Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Bicentennial of John Mason Neale

Today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of John Mason Neale, the greatest hymn translator of the 19th century and a pioneer of the Anglo-Catholic liturgical revival that followed the Oxford Movement.

Neale (January 24, 1818-August 6, 1866) was the son and grandson of evangelical Anglican priests. His ordained ministry included being the rector of Sackville College (an almshouse founded in 1609) and, 1855, founding the Society of St. Margaret, an Anglican women’s order that provided nurses to the industrial poor (and today has chapters in England and Boston). Both groups are this week holding events marking the occasion.

As an undergraduate at Trinity College Cambridge, he cofounded the Cambridge Camden Society (later the Ecclesiological Society) which he headed for many years. The society focused on the aesthetics of church worship — both architecture and liturgy — and was credited with spurring the English gothic revival of the 19th century. Much of this was disseminated through the society’s journal (The Ecclesiologist), published from 1841-1868, for which Neale was one of the primary authors and co-editor.

Neale spent considerable time researching ancient and medieval liturgies of both the Eastern and Western church, publishing a five volume set: A History of the Holy Eastern Church as well as various Western liturgies in Latin and English translation. However, he made his greatest impact as a hymn writer and translator.

Neale’s Hymn Compilations

Neale was a prodigious author, translator and editor of hymns. The books of original hymns included
  • Hymns for Children (1842) 
  • Hymns for the Sick (1843)
  • Hymns for Youth (1844)
  • Hymns for Children, Third Series (1845) 
His compilations of translations (mostly his own) include
  • Medieval Hymns and Sequences (1851)
  • Hymnal Noted (various editions, 1851-1856)
  • Carols for Christmas Tide (1853)
  • Carols for Easter Tide (1854).
  • Hymns of the Eastern Church (1862)
  • Hymns Chiefly Medieval on the Joys and Glories of Paradise (1865)
Most of these books are on Google Books or the Internet Archive.

Lasting Impact

Neale is the top source of hymn texts for most US or American Anglican hymnals published from 1861-2000. He is listed as the author or translator of 45 texts in Hymnal 1982, and his influence was greater in Hymnal 1940, The English Hymnal (1906) and particularly Hymns Ancient & Modern in its various editions from 1861-1904.

Among the hymns Neale translated are
  • All glory, laud and honor
  • Christ is made the sure foundation
  • Come ye faithful raise the strain
  • Creator of the stars of night
  • Good Christian Men, Rejoice
  • Good King Wenceslas
  • O come, O come Emmanuel
  • O sons and daughters, let us sing
  • Of the Father’s love begotten
  • That Easter Day with joy was bright
  • The Day of Resurrection
The accolades for Neale’s contributions are numerous, and I hope to summarize them another time.

Further Information

A good overview is provided by Julian’s A Dictionary of Hymnology; I have uploaded just the Neale entry here. Good capsule biographies are also found in and The CyberHymnal.

Two biographies by his daughters help considerably in understanding his history:
  • Eleanor A. Towle, John Mason Neale, DD: A Memoir, London: Longmans, Green, 1907. Available at Google Books.
  • Mary Sackville Lawson, ed., Letters of John Mason Neale, London: Longmans, Green, 1910. Available at Google Books and the Internet Archive.
They also supply the pictures that appear on Wikipedia and other websites (including the picture above from Towle’s memoir).

Because he died on August 6 (the Feast of the Transfiguration), the Anglican church remembers him on August 7. includes two prayers for Neale; the first appears taken from the Episcopal Church’s liturgies for lesser feasts and fasts:
Grant unto us, O God, that in all time of our testing we may know Thy presence and obey thy will; that, following the example of thy servant John Mason Neale, we may with integrity and courage accomplish what thou givest us to do, and endure what thou givest us to bear; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
Almighty God, beautiful in majesty, majestic in holiness, who Hast shown us the splendor of creation in the work of thy servant John Mason Neale: Teach us to drive from the world the ugliness of chaos and disorder, that our eyes may not be blind to thy glory, and that at length everyone may know the inexhaustible richness of thy new creation in Jesus Christ our Lord; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Second Thoughts about Three Kings

This time seven years ago, I wrote a blog post skeptical of two seasonal hymns — the Christmas hymn “In the Bleak Midwinter” and the Epiphany hymn “We Three Kings“. After several years both to learn and mature, during today’s Epiphany I observance I feel compelled to modify that earlier position.

What do we know about the visitors from the East?
  • Matthew 2 refers clearly to “wise men”
  • We assume there were three of them because there are clearly three gifts. 
  • There is no mention of kings
Rather than summarize the old post (available via the magic of hyperlinks), let me summarize the arguments as I now see them. Arguments against “three kings” are
  1. There is no mention of kings and if there were really kings they would be mentioned
  2. It is illogical to expect they are kings, either because multiple kings aren’t going to travel months (or years) to Jerusalem, or because “wise men” (magoi, μάγοι) aren’t going to be kings.
Let me come back to #1. For #2, one of our clergy points out that in some nations of the East, there would be multiple kings because a king is more like a governor, duke or prince than an emperor or pharaoh. Meanwhile, there are examples of wise kings in the line of David, and the rulers before Saul (the Judges) tended to be chosen for their wisdom rather than their inheritance.

Arguments in favor of the “three kings”:
  1. Tradition, dating to the first millennium. This is enough for many Anglo-Catholics.
  2. Predictions from the Old Testament
I was struck by the latter today, from both the psalm and old testament readings of morning prayer:
The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall give presents; * the kings of Arabia and Saba shall bring gifts. (Psalm 72:10)
A multitude of camels shall cover you,
    the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
    all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
    and shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord.  (Isaiah 60:6)
So the question is: is this prophecy fulfilled by the birth of Jesus? Such argument would require

  • Accepting the principle that OT prophesies are fulfilled by the NT
  • Concluding that these prophesies refers to a coming Messiah and not some other event
  • Deciding that this specific is fulfilled by the events of Matthew 2
The earlier posting was accurate in suggesting that many theologians and other Christians reject the idea of kings visiting Joseph, Mary and baby (or toddler) Jesus. It was inaccurate in suggesting that there was only one possible conclusion, because clearly more than one interpretation is possible. It also raised (but did not answer) the question of what doctrine should be presented in hymns if the theological issues are not conclusively resolved.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Name that tune! Advent edition

One source of confusion or anxiety among parishioners is when they hear a familiar hymn text with an unfamiliar tune — or a tune that’s familiar for some other purpose. Hence I’m starting an irregular series of blog postings on this topic that I’ll call “Name that tune!” With only a few hours left in Advent, I’ll look at how this impacts the beginning of the church year.

Back in 2009, based on The English Hymnal, Hymnal 1940 and Hymnal 1982, I listed 11 hymns as forming the canon of Advent:
  1. “Christ whose glory fills the skies”
  2. “Come, thou long-expected Jesus”
  3. “Creator of the stars of night”
  4. “Hark, a thrilling voice is sounding”
  5. “Hark the glad sound! the Savior comes”
  6. “Lo, he comes with clouds descending”
  7. “O come, O come Emmanuel”
  8. “On Jordan's bank the Baptist's cry”
  9. “The King shall come when morning dawns”
  10. “Thy kingdom come! On bended knee”
  11. “Wake, awake, for night is flying”
Here I’ll look at those hymns that list multiple tunes — in these 20th century hymnals, as well as the final CoE hymnal of the 20th century, the 1986 New English Hymnal. To this I’ll add the two most traditional 21st century Protestant hymnals: Lutheran Service Book (LCMS, 2006) and Book of Common Praise (REC, 2017).

Lo, he comes with clouds descending (H40: 5)

This 1758 text by Charles Wesley has two tunes. By far the most common is Helmsley, which dates to at least 1769 if not 1765. It is found in three editions of Hymns Ancient & Modern: 1861 (#31), the Standard Edition (#51), and 1904 edition (#52). It is also in The English Hymnal (#7) and New English Hymnal (#9). This is beautiful tune – the one on all the recordings — but as I wrote in 2010, a hard one for congregations to sing without a practiced choir.

However, the Americans like St. Thomas — the tune I grew up with, which is much easier to sing. (It also listed as an optional alternate tune as a footnote in TEH). It is the only tune listed in the U.S. Hymnal 1916 (#57). Thus, Hymnal 1940, Hymnal 1982 and Book of Common Praise 2017 have both: 5.2/5.1, 57/58, 4/5 respectively. Unfortunately, while TEH has a harmony, H40 dropped it — a mistake repeated by H82. Fortunately, BCP17 restores the TEH harmony.

Come, thou long expected Jesus (H40: 1)

This Charles Wesley hymn is the first in Hymnal 1940. In the Church of England, it appears in only the Standard Edition of A&M (#640) and then not again until the New English Hymnal (#3), which has two tunes: Halton Holgate and Cross of Jesus (neither familiar to me).

Instead, Hymnal 1916 introduces the hymn (#55) with the tune Stuttgart, which is the only tune listed by Hymnal 1940 (#1), Hymnal 1982 (#66) and Book of Common Praise 2017 (#57).

However, my daughter complained that her ACNA church, there are so many former Southern Baptists that they have to sing the Baptist version. The 1975 Baptist Hymnal lists Hyfrodol (“Love divine”) as hymn #79, honoring Methodist practice which has same tune in the 1939 The Methodist Hymnal (#84), the 1966 The Methodist Hymnal (#360), and the 1989 United Methodist Hymnal (#196). The 1966 hymnal lists Stuttgart as the alternative.

Meanwhile, the LSB (#338) lists Jefferson from Southern Harmony.

On Jordan’s bank, the baptist’s cry (H40: 10)

For this favorite, the English and US Anglicans are all in agreement: Winchester New from 1906 through 2017. Somehow the 1940 (The Lutheran Hymnal) and 2016 (LSB) LCMS hymnals instead use Puer Nobis. Similarly, “The King shall come when morning dawns” (H40: 11) is sung with the tune St. Stephen in H40, H82 and BCP17, while the LSB uses Consolation.

Hark the glad sound! the Savior comes (H40: 7)

In the 20th century, there was clear agreement: Bristol is the tune used by The English Hymnal, Songs of Praise (Enlarged Edition) and New English Hymnal in the COE, as well as Hymnal 1940 and Hymnal 1982 in ECUSA. However, the REC’s 2017 Book of Common Praise chooses Richmond; the text was also in the 1915 and 1940 edition of the REC hymnal, but doesn’t list the tunes.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Kings College Cambridge: 100th Annual Lessons & Carols

On Christmas Eve, King’s College Cambridge will conduct its Festival of Nine Lessons & Carols service. First started in 1918, this will mark the 100th service.

The service starts at 3pm GMT, 10am EST, 7am PST, and will be broadcast live by BBC 4, over FM in the U.K. and over the Internet. By my calculation, it will be the 90th broadcast on the BBC.

The program includes a detailed history of the service. It helpfully notes that since 1919, each service has begun with “Once in royal David’s city.”

The readings from the Authorized Version will overlap with those used over the past 20 years, but with slight variations. For example, as in 1997-2007, the first reading is Genesis 3:8-19 with the omission of Genesis 3:16, which was included last year:
And unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.
Consistent with the best practice that KCC itself established, the congregation will have its own chance to join in the singing. This year, the congregation hymns are:
  1. Once in royal David’s city (verses 3-6)
  2. O little town of Bethlehem (Vaughan Williams’ Forest Green, not the American St. Louis)
  3. God rest you merry, gentlemen
  4. O come, all ye faithful
  5. Hark! the herald angels sing
Except for “God rest” replacing “While watched their flocks”, the hymns are the same as last year.

The descants are slightly different; I am beginning to realize that while big church music directors keep familiar tunes to satisfy their (paying) congregation members, they feel no constraint to keep familiar descants (which only impact 25% of their choir). KCC music director Stephen Cleobury made the following choices
  1. Same as last user: used his own descant
  2. Substituted his own descant, to replace Thomas Armstrong’s from the printed New English Hymnal
  3. No descant
  4. Kept the arrangement and descant by David Willcocks (choir director 1957-1973), as published in Willcocks & Rutter (1987: 226-227)
  5. Substituted his own descant (also used in 2013 and 2014) instead of the descant by Philip Ledger (choir director 1974-1982) used in 2016 and 2012 — or the Willcocks descant (also from Willcocks & Rutter) used in 2015, 2011, 2010 and 2009
Our family is looking forward to beginning our Sunday with King’s College and their beautiful service, before we drive to our own Advent 4 service (and later on, I drive back to sing Midnight Mass).


David Willcocks & John RUtter, eds., 100 Carols for Choirs, Oxford University Press, 1987.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

A Cause for Caroling: BBC Reprises Xmas Radio Series

Back in December 2013, the BBC 4 radio ran a 10-part series entitled “A Cause for Caroling.” Hosted by Oxford choir director (and former choirboy) Jeremy Summerly, it traces the history of Christmas carols. It was really interesting, and — allowing for the strong point of view – I learned a lot.

Under the BBC business model, it was only available for a 30 days on and then blocked in favor of selling a two hour CD on Amazon’s UK or US website. However, it came back in December 2015 — and starting on Dec 11, the BBC began making the episodes available for 30 days each.

Below I provide the official abstracts of the series and the ten 15-minute episodes. The BBC also originally released two one-hour “omnibus” episodes — which separately summarize week 1 and week 2 — but these have not been available since 2013.
Below are the abstracts for the 10 episodes

1. A Carol’s a Carol, to Begin With

The first programme in a ten part series in which choral conductor and scholar Jeremy Summerly tells the story of the Christmas Carol in Britain. He begins by trying to capture something of the caroling traditions of today and then heads back into the misty caroling past discovering what he believes is the first carol in the English language.

2. Spreading the Medieval Word Made Flesh

The second programme in Jeremy Summerly's ten part series tracing the history of the Christmas Carol in Britain. Today he discovers the impact of the Franciscans in using the carol to make the birth of Jesus a focus for the church and harnessing the energy of popular music to that end.

3. From Coventry to Agincourt

In the third programme in the series Jeremy finds a developing professionalism in carol singing and writing in the details of a manuscript held by Cambridge University, and he reveals the background of the Coventry carol's mystery play setting. The combination of energetic drama and more refined singing men makes this period a caroling golden age but with clouds on the horizon.

4. Carol Crisis? What Crisis?

In the fourth programme in the series Jeremy describes the impact of the Reformation and later Puritan attitudes to music in general and carols in particular. The development of the Medieval carol may have been arrested but there was never a serious threat to folk caroling and it wasn't long after the Commonwealth that carols, or rather one particular carol, was back in church.

5. The Ghosts of the West Gallery

In the fifth programme of his series telling the story of the Christmas Carol Jeremy Summerly visits Dorchester where Thomas Hardy captured the caroling tradition that had matured through the 17th and 18th century but which faced extinction in the 19th. The West Gallery tradition of musicians and singers in parish churches was an integral part of community life in Hardy's Wessex as elsewhere. Jeremy explains the origins of that tradition and the fuguing carols so beloved at the time and why it was that their days were numbered.

Along with folk musician Tim Laycock he gets to see the carol manuscripts from which Hardy's great grandfather played and sang on Christmas night in 1800.

6. A Second Golden Age

In the sixth part of his story of the Christmas Carol Jeremy Summerly reaches the 19th century and publications of old folk carols from what was thought to be a dying tradition. However, by mid-century, with the Tracterean movement in the Church of England at its height the carol and the singing of carols was once again hugely popular. It was the publication of a 'Christmas Carols New and Old by Henry Ramsden Bramley and John Stainer in 1867, that marked the height of another caroling golden age. However, it was now big business and there were reputations at stake when folk carol collectors saw their work hoovered up by the might of Bramley and Stainer. Jeremy also tells the story of the little 16th century Finnish manual 'Piae Cantiones' that provided a series of memorable re-workings of fifteenth century words and melodies, including In Dulce Jubilo and Good King Wenceslas.

7. Folk Carol Survival and Revival

In the seventh programme in his series describing the gathering history of the Christmas Carol in Great Britain Jeremy Summerly returns to the Gallery tradition that was squeezed out of 19th century Church worship but steadfastly refused to die. It's now in rude health in several parts of the country but nowhere is it more energetically sustained than in South Yorkshire and Derbyshire. With the guidance of Dr Ian Russell who holds folk carol festivals and the enthusiasm of pub carolers who sustain the tradition Jeremy shares a pint and a clutch of fuguing carols which flower happily in the 21st century while having roots in the 18th and 19th.

He also finds out about an American offshoot of the gallery style that's been preserved in the icy blasts of Pennsylvannia USA since it was first seeded there in the middle of the 19th century.

8. The Birth of Nine Lessons with Carols

In the eighth programme of his series charting the development of the Christmas Carol in Britain Jeremy Summerly reaches the critical moment at which the 19th century enthusiasm for carols sung in church resulted in a vehicle in which they could take a leading role. It was developed by Bishop Benson of Truro who, in 1880 found himself holding services in a huge wooden shed while a new cathedral was being built next door. To celebrate the new diocese and capture the enthusiasm he recognise in the nonconformist tradition of carol singing in Cornwall, Benson developed a narrative service running from Adam's original sin to the birth of Christ and the impact of the word made flesh.

Jeremy visits Truro and then follows Benson's service to the moment in 1918 when a war-wearied Dean of King's College Chapel, Cambridge, Erich Milner-White decided to use the service as part of his college's Christmas celebrations. The changes he made survive to this day.

9. Import and Export

The penultimate programme in Jeremy Summerly's series tracing the history of the Christmas Carol in Britain. Jeremy picks up the story in the first half of the 20th century with carols from all over the world becoming more popular in this country much to the irritation of Ralph Vaughan Williams who continued to champion the folk tradition, albeit in a refined choral form. This was a time when the grandeur of Victorian caroling gave way to a leaner aesthetic with the Oxford Book of Carols being published in 1928, the same year in which the BBC broadcast the King's College, Cambridge Nine Lessons and Carols for the very first time. As it became an established favourite the carols used, gathered in many cases over centuries, become known both nationally and indeed internationally.

10. Ring in the New

Jeremy Summerly concludes his history of the carol in Britain pondering the success of new carols over the last century. While King's College, Cambridge organist Stephen Cleobury insures a supply of newly commissioned carols for his massive international audience Jeremy wonders whether the popular songs from Berlin's 'White Christmas' to Slade's 'Merry Christmas' don't help sustain a more genuine caroling tradition.

He also recalls his own first experience of carols at Lichfield cathedral where John Rutter's 'Shepherd's Pipe Carol' was an astonishing discovery for the eager young chorister.

And Jeremy also ponders the continued appeal of the carol and why, while it's been in decline throughout its history, it continues to thrive.