
Than the measures of man’s mind;
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.
If our love were but more simple,
We should take him at his word;
And our lives would be all sunshine
In the sweetness of the Lord.
which is essentially what’s up on Oremus.

In 101 More Hymn Stories, Kenneth Osbeck (p. 281) says it was published in Faber’s book Hymns 1862. The Book of Hymns by Dr. Ian Bradley (2005, p. 455) reports this hymn as being from Oratory Hymns of 1854, and as having 13 verses.

Several editions of Faber’s poems are in the public domain in Google books. A 1868 US compliation of Faber’s works lists a 13 stanza poem on pp. 53-55, with 13 stanzas. The same 13 stanzas are listed on pages 66-68 of an 1879 British compilation. The poem begins “Souls of men!” while “There’s a wideness” is stanza #4 and “For the love of God” is stanza #8. (12 of the 13 stanza are listed in a different order in another book).

So what’s the source of the variation? There’s no (re)translation issue of the hymn written by a 19th century English priest. It turns out it’s selective presentation: both the 1906 TEH (English) and Hymnal 1940 (US) are correct, but use different stanzas. TEH reprints stanzas #4-5,7-13 while 1940 pairs six stanzas into three verses: 4&6, 5&10, 8&13. (The 1916 US Presbyterian hymn #35 uses 1&3, 4&5, 7&8, 9&13).

Still, there’s little doubt that Faber penned the offending stanza. Today, it seems like an anachronistic heresy. Searching around for other explanations, reader Jeff suggested that it was an overreaction to a different heresy, specifically the austere legalism of some of the Reformed clergy. Given the Anglo-Catholic vs. Reformed controversy that raged in the COE from its founding through Faber’s day, that seems like a very plausible explanation.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Bach, Beethoven and Brahms

As one of several projects posting out-of-copyright books on music, Project Gutenberg has posted an 1886 book Standard Oratorios. To quote from the preface:
The main object has been to present to the reader a comprehensive sketch of the oratorios which may be called "standard," outlining the sacred stories which they tell, and briefly indicating and sketching their principal numbers, accompanied in each case with a short biography of the composer and such historical matter connected with the various works as is of special interest....

[T]he work has been prepared for the general public rather than for musicians, and as far as practicable, technical terms have been avoided. Description, not criticism, has been the purpose of the volume, and the various works are described as fully as the necessarily brief space allotted to each would allow. The utmost pains have been taken to secure historical and chronological accuracy, inasmuch as these details are nearly always matters of controversy.
The book talks about three Bach pieces (including my favorite piece of religious work, the Matthew Passion) and Beethoven’s Mount of Olives. It also talks about requiems by Berlioz, Brahms, Mozart and Verdi, as well as multiple religious pieces by Handel, Haydn and Mendelssohn.

The blog Hymnography Unbound focuses on the description of Handel’s Messiah provided by the book, which it calls “a delightfully chatty late-19th century ebook about the major oratorios.” Alas, outside the Messiah, few of the works are performed in churches, other than occasional excerpts of the requia as service music for the Mass.

Despite the century-long role of the Roman Catholic church as a musical sponsor, many of the oratorios have a distinctly Protestant origin. Bach is the world’s most famous Lutheran Kappelmeister. Both Handel and Mendelssohn composed in England, although the Messiah premiered in Ireland using choirs from the Church of Ireland.

For us Yanks, the book includes a fascinating 20 page epilog on “Sacred Music in America.”

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Does traditional theology require traditional liturgy?

I missed Issues Etc. when it was gone, so I was glad when it came back. One reason I missed the original show is that it was the only talk show I’ve ever heard that discussed issues of liturgy and liturgical music.

I’ve been listening to its first month back on iTunes. Of the new shows I’ve heard so far, the most substantive was the July 18 segment with Pastor Klemet Preuss. Pastor (and blogger) is the author of the The Fire And The Staff: Lutheran Theology In Practice.

Given that book, it’s not surprising that the July 18 show was entitled “Doctrine and Practice.” He makes some interesting points about liturgical choices:
  • The divine service and historic liturgy are a “gift of God to us,” and thus it would hard to improve upon it: “You have bible passages put together in a structured and wonderful way so beautifully and so consistently thtat you can’t improve upon it.”
  • Churches that use more modern worship believe that approach is the only way to reach potential new members (i.e., seekers), but is rare that they
  • The modern worship approach has the goal of “they want to elicit and immediate and emotional response to what is going on on Sunday morning,” but of course the goal of liturgy is to bring us closer to God.
  • The modern liturgy is oriented towards quick conversions, but overall no denomination has been able to grow based on this approach.
Pastor Preuss is not very ecumenical in how he views traditional interpretations of the historic liturgy, praising only traditional Lutheran worship. I can’t tell if that’s due to ignorance, chauvinism, or perhaps (due to his position and responsibilities) because his concern for appropriate practice is limited to the LCMS.

Despite, the half-hour show is thought-provoking. It suggests that his book (which attacks the Church Growth movement) would provide good ammunition for someone seeking to argue for traditional worship.

I’d love to believe Pastor Preuss is right that modernized worship is inherently a bad idea: after all, I’m a big fan of the traditional+traditional corner of the liturgy matrix. But such a big fraction of the Schism II Anglicans are liturgical modernists — consonant with the Evangelical wing of the communion — that it’s hard to rule out the possibility they could also holding a valid liturgical alternative. So is traditional worship a must or merely a want? The jury is still out.

Friday, August 1, 2008

And with your spirit

Recently the Catholic church took the first step to reverse some of the most of the prominent liturgical errors of the 1970s, as embodied by the PECUSA Rite II service of its 1979 prayer book. It also offers a path forward for at least some Continuing Anglicans.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the Consultation on Common Texts (CCT) — later allied with the International Consultation on English Texts (ICET) — brought us the modernized paraphrases of the ancient liturgy. So (among other examples), the Latin translated from 1662-1928 as “And with thy spirit” became “And also with you.”

On July 25, Catholic News Service reported that the Vatican has approved a new translation for a subset of the Mass:
In 2001 the Vatican issued new rules requiring liturgical translations to follow the original Latin more strictly and completely -- a more literal translation approach called formal equivalence. The resulting new translation adheres far more closely to the normative Latin text issued by the Vatican.
From the 2001 charge for a more accurate translation from the “vernacular,” the English version was taken on by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, representing the national conference of bishops in 11 English-speaking countries.

Under the approved change, the “thy” becomes “your,” i.e. “And with your spirit.” The Nicene Creed again begins with “I believe” and the “God of power and might” has been banished from the Sanctus.

The change will take effect in a few years, allowing time for changes to musical settings. (Why? Can’t they use the setting for “And with thy spirit”?)

Other parts of the Latin rite still need an updated translation. Earlier in July, US bishops rejected the 2nd installment of the ineffable translation (OK, that's a stretch) of the Roman Missal; a revote is planned. The goal is to finish the entire translation by 2010.

What impact will this have on Protestant liturgy? The CCT is hopelessly en thrall to the liberal mainline denominations (think NRSV). Will the Anglo-Catholics use this, stick with the 1928 BCP, or revert to the 1662 BCP used elsewhere in the world? Will the evangelicals among the Continuing Anglicans use these modernized (but faithful) translations — or widely adopt the Toonian 1662 rendition? Stay tuned.