Sunday, November 29, 2009

Setting the canon of Advent

Ever since last year’s posting quoting Leland Ross on the canonical Christmas Carols, I’ve been wanting to make a similar list for Advent hymn. I’ve been investigating this off and on all fall. What I present here is too little and a little later than I would have liked, but it is all I’ve got time to summarize thus far.

I consulted two seminal hymnals (The English Hymnal from 1906 and Hymnal 1940) and one modernist hymnal (Hymnal 1982). The latter was because I was giving advice to someone who uses that hymnal, not because my opinion of it has changed, but it does provide a proxy for what hymns were in common use in PECUSA in the late 1970s. I wish I could have also consulted Hymns Ancient & Modern (1861) — as well as some of my Lutheran hymnals — but ran out of time.

Exactly seven Advent hymns show up in all three hymnals with the same tune. Two of these hymns I’ve previously written about:
  1. “Creator of the stars of night,” tune: Conditor alme Siderum. TEH: 1, H40: 6 Tune 1; H82: 60
  2. “Hark the glad sound! the Savior comes,” tune: Bristol. TEH: 6T1; H40: 7; H82: 71
  3. Hark, a thrilling voice is sounding,” tune: Merton. TEH: 5; H40: 9; H82: 59.
  4. “Lo, he comes with clouds descending,” tune: Helmsley. TEH: 7; H40: 5T2; H82: 57. The Americans also have St. Thomas (H40: 5T1; H82: 58), which seems equally good but is somewhat easier to sing.
  5. O come, O come Emmanuel,” tune: Veni Emmanuel. TEH: 8; H40: 2; H82: 56.
  6. “On Jordan's bank the Baptist's cry,” tune: Winchester New. TEH: 9; H40: 10; H82: 76.
  7. “Wake, awake, for night is flying,” tune: Sleepers, Wake. TEH: 12; H40: 3; H82: 61,62. (Note: This is the subject of a 11/23/2009 podcast at Issues Etc.)
A close runner up is
  1. “Thy kingdom come! On bended knee” appears in all three hymnals but not with the same tune. H40 (#391) and H82 (#615) use St. Flavian while TEH (and its 1986 successor the New English Hymnal) list Irish; the TEH (#504) alternately recommends St. Stephen. This is indexed as a general hymn, but listed by both TEH and H40 as a hymn “also” used for Advent.
Of those that showed up in two hymnals, my personal list of honorable mentions:
  1. Come, thou long-expected Jesus,” tune: Stuttgart, justifiably the first hymn in my favorite hymnal (H40: 1; H82: 66). I find the words by Charles Wesley to be perfect for signaling the beginning of Advent.
  2. “The King shall come when morning dawns,” tune: St. Stephen, H40: 11; H82: 73.
  3. “Christ whose glory fills the skies,” tune: Ratisbon, H40: 153; H82: 7. (H82 inflicts a new tune Christ Whose Glory as hymn #36). This is another H40 “also” Advent hymn, also with words by Wesley.
Four other hymns were found in two of the three hymnals — “O Word, that goest forth on high” (H40, H82), “The world is very evil” (TEH, H40), “Thy kingdom come, O God” (TEH, H40) and “Watchman, tell us of the night” (H40, H82) — but don’t seem to fit into the same category as the first 11. Only the first one (“O Word”) is listed in the Advent section, while the others are recommended alternates in the TEH and/or H40. (H82 doesn’t directly list alternates — I suspect they are in one of the hymnal companions.)

Finally, a 12th hymn is not listed as “Advent” but is recommended by H40 for Advent III and matches the H82 (Year C) reading for Advent II.
  1. “Love divine, all loves excelling,” tune: Hyfrydol, H40: 479T1; H82: 657. TEH and NEH print Charles Wesley’s words with other tunes, but I can’t imagine why anyone would ever sing anything but Rowland Prichard’s greatest hit.
The latter might seem like a stretch, but the phrases “Joy of heaven to earth come down” and “Come, almighty to deliver” do suggest a fit to the Advent theme. I’ll use any excuse to sing Hyfrydol, particularly if I can sing harmony.

Today at church we did two of the holy dozen: “Lo, he comes with clouds descending” and “Come thou long-expected Jesus.” I’m hoping that we’ll sing most of the remainder before Advent is over.


Amberg said...

Have you heard of "Comfort, Comfort Ye My People" or "Come, Thou Precious Ransom, Come" by John Olearius?

Also, Paul Gerhardt's "O Lord, How Shall I Meet Thee" excels all expectations.

You can find them all at under "online hymnals" "The Lutheran Hymnal."

Thanks for your post!

9.West said...


Thanks for your suggestions.

Since it's translated by Catherine Winkworth and in the ECUSA hymnals, I should know "Comfort, Comfort Ye My People" but I don’t.

Similarly, there are five Gerhardt hymns in Hymnal 1940 by Gerhardt, and I know that Lutheran hymnals have even more.

Alas, the only one I know is “O sacred Head, now wounded“ – which I blogged about last year after attending a Good Friday service at our local LCMS parish.


Amberg said...

Yea, her sins our God will pardon,
Blotting out each dark misdeed.

Beautiful stuff!