Season after Pentecost, 2023
There's a wonderful connection between St. Paul's, Richmond, and the English composer Herbert Howells.
The priest, author, editor, educator, hymn writer, and lecturer (thanks Wikipedia!) Walter Russell Bowie was born in Richmond, baptized at St. Paul's and was rector of the church from 1911-1923.
Among Bowie's best known hymns are "O holy city seen of John" and "Lord Christ when first thou cam'st to men". Both hymn texts were set to music by Herbert Howells.
"O holy city seen of John" appears in the Hymnal 1982 at Hymn 582 to Howells's SANCTA CIVITAS (though it is probably more often sung to MORNING SONG, the tune for that text at Hymn 583).
"Lord Christ when first thou cam'st to men" is often rendered as "Lord Christ when first thou cam'st to earth" in modern hymnals, including Rejoice in the Lord, a hymnal edited by edited by Erik Routley.
Routley pairs this with NEWNHAM a wonderful hymn tune that I have never heard nor seen anywhere before this week.
Howells's memorial stone in
photo by the author
Fittingly, Howells's tune is in minor.
And only Howells could write a tune that begins on III (G-flat Major) and moves to i (E-flat minor). Actually, I could go on about this tune at some length, but maybe that's another article for another time.
The text is clearly wildly successful -- and paired with this beautiful tune, even more so.
Having now studied the text more closely and in conjunction with this E-flat minor sound world, the sprightly D Major strains of MIT FREUDEN ZART (Hymn 598) are more than a little cloying and antithetical to the seriousness of what we're singing about.
Which of these things suggests a major key, exactly?
I suggest that we all take up the Howells tune, with appropriate copyright permissions cleared with Novello, of course, and hasten to teach this text-tune pairing to our congregations.
By the way, Bowie was born on this date in 1882. He lived until 1969, so I hope that he heard the Howells tunes for his two texts, which were written in 1962 (Groves Dictionary) or 1964 (Rejoice in the Lord).
I wonder what he thought about them?
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