Frederick William Faber
Opening Voluntary: Intermezzo – Eric H. Thiman (1900-1975)
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy #469 – ST. HELENA
The text for the offertory hymn today, “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,” is selected and adapted from a 19th century hymn by Frederick William Faber, born 1814 in Calverly in the West Riding of Yorkshire. He enrolled in Balliol College at Oxford in 1832 where he became acquainted with the Anglo-Catholic preaching of the Oxford Movement that was beginning to develop within the Church of England. Faber himself received Holy Orders in the Church of England in 1839. In 1843, he became rector at a church in Elton where he introduced catholic practices such as auricular confession and the use of the sanctoral cycle. There was, however, a strong Methodist presence in the parish, and a number of disaffected persons began to pack his church each Sunday in order to ridicule his catholic leanings. After a prolonged period of struggle, Faber left Elton and entered the Roman Church in 1845. He is remembered particularly in Anglican and Episcopal churches for his hymns, of which several are included in The Hymnal, 1982, perhaps the most famous of which is #558, “Faith of our fathers!”
Today’s offertory hymn, #469, “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,” contains only six quatrains from a larger work published in Faber’s Oratory Hymns of 1854. It is believed that this hymn was first used during parish missions conducted in England as well as in Ireland which was still wheeling from the great potato famine in which as many as a million died and a million more emigrated. In that setting, such strophes as “There is no place where Earth’s sorrows are more felt than up in heaven” take on a particular poignancy. Faber’s text soon became popular in the hymnals of many different denominations, and this hymn was even translated into Swedish. Hardly any of the borrowers selected the same stanzas for their use, and it was paired with various tunes. The tune we use today, ST. HELENA, was newly published in The Hymnal, 1982 and was composed by Calvin Hampton in 1978 specifically for this text. The tune name honors the Sisters of the Order of St. Helena who were resident for a number of years at Hampton’s church in New York.
Opening Voluntary: Prelude on Freu dich sehr – Alfred Fedak (1953-)
At Communion: Bereden väg för Herran – G. Winston Cassler (1906-1990)
Closing Voluntary: Freu dich sehr – Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706)
The opening and closing voluntaries today are based on the tune of our offertory hymn, “Comfort, comfort ye my people” (#67, The Hymnal 1982). The text was written by Johannes Olearius (1611-1684) and is a meditation on Isaiah 40:1-8. Olearius was a German Protestant theologian and hymn writer. He began his university studies in theology at Wittenberg University in 1629 and became part of the theology faculty in 1638. Olearius wrote a commentary on the entire bible and was the editor of the Geistliche Singe-Kunst (Leipzig, 1671) one of the largest and most important German hymn books of the 17th century. Comprised of over a thousand hymns, more than three hundred were Olearius’ own works. The tune with which the hymn is paired, known as PSALM 42 or Freu dich sehr, was likely composed by Louis Bourgeois (1510-1560) and first appeared in the Calvinist hymnal, Pseaumes Octantetrois de David first published in Geneva in 1551. In German Lutheran tradition, the melody came to be associated with the text “Freu dich sehr, O meine Seele,” and is, thus, often known by that name. The settings played for the Opening Voluntary are selections from a Partita (a collection of variations on a tune) by American composer and organist, Alfred Victor Fedak (b. 1953). Fedak is a graduate of Hope College and holds a master’s degree in organ performance from Montclair State University in New Jersey. He is presently the organist at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Capitol Hill, in Albany, NY. The concluding voluntary on the same tune is a setting by south German, Baroque organist and composer, Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706).
The short composition at the communion is based on our final hymn for today, “Prepare the way, O Zion” (#65, The Hymnal 1982). One of the great Advent hymns of the Church of Sweden, this hymn has been in continuous use for more than 200 years in that country. Written by Frans Mikael Franzén (1772-1847), it was first published in a trial collection of hymns in 1812 before its inclusion in the Church of Sweden’s Den Svenska Psalmboken of 1819. Like “Comfort, comfort ye my people,” the hymn is based on the biblical text of Isaiah 40 as well as Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem in Matthew 21. The hymn came to the United States in the Lutheran Service Book and Hymnal of 1958 and made its first appearance in The Episcopal Church in The Hymnal 1982. The tune, Beredem väg för Herran, is by an unknown composer and first appeared in print in the 1697 version of Den Svenska Psalmboken. The setting at the communion was composed by American organist G. Winston Cassler (1906-1990). Cassler studied at Oberlin College and was a pupil in England of Sir Ernest Bullock. Cassler was professor of music at St. Olaf’s College in Northfield, Minnesota until his retirement.
Ralph Vaughan Williams
Opening Voluntary: Prelude on DOWN AMPNEY – Chester Alwes (1947-)
At Communion: Prelude on DOWN AMPNEY – Wilbur Held (1914-)
Closing Voluntary: Festival Voluntary – Anonymous (1856)
Today’s incidental organ music is based on the tune, DOWN AMPNEY, to the much-loved hymn, “Come Down, O Love Divine” which we sing today as our hymn during communion (#516, The Hymnal 1982). The text of the hymn is a translation of writing by Bianco da Siena (d. 1434). Other than that he was a member of the short-lived Order of Jesuates (an order of unordained men following the Augustininan rule) and the place and year of his death, nothing else is known of this Italian writer. A collection of his poems, some 92 in all, were published for the first time in 1851 in Italy. Four of these were later translated by Richard Frederick Littledale (1833-1890). Littledale was an Irish-born cleric of the Church of England. Like many others of the 19th century, he participated in the revival of catholic ideas and content in the English church and was, in a sense, one of the fathers of Anglo-Catholicism. Musically, he was the creator of The People’s Hymnal (London, 1867), prepared for Anglicans who felt, as he did, that they might benefit from many Roman Catholic teachings and practices without leaving their own church. Unaccountably, The Hymnal, 1982 omits the third stanza of the hymn, but we include it here for your consideration.
Let holy charity
Mine outward vesture be,
And lowliness become mine inner clothing;
True lowliness of heart,
Which takes the humbler part,
And o’er its own shortcomings weeps with loathing.
The tune DOWN AMPNEY was composed as a tune to be used with this text by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) and was published for the first time in The English Hymnal (1906) for which he shared authorship with Percy Dearmer (1867-1936). Although The English Hymnal had this tune anonymously, it is now known as Vaughan Williams’ work and is appropriately named DOWN AMPNEY after the town of its composers birth. It is rightly considered a masterpiece of English hymnody.