Opening Voluntary: Prelude on Lasst uns erfreuen – George A. Lynn (1915-1989)
Choral Introit – Mihi autem absit – Simple English Propers
Today’s opening voluntary is based on the tune (Lasst uns erfreuen) of our offertory hymn today, “All creatures of our God and King” (#400, The Hymnal, 1982), an English translation and adaptation of the original text attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis’ Cantico di fratre sole, laude della creatur, (Canticle of Brother Sun and of All Creatures), often titled “Canticle of the Sun,” was originally written in the Umbrian dialect of Italian rather than Latin and is believed to be the first genuine religious poem in the Italian language. Whether or not this is precisely true, it is most certainly a very early example of Italian vernacular religious song known as the Laude Spirituale, that flourished in the early thirteenth century. It is believed to have been written in about 1225-1226 during the last year of life of St. Francis, a period of intense pain and suffering for him. By tradition, the first time that it was sung in its entirety was by Francis along with his religious brothers, Angelo and Leo, two of his original companions, while St. Francis was on his deathbed. Pious legend also asserts that the final verse to “Sister Death” was composed only moments before. Although the hymn version by William H. Draper (1855-1933) has become a classic in its own right, it does omit some very characteristic features of the original, most notably the personifications of the natural world as “Brother/Sister” as in Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brothers Wind and Air, etc. Draper also makes a particular use of the ambiguity of the Italian word “per” which can mean both “for” and “from” by choosing the latter sense and turning the hymn into a pæan not “for” sun, moon, wind, air, water, death but a song of praise sung “by” these elements of nature.
The tune, Lasst uns erfreuen, dates to the year 1623 when it was published in a hymnal by Catholic musicians in the city of Cologne. It was, however, based in part on an even earlier Strassburg melody, first published nearly a century earlier in 1525. Several slight melodic and rhythmic variations are known to exist, and the version we sing today, arguably the most popular one, dates to the English Hymnal of 1906 and was the work of its musical editor, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958). The short prelude that we hear today as our opening voluntary is a work of George Alfred Lynn (1915-1989). Lynn taught at Westminster Choir College and the University of Colorado in Boulder. He was also organist of several churches in Denver and Colorado Springs. Musically, the work is in the form of a trio in which the upper two voices present the melody, slightly varied, in the form of a canon supported by a simpler pedal line that serves to complement the harmonic progressions created by the interweaving of the canonic melodies.