Hymn of the Month

April-Easter
Good Christians, All Rejoice and Sing

This joyful hymn, which celebrates Christ's triumphant resurrection, first appeared in Melchoir Vulpius's hymnal Ein schoen geistlich Gesangbuch in 1609. The original text, "Gelobt sei Gott im hoechsten Thron" ("Praise Be to God Enthroned on High") is much older and ascribed to Michael Weisse, Bohemian Brethren minister and editor of the Brethren hymnal of 1531. The tune is still sung to this text in German-speaking countries, and it is under the "Gelobt sei" heading that most of the organ and choral settings of the hymn will be found. However, a variety of English translations and other texts exists, including this one ("Good Christians, All…") by Cyril A. Alington.

The writer of the hymn tune, Melchoir Fuchs (later Latinized to "Vulpius"), was born around 1570 in Thuringa, Germany, and became cantor of the city of Weimar in 1602. Vulpius, though not one of the major composers of his time, wrote a variety of very useful choral music for the church and some excellent hymn tunes.

This tune and text combine to create a strong, festive, jubilant hymn. The threefold meter of the melody is typical of other contemporary hymns expressing celebration, and this mode is enhanced by the "skipping" syncopations (bars 7, 11)and the "leaping" effect of the dotted rhythms in the "Alleluia" section. With few exceptions the hymn proceeds stepwise, and its ionic mode (C major), with its temporary modulations to the related key of G, has a modern ring. In choosing an appropriate tempo for the hymn, a good balance should be struck between liveliness, on the one hand, and an implicit strength that gives weight to the individual note, on the other.

This hymn is easy to learn. The following outline could be followed in acquainting the congregation with it during the month.

Week 1: The choir treats the hymn as an anthem (SATB, st. 1; SA, st. 2; TB on st. 3; SATB with the descant on st. 4).

Week 2: The organist plays the hymn, followed by a chorale prelude on the hymn tune:
J. Bender, The Parish Organist, vol. 8 (Concordia)
D. N. Johnson, ed. Music for Worship with Easy Pedals (Augsburg)
G. Krapf Five Pieces for Organ (Augsburg)

Week 3: The choir uses another choral setting of the chorale, even if the text is a different translation.Some possibilities follow:
L. Beveridge, "Now God Be Praised" (TTBB a ca-pella; Schirmer, EC 2195)
K. Davis,"Praise We Our God" (unison choir, descant, and keyboard; Schirmer, EC 1573)
V. Glaser,"Now God Be Praised" (SATB, keyboard; The Church Anthem Book, Oxford University Press)

Week 4: Choir and congregation combine with descant on the final stanza. A hymn con-certato is also possible, but on a different text: C. Schalk, "Christ Is the King" for congregation, organ, and brass (GIA G2644).

May-Ascension
Christ the Lord Ascends to Reign

The roots of this hymn reach back to the Middle Ages and even beyond. One of the earliest forms of early Christian hymnody was the "Alleluia," a song of praise in which the voice sings many notes to one syllable of the word (especially the u sound) in a free, embellished style. This style is an ancient pre-Christian one which is very typical for the Middle East. As Christianity spread from Rome to northern Europe, these Alleluias probably became even more ornate.

Many church musicians considered this style of singing too difficult and hard to memorize. They created new texts for the Alleluias (called "Sequences") with a syllable for each note. In the eleventh century one such Alleluia received an Easter text, "Victimae Paschali Laudes" ("Praise to the Paschal Victim"), allegedly by Wipo of Burgundy. The first phrase of that Alleluia appears as shown in modern notation:

Song Title Here

This hymn (plainsong) was a very effective one that later appeared in various forms and translations. In the Nuremberg Hymnal of 1543 it appears as a rhythmical German version of the plainsong:

Song Title Here

A shortened simplified German version, "Christus ist Er-standen" (Christ Is Arisen) seems to have existed even before the Reformation:

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With the creation of new German hymns for the Lutheran church, some of the old plain-songs were adapted and simplified for congregational use. Johann Walther, one of Luther's musical collaborators, made another version of "Victimae"(1534), which he considered "an improvement" on "Christus ist Erstanden."

The new version was entitled "Christ lag in Todes-banden" (Christ Jesus Lay in Death's Strong Bands) (Psalter Hymnal, 398; Rejoice in the Lord, 324):

Song Title Here

"Christus ist Erstanden" was well-established, however, and was printed in Michael Weisse's Bohemian Brethren Hymnal of 1531 and in Klug's hymnal of 1535 (this time as "Christ ist Erstanden").

An Ascension version of the text (with only one stanza followed by the Alleluia refrain) seemed to have existed already in the fifteenth century and appeared in Spangenberg's Zwolff Christliche Lobgesange, 1545: "Christ ascended to heaven. What did he send down to us?" The rising opening line of the music is suggestive of an ascending movement, which makes it appropriate for both Easter and Ascension.

Characteristic of the text is the brevity of the stanzas (4 lines) with a single Alleluia. An elaborate refrain follows the last stanza in which three alleluias replace the first two lines. Stanza 1 is triumphant and celebrative. The mood changes in the next two stanzas, which recall Christ's suffering, glorification, and mediation on our behalf (stanza 2), as well as his sacrifice as Lamb of God to liberate us from sin and guilt (stanza 3). Stanza 4 and the Alleluia refrain proclaim the joyful message of redemption.

Although the music of this hymn may not have the immediate appeal of the Vulpius melody, due to its older modal character

(Dorian), it is one that will be treasured in time and is worth working at. It may be introduced to the congregation in much the same way as the Vulpius hymn:

Week 1: Choir (unison or SATB)

Week 2: Organ arrangement, followed by congregation

Week 3: Choral setting, followed by congregation

Week 4: Hymn concertato (see insert)

The many choral and organ settings of the tune appear as "Christ ist Erstanden," "Christ Is Arisen" or "Victimae Paschali Laudes." Organ arrangements on the Easter text include the following:

J. S. Bach, Orgelbuechlein ('Tittle Organ Book"), 3 verses (Concordia)

M. Dupres, 97 Chorales, op. 28 (H. W. Gray)

H. Willan, Ten Hymn Preludes, vol. 3, (Peters)

J. Kloppers, 3 Plainsong Settings (Concordia)

Because no hymn con-certatos are available for the English Ascension text, I have written the one inserted in this issue. "Christ the Lord Ascends to Reign" is a concertato for congregation, four-part choir, trumpet, and two flutes (optional). The congregation is involved in the first and last stanzas, which represent the more exuberantly festive parts of the text. The choir (together with the organ and the flutes) sings stanzas 2—4. Stanza 2 (which speaks of Christ's suffering, followed by his triumphant ascension) is sung by the male choir voices in unison. Stanza 3 has a more pastoral character, dwelling on Christ's sacrifice as Lamb of God, liberation through his death, and the joy of redemption as a deep, inner experience. It is sung by altos and sopranos, alternately and combined.In stanza 4 all forces join for an exuberant climax.

June-Pentecost
Give Thanks to God, the Father

The tune of this excellent hymn was written by Johann Ebeling (1637-1676), whose collaboration with the hymn-text writer Paul Gerhardt produced some very fine hymns. Ebeling originally wrote this melody for another text by Gerhardt, "Merkt auf, merkt Himmel, Erde, und du, O Meeresgrund" ("Take note, take note, Heaven, Earth, and you, Bottom of the Sea") which deals with God's greatness and goodness.

In this tune, as in other melodies, Ebeling used a wide range for the voice and molded the melody to the words of the opening stanza is a descriptive way (e.g., building up toward the high note on "heaven," then dropping to the "bottom of the sea.") The melody has a youthful, folkloristic character.

In 1666 the melody was attached to another Gerhardt text, "Du meine Seele, singe," which is based on Psalm 146 and praises God for his love, mercy, and care. It is to this text that the melody is sung in German today.

The Psalter Hymnal text was written by James Quinn (b. 1919), a gifted Scottish Roman Catholic priest, who has written several hymn texts that are firmly based on Scripture. This text, based on Ephesians 1:3-14, deals with the gift of the Holy Spirit and his work in us to the end of time. In its present form the hymn conveys a sense of praise for God's greatness and his loving grace through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Since I could find no arrangements of this hymn tune, I have written a choral setting (pp.34) that may also be sung as a concertato. To convert the piece into a concertato for congregation, choir, two flutes, trumpet, and keyboard, follow this outline:

stanza 1: unison (congregation, choir, trumpet, and flutes) with four-part organ accompaniment
stanza 2: unison women with flute I on melody, flute II on descant, and organ
stanza 3: SATB with organ or unaccompanied on the choral setting
stanza 4: unison men with trumpet on descant, and organ
stanza 5: unison (congregation, choir, trumpet, flute I) and descant (sopranos and flute II) with organ

Following is a suggested schedule for introducing this hymn to your congregation:

Week 1: Choir on hymnal harmony
Weeks 2 & 3: Congregation
Week 4: Concertato

Excerpt

This excerpt is from the full score of the hymn concertato "Christ the Lord Ascends to Reign" by Jacobus Kloppers. It is available from CRC Publications (product number 24-3407) for $5.95. The choral score is included in as an insert in this issue of REFORMED WORSHIP.

Excerpt

Jacobus (Kobie) Kloppers is professor and head of the music department at The King's College in Edmonton, Alberta, as well as organist at St. John's (An-lican). Formerly Kloppers was professor of music at the University of Bloemfontein (South Africa), member of the Afrikaans Hymnal Revision Committee (1969— 1976), and organist/choir director in Reformed Churches in South Africa (1956-1961, 1966-1976) and Frankfurt, West Germany (1961-1966). While completing his doctorate in West Germany, Kloppers studied with Helmut Walcha.