Wednesday, October 27, 2010

For All the Saints

As a child, my second favorite floating church holiday (after Christmas) was All Saints’ Day. Today, I might put Ash Wednesday ahead of that, but not Epiphany. Good Friday and Ascension, alas, aren’t much of day for hymn singing.
Hymnal 1940 had such wonderful hymns for the occasion that the Sunday closest to Nov. 1 was definitely the high point of low season. But when we were church shopping decades later, there was one particular hymn from our childhood that my wife would ask me to check to see if it was being sung — to determine which parish we would attend for the Sunday closest to Nov. 1. This is the same hymn that Dr. Ian Bradley introduces calls “a magnificent processional song of triumph rejoicing in the communion of saints” in his 2006 Book of Hymns.

That hymn is “For all the saints,” #126 (1st tune) in Hymnal 1940. H40 offers eight of the 11 verses of William W. How’s 19th century text. These are the same eight verses found in in The English Hymnal, which offers three different tunes: Sine Nomine, Sarum, and Luccombe. On this side of the pond, the PECUSA Hymnal 1916 only had the second tune (H16 #295), but the editors of Hymnal 1940 decided to carry both Sine Nomine and Sarum.

Like most Anglican households, the only tune we sing for these words is Sine Nomine written by Ralph Vaughan Williams in 1906 for TEH in his role as TEH music editor. Indeed, this is the only tune that was carried forward to New English Hymnal (#197) and Hymnal 1982 (#287).

I’ve previously called this Ralph Vaughan Williams’ greatest hit (at least for church music), and justifiable so. Searching my bookcase, the eight verses and RVW tune are also found in three LCMS hymnals, The Lutheran Hymnal (#463) Lutheran Worship (#191) and Lutheran Service Book (#677). The same words and tune are also in The Presbyterian Hymnal (1990, H #526) and even the 1975 Baptist Hymnal (#144).

But when TEH came out in 1906 the tune was new so the hymnal helpfully explains: “Suitable or use in procession.” Alas, processionals seem to have fallen out of favor, or RVW would be known to many Anglicans as the author of two great church marching tunes — the other being that Easter/Ascension/Pentecost favorite, Salve Festa Dies.

Bradley helpfully notes how How’s words were originally sung to another tune (called For All the Saints) written for it in 1869 by Joseph Barnby. This is apparently the same tune called Sarum in the 1906, 1916 and 1940 hymnals. Bradley concludes that the RVH tune “is now almost universally used.”

In the original version, the TEH music editor arranged the eight verses into 3 unison, 3 harmony and then 2 unison. H40, H82, LW and NEH, are faithful to this arrangement, while the LSB would certainly allow it but is typeset in a way that does not make the unison verses obvious.

Correction, Oct. 30: As it likes to do, Hymnal 1982 drops the accompanying parts from the pew edition (presumably to sell the accompaniment edition, available for 4x as much.) However, the vocal parts are available for verses 5 and 6, as in the other editions. (Thanks to Raving Revisionist” for pointing out my error in the original version of this posting.)

The editors of H82 also resisted the temptation to bowdlerize the lyrics. Even if H82 is not my favorite hymnal, the missing accompaniment is my only complaint for the RVW classic.


"Raving Revisionist" said...

I'm not sure what you're talking about. I'm looking at Hymn #278 in H82 (NOT the Hymnbook) right now and verses 5 and 6 are clearly set to the RVW harmony.

I understand that knocking H82 is one of the primary functions of this blog, but really...

9.West said...

Dear Raving,

You may be raving, and a revisionist, but in this case you are undeniably correct.

I understand that knocking H82 is one of the primary functions of this blog,

Thanks for your sense of humor.