October 28, 2018
How Great Thou Art
The original text of this hymn is by Carl Gustav Boberg. It was written in 1885 as a result of his experience in a midday thunderstorm where moments of flashing violence were followed by a clear brilliant sun. After the storm he heard the song of birds in nearby trees. Shortly after this experience he wrote the nine-stanza poem “O Store Gud.” Several years later, he was visiting Varmland and was surprised to hear the congregation singing his poem to an old Swedish folk melody. He later published the poem in 1891.
The hymn was translated into German by Manfred von Glehn and then into English by Rev. E. Gustav Johnson as “O Mighty God, When I Behold the Wonder” (1925). In 1927, I. S. Prohanoff translated the German version into Russian. Stuart Wesley Keene Hine (b. 1899), the author of the most popular English version, was a missionary to Russia. He and his wife often sang the Russian text as a duet as they worked among the Ukrainian people. The first three stanzas of his English version were written prior to 1939. With the outbreak of World War II, Hine returned to England, where he wrote the fourth stanza after the war.
In 1974 the hymn was picked as the most popular in America by the readers of Christian Herald magazine. The tune, O Store Gud, is an old Swedish melody long associated with both the original Swedish and the present English texts.
Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee
The text was written by Henry van Dyke in 1907 while he was guest preacher at Williams College, in the Berkshires. Tertius van Dyke told the story that his father “came down to breakfast one morning and placed the manuscript on the table before President James Garfield, saying: ‘Here is a hymn for you. Your mountains were my inspiration. It must be sung to the music of Beethoven’s “Hymn to Joy.” It was first published in Poems of Henry van Dyke (1911).
Hymn to Joy was written by Ludwig van Beethoven in the final movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, which premiered with Beethoven directing on May 7, 1824. It was published two years later. This was his last public concert. The story goes that after the final movement great applause erupted but Beethoven, by now totally deaf, continued conducting. The contralto soloist, Caroline Unger, walked over to him and gently turned him around toward the audience.
Sir George Grove stated:“His turning around and the sudden conviction thereby forced on everybody that he had not done so before because he could not hear what was going on acted like an electric shock on all present. A volcanic explosion of sympathy and admiration followed which was repeated again and again, and seemed as if it would never end.”
Hymn of Promise (In the Bulb there is a Flower)
“Hymn of Promise” was first conceived as an anthem in 1985. Long known as a composer of anthems, especially for children, Natalie Sleeth was a native of Evanston, Illinois. She began piano study at the age of four and gained much of her musical experience by singing in choral ensembles during her earlier years. She received her B.A. in music theory, piano, and organ at Wellesley College in Massachusetts.
She studied music theory and choral arranging at Southern Methodist Univ.. Choristers Guild published her first anthem, “Canon of Praise,” in 1969, the highest selling anthem in the history of this publisher. Her choral works for all ages number more than 200. Sleeth received honorary doctorates from West Va. Wesleyan College and Nebraska Wesleyan College.
“Hymn of Promise” was written at a time when the author states that she was “pondering the ideas of life, death, spring and winter, Good Friday and Easter, and the whole reawakening of the world that happens every spring.” Inspired by a T.S. Eliot line, the germ of the hymn grew from the idea “in our end is our beginning,” the phase that begins the third stanza of the hymn.
Shortly after its composition, the composer’s husband was diagnosed with what turned out to be a terminal malignancy. Ronald Sleeth requested that “Hymn of Promise” be sung at his funeral service.
Here I Am, Lord
The text and tune of this hymn were written by Daniel L. Schutte in 1981 for a diaconate ordination at Oakland Cathedral in 1980.
Daniel L. Schutte grew up in Milwaukee and studied at Jesuit seminaries in Minnesota, St. Louis, and Berkeley, California. He was ordained a priest and served in the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in southwest South Dakota. He is now a layperson. Schutte is a member of the Roman Catholic Liturgy Conference and presently serves as a musician and music director for Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Milwaukee. He writes poetry and music.
The harmonization of Schutte’s tune is by Michael Pope, Daniel L. Schutte, and John Weissrock.
Until the time of his death at the age of eighty-two, John Newton never ceased to marvel at the grace of God that had so dramatically transformed him from his early life as an African slave trader to a “proclaimer of the glorious gospel of Christ.” This was always the dominant theme of his preaching and writing.
In 1779, assisted by his friend and classic literary writer, William Cowper, Newton published a well-known collection titled Olney Hymns. “Amazing Grace” was one of the nearly three hundred hymn texts written by Newton for that collection. Though the text comes from England, the tune is an early American folk melody. It was known as a plantation song titled “Living Lambs.” It was first united with John Newton’s text in 1831.The final stanza found in most hymnals, “When we’ve been there ten thousand years… ” was added by an American, John P. Rees, and first appeared in 1859 in the Sacred Harp collection.
All Creatures of Our God and King
The origin of this hymn text is known as “Canticle of the Sun” by Francis of Assisi. The poem was written in 1225 a year before his death. Blind and quite ill, he took refuge from the sun in a hut in the monastery gardens. The shelter was built by Clara, the first woman to take the vows of his order.
Then one day after a long conversation with Clara he took his place at the monastery table. The meal had hardly begun when suddenly he seemed to be rapt away in ecstasy, which lasted for some minutes. Then coming to himself, he cried, “Praise be to God!” He had just composed the Canticle of the Sun.
The English paraphrase was made by William Draper (c. 19IO) for a children’s Pentecost Festival in Leeds. It was first published in Hymns of the Spirit (1926). “Lasst Uns Erfreuen” is from Geistliche Kirchengesang (1623) and harmonized by Ralph Vaughan Williams.
In the Garden
The author and composer, C. Austin Miles, left the following account: “One day in March, 1912, I was seated in the dark room where I kept my photographic equipment and organ. I drew my Bible toward me; it opened at my favorite chapter, John 20. As I read it that day, I seemed to be part of the scene.
“My hands were resting on the Bible while I stared at the light blue wall. As the light faded, I seemed to be standing at the entrance of a garden, looking down a gently winding path, shaded by olive branches. A woman in white, with head bowed, hand clasping her throat as if to choke back her sobs walked slowly into the shadows. It was Mary; leaning her head upon her arm at the tomb, she wept. Turning herself, she saw Jesus standing; so did I. I knew it was He. She knelt before Him with arms outstretched and looking into His face cried, “Rabboni!”
“I awakened in full light, gripping the Bible with muscles tense and nerves vibrating. Under the inspiration of this vision I wrote as quickly as the words could be formed and finished the poem as it has since appeared. That same evening I wrote the music.”
Lord, You Have Come to the Lakeshore
This hymn was written by Cesareo Gabarain in 1979. He had traveled to Galilee and was moved by the experience of being at the seaside where some of the disciples had been called. Upon his return to Spain he wrote this text. Gabarain told others this was the favorite Spanish hymn of Pope Paul VI.
“Pescador de Hombres” was composed by Gabarain for his text. The harmonization is by Skinner Chavez-Melo and was first published in the Spanish hymnal of the Episcopal Church.
Skinner Chavez-Melo was born in Mexico City but spent most of his life in the United States. He was educated at Eastern Nazarene College and Union Theological Seminary School of Sacred Music.
Skinner taught at Manhattan School of Music and then at Mannes College of Music, both in New York City. Chavez-Melo edited hymnals for the Episcopal Church and Songs of Hope and Peace for the United Church of Christ. When he died he was working on a Spanish Methodist hymnal.
Fairest Lord Jesus
This text has been traced to the Jesuits in Munster, Germany. A handwritten copy from 1662 and a published collection from the Munster Gesangbuch (1677) date its origin. The original had five stanzas and began “Schonster Herr Jesu.” This translation first appeared in Richard Storrs Willis’ Church Chorals and Choir Studies (1850). Another translation by Dr. Joseph A. Seiss beginning “Beautiful Savior! King of Creation” was published in The Sunday School Book of the American Lutheran General Council (Philadelphia, 1873).
“Crusaders’ Hymn” was published in the Leipzig collection Schlesische Volkslieder (1842) with the altered text mentioned above. In the preface to the collection, Hofmann, the editor, stated, “In the summer of 1836 I visited a friend in Westphalia. Toward evening I heard the haymakers singing – I made inquiries. They sang folk songs which seemed to me worthy of being collected.” How far back this melody goes cannot be determined.
This Is My Father’s World
This text by Maltbie D. Babcock is part of a much longer poem in the collection Thoughts for Everyday Living published shortly after his death.
Maltbie Davenport Babcock was born in Syracuse, New York, and educated at Syracuse University (1875) and Auburn Theological Seminary. He was ordained to the Presbyterian ministry and held pastorates in Lockport, New York, and Baltimore before succeeding Henry van Dyke at New York City’s Brick Presbyterian Church. He was there only eighteen months when he died while visiting Naples, Italy.
“Terra Beata” was adapted from an English folk song by Franklin L. Sheppard, who learned it as a child from his mother.