Tag Archives: The English Hymnal

The Day of Pentecost 08 Jun 14

pentecost-clip-art-26

Opening Voluntary: Prelude on DOWN AMPNEY –  Chester Alwes (1947-)

Today’s opening voluntary is based on DOWN AMPNEY, tune to the much-loved hymn, “Come Down, O Love Divine” which we sing today as our offertory hymn (#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, little 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. with 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 traditional Catholic teachings and practices without leaving their own church.  Unaccountably, The Hymnal, 1982 omitted 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 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 the composer’s birth.  It is rightly considered a masterpiece of English hymnody. Chester Alwes, composer of the voluntary, was born in 1947 in Louisville, KY and studied at Union Theological Seminary in NY.  He later studied and taught at the University of Illinois and is the author of A History of Western Choral Music published by Oxford University Press in 2011.

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Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost – 8 Sep 13

Walter Chalmers Smith

Walter Chalmers Smith

Opening Voluntary: Meditation – Gerhardt Krapf (1924-2008)

Choral Introit: Iustus es Domine – H. Alexander Matthews (1879-1973)

Hymn Spotlight – “Immortal, invisible, God only wise”

ST. DENIO

In the fortuitous pairing of the text by Walter Chalmers Smith (1824-1908) with the tune, ST. DENIO, a Welsh song of uncertain origin, we find one of those lasting and inspired matchings that sprang from the musical genius of the great English composer and hymnologist, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) and his collaborator the Reverend Percy Dearmer (1867-1936).  Indeed,  it is not at all an overstatement to assert that their collaborative work in the preparation of The English Hymnal (1906), has left the Anglican and Episcopal churches of the later 20th and 21st centuries in their perpetual debt.

Although time constraints allow us to sing only a selection of the stanzas of this great hymn (as our entrance hymn, #423, today), the entire text and tune are worthy of more extended study. Musically, the tune is of uncertain origin, although it first appeared in  Welsh hymnal Caniadau y Cysseger in the year 1839. It is felt, most likely, to have had its origins in the folk ballad and carol traditions of Welsh music.

The text is adapted from an original hymn written by Walter Chalmers Smith, a hymnist, poet and minister of the Free Church of Scotland. Although originally published in 1867, it is the edited version prepared by the Reverend Percy Dearmer for The English Hymnal for which Smith is chiefly remembered.  Dearmer selected the first three stanzas of Smith’s text and paired them with the first two lines of the original fifth and six stanzas to create the standard hymn known today.  Taking as his inspiration a doxology from the pseudo-Pauline letter of 1 Timothy, “To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever,” Smith creates a hymn of strong praise to God who creates and sustains the lives of all his creatures. The text focuses on the creator of the universe whose visible works in nature testify to his majesty and glory and juxtaposes this with the nearly-apophatic notion of God’s invisible and unknowable essence hidden by the divine light which blinds the senses of mortal beings.  To Smith, however, this “hiddenness” of God was not the final word on the subject, as is evidenced by the now-omitted, concluding lines from his original 5th and 6th stanzas:

“But of all thy good graces this grace, Lord, impart –

Take the veil from our faces, the veil from our heart…

And now let thy glory to our gaze unroll;

Through Christ in the story, and Christ in the soul.”


14th Sunday after Pentecost – 2 Sep 12

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.


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