Sunday, December 19, 2010

Lo he comes

We went to two Advent 4 services this morning — one our regular service, one a baptism at another. This is the last of the four weeks where we anticipating the coming of our Savior: the next time we’re in church (either Friday night or Saturday morning), it will be the Christmas season.

The two parishes are Continuing Anglicans and within driving distance of each other. Otherwise, there’s not a lot in common: one was H40 and 28 BCP, the other H82 and 79 ASB.

But the one thing they had in common was two hymns about Jesus’ coming: “O come, O come Emmanuel” (H40: 2, H82: 56) and “Lo, he comes with clouds descending” (H40: 5; H82: 57/58.) By my count, these are two of the seven hymns that form the canon of Advent — the accepted Anglican Advent hymns of the past century.

While I’ve written about Veni Emmanuel, the Charles Wesley hymn I think is underappreciated and worth further mention. (Interestingly, Hymnal 1940 Companion lists it as an Advent 2 hymn, but neither of us got it “right.”)

The 18th century text has two 18th century tunes: St. Thomas and Hemsley, and each parish chose a different tune to end their respective services. The former is the one I grew up hearing as a child in ECUSA parishes, and the voice leading makes it pretty straightforward to sing. (Episcopalian refugees today at the early service also seemed to recognize the tune.) H40 companion says it’s attributed to John F. Wade, from the same manuscript as Wade’s Adeste Fidelis.

I find Hemsley (by Thomas Olivers) intriguing, but more than a little challenging. The choir at the 2nd service was strong enough to carry us, but I think it would have been beyond our abilities at the 1st service with a much weaker choir.

So the Wesley words are a worthy conclusion to Advent in either form, with the choice of melody depending more on musical ability than musical merit.

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