Season after Pentecost, 2023
The tune: sawtooth. Up and down and back up again. And then down again. And then up.
We're talking here of that wonderful hymn tune LONDON NEW. Have a listen if you don't know it:
The first appearance of this tune was in John Playord's Psalms & Hymns in Solemn Musick of Foure Parts (London, 1671).
The Hymnal 1982 Companion informs us that the "English form of the tune has remained enormously popular since Playford's time". It first appeared on American shores in 1721 and was reprinted in 52 different sources before 1811. The tune was even more popular in England.
In the Hymnal 1982, you can find it at Hymn 50, to the words "This is the day the Lord has made". But it is perhaps best known as the tune for the hymn "God moves in a mysterious way," the words of William Cowper, found at Hymn 677.
The word of "God moves" first appeared in the American Episcopal Church in the 1826 Hymnal, but they were not paired with the tune LONDON NEW until the publication of Hymns Ancient and Modern.
It was this pairing that Benjamin Britten firmly fixed with the composition of his cantata St. Nicolas in 1948. The cantata concludes with the hymn sung by all, including the audience.
Imogen Holst said of the premiere of St. Nicolas “the crowning glory of the work came at the end, when the listeners were drawn into the singing of 'God Moves In a Mysterious Way,' and the frozen hearts in the audience-congregation became unfrozen.”
Perhaps the tune does have a gentle warming effect. It's regular rise and fall like the pumping of a bellows on a warm fireplace in winter.
It is not the only tune to have this contour. See also YORK (Hymn 462).
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