Sunday, April 4, 2010

Celebrating our Risen Lord

There are a wealth of wonderful Easter hymns to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord. How to choose from them all? Based on fond childhood memories and dozens of Easters since, here is a highly personal list, with subjective difficulty rankings:
  • “Hail thee, Festival day.” (H40: #86; H82: #175). Very difficult. The mandatory Easter processional that combined the 6th century Foratunatus poem with the stirring Ralph Vaughan Williams tune.
  • “Jesus Christ is risen today.” (H40: #85; H82: #207). Easy. The 14th century hymn, with a 1708 English translation and melody.
  • “He is risen, he is risen!” (H40: #90; H82: #180). Easy. Evocative of #85, but a 19th century lyric set to the 17th century Joachim Neander tune.
  • “At the Lamb’s high feast we sing.” (H40: #89; H82: #174). Moderate. A 17th century Latin hymn and melody with a J.S. Bach harmonization, as translated in the 19th century.
  • “The strife is o’er, the battle done.” (H40: #91; H82: #208). Moderate-Difficult. Another 17th century Latin hymn — but one with a more martial feeling — set to aptly named tune Victory by Palestrina, harmonized by W.H. Monk (musical editor of Hymns Ancient & Modern.)
  • “That Easter Day with joy was bright.” (H40: #98; H82: #193). Easy. The Hymnal 1940 translation of a 5th century Latin poem, set to the Puer Nobis, a Praetorius tune better known at Epiphany.
  • “The day of resurrection!” (H40: #96, 1st; H82: #210) Moderate. A 8th century poem by John of Damascus, translated by John Mason Neale, set to a German Catholic hymntune and harmonized by W.H. Monk.
  • “Come, ye faithful, raise the strain.” (H40: #94, 2nd; H82: #199). Easy. A second J.M. Neale translation of John of Damascus, set to a stirring march by Sir Arthur Sullivan.
  • “Welcome happy morning!” (H40: #87; H82: #179). Moderate. Another Fortunatus poem, with another Arthur Sullivan tune.
Which of these would I chose if I were music director? Looking at the (1 year) liturgical index in Hymnal 1940 — and adapting the two Communion and the morning prayer recommendations — suggests the following
  • Opening: “Hail thee, Festival day.”
  • Sequence: “He is risen, he is risen!”
  • General: “At the lamb’s high feast we sing.”
  • Closing: “Jesus Christ is risen today.”
For communion, H40 suggests #207 (“Come, risen Lord, and deign to be our guest”) or #210 (“Deck thyself, my soul, with gladness”). These are both fine hymns, but for the C&E communicants — if I didn’t use the Messiah or another choral piece — I’d select the sublime communion hymn sung with the four part Bach harmonization: “Come with us, O blessed Jesus” (#211).

While “The day of resurrection!” makes a great Easter recessional, H40 oddly recommends it as the recessional for Communion (or morning prayer) on Low Sunday, Easter I. (Oddly, because “the day” was a week earlier.) H40 also recommends “Welcome happy morning!” as the entrance hymn.

As at Christmas, I guess we sing about our feast day many weeks later, because there is an embarrassment of hymnal riches to be sung throughout the entire season, not just on the principal feast day.

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