Repost: Two hymns

This hymn tune, usually known in the English-speaking world as the “Old 100th,” comes from from the 1551 Genevan Psalter, but has been adopted by many non-Calvinist Protestant denominations, and sung with a variety of lyrics. The words used in this arrangement, which was created by Ralph Vaughan Williams for Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, are standard in the Church of England:

All people that on earth do dwell,
Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice.
Him serve with fear, His praise forth tell;
Come ye before Him and rejoice.

The Lord, ye know, is God indeed;
Without our aid He did us make;
We are His folk, He doth us feed,
And for His sheep He doth us take.

O enter then His gates with praise;
Approach with joy His courts unto;
Praise, laud, and bless His Name always,
For it is seemly so to do.

For why? the Lord our God is good;
His mercy is for ever sure;
His truth at all times firmly stood,
And shall from age to age endure.

To Father, Son and Holy Ghost,
The God Whom Heaven and earth adore,
From men and from the angel host
Be praise and glory evermore.

Although the entire arrangement is amazing, I particularly like the part is when the trumpet countermelody enters at around the two-minute mark.

Both the music and the words to this hymn (technically known as a “fuguing tune”) are the work of William Billings (1746-1800), who is often described as the United States’ first composer:

When I with pleasing wonder stand
And all my frame survey
Lord, ’tis thy work, I own thy hand
Thus built my humble clay

Our life contains a thousand springs,
And dies if one be gone.
Strange that a harp of thousand strings
Should keep in tune so long.

With its open, primitive harmonies, Billings’s music bears many similarities to the shape-note hymns that are still used by Southern Baptists today. Although a brilliant and creative musician, he had no formal musical training, resulting in a sturdy, austere, and rough-hewn music which invites easy comparisons—in fact, they almost feel too easy—to the spirit of pilgrims and pioneers.

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5 thoughts on “Repost: Two hymns

  1. Old Hundredth was part of our recent-ish matrimony according, of course, to the Book of Common Prayer. (Yes, 1662! There are others?)

    Not Southern Baptists but rather the Puritans gave us this supremely abject melody of praise and worship.

    No worship song dare compare to those tunes tested by time to inspire piety, fear, dread, hope, love, faith, charity … I am happy to have come of age knowing them. ’tis a pity the younger Christians likely will never know them.

  2. We used to sing it as the Doxology at school. (Well, at the school I boarded at in my last two years before uni.) Different words though –

    Praise God from whom all blessings flow
    Praise Him all creatures here below
    Praise Him above ye heavenly host –
    Praise, Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

    ‘Sing’ is perhaps an inaccurate description – we *belted* it out in an exceedingly vigorous fashion. A great song.

    Benjamin Britten has derived inspiration from this song as well as Ralph Vaughan Williams – he uses it in his Miracle Play operetta, Noye’s Flood, very effectively. Probably other composers have used it as well.

  3. Vaughn Williams and Billings are 2 of my favorite composers and their work is timeless. Their hymns warm the heart and spirit and stand in stark contrast to the shallow BOOM LAKA-LAKA of contemporary rock and roll worship.

    Once upon a time hymns were called sacred music, and with good reason.

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