Sunday, 29 March 2015

Through Lent with Vaughan Williams (40):
‘At the name of Jesus’ (‘Kings Weston’)

Early spring buttercups in front of the main front of Kings Weston House (Photograph: Kings Weston Action Group)

Patrick Comerford

For my reflections and devotions each day during Lent this year, I am reflecting on and invite you to listen to a piece of music or a hymn set to a tune by the great English composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958).

There is a complicated set of readings in the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) for this morning, Palm Sunday [29 March 2015].

For the Principal Service, the readings provided for the Liturgy of the Palms are: Mark 11: 1-11 or John 12: 12-16; and Psalm 118: 1-2, 19-29. And for the Liturgy of the Passion, the readings are: Isaiah 50: 4-9a; Psalm 31: 9-16; Philippians 2: 5-11; and Mark 14: 1 – 15: 47, or Mark 15: 1-39 (40-47).

In the reading from Saint Mark’s Gospel for the Liturgy of the Palms, the crowd shouts out:

‘Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
– (Mark 11: 9-10)

As I prepare to take part in this morning’s Eucharist in Christ Church Cathedral, and as I read this Gospel passage, I am also listening to Caroline Noel’s hymn, ‘At the name of Jesus,’ for which Vaughan Williams composed the tune Kings Weston. This arrangement was published in Songs of Praise (1925), and the combination of text and tune in a hymn-anthem has become a favourite for choirs in many cathedrals, churches and colleges.

Kings Weston is marked by distinctive rhythmic structures and a soaring climax in the final two lines. Like many of Vaughan Williams’s tunes, it is best sung in unison with moderate accompaniment to support this vigorous melody.

The name of the tune refers to a manor house on the River Avon River near Bristol. It was built between 1712 and 1719 was designed by Sir John Vanbrugh for Edward Southwell on the site of an earlier Tudor house, remodelled in 1763-1768 by Robert Mylne and again between 1845 and 1850 by Thomas Hopper. A significant architectural feature of the house is the grouping of all the chimneys into a massive arcade.

The house passed through several generations of the Southwell family until the estate was sold in 1833 to Philip John Miles for £210,000, and became the family seat. During the World War I, the house was converted into a hospital, although the house continued as a family home until 1935.

The last member of the Miles family to live at Kings Weston was Philip Napier Miles (1865-1935), who lived there with his wife Sybil. He was a gifted musician and composer who had a wide circle of friends from a musical background and many of them came to stay at the house. The long library at Kings Weston was such a frequent venue for recitals that it was better known as the music room.

Napier Miles was a great-grandson of the peninsular war general from Celbridge, Co Kildare, General Sir William Francis Patrick Napier (1785-1860), a first cousin of Lord Edward FitzGerald and a direct ancestor of Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury. He studied music in Dresden, and on his return to England studied under Hubert Parry. He was a recognised composer, and his work included several operas. Westward Ho! (1913) received positive reviews after it was performed at the Lyceum in London. Another opera, Markheim, received a Carnegie award in 1921.

His friends included some of the great composers, conductors and musicians of the day. Vaughan Williams was among the regular visitor to Kings Weston, and on one visit in 1920 he revised and completed one of his most famous pieces, ‘The Lark Ascending,’ with the help of the English violinist Marie Hall (1884-1956), who had studied under Edward Elgar and was Napier Miles’s musical protégé.

They were staying at Kings Weston as guests of Napier Miles, and Vaughan Williams arranged to ‘The Lark Ascending’ to showcase her skills, dedicating it to her. The piano-accompanied premiere was on 15 December 1920, in Shirehampton Public Hall, near Bristol, which was built by Napier Miles in 1902. While it received little attention at the time, today it is regularly voted Britain’s favourite piece of classical music.

Vaughan Williams also published a melody in 1927 that he named after Kings Weston. This was written especially for Caroline Noel’s hymn, ‘At the name of Jesus.’

When Philip Napier Miles died, Kings Weston was bought by Bristol Municipal Charities and leased for use as a school. It later became the Bristol Technical College School of Architecture and then the Bath University School of Architecture. In 1970, Bristol Corporation bought the house for £305,000 to set up a police training centre. The house was abandoned from 1995 for five years before it was leased and partially restored by local businessman John Hardy.

Since 2012, the house has been extensively renovated again and has opened as a conference and wedding venue.

Fenton Hort, a portrait by George Percy Jacomb-Hood in Trinity College, Cambridge ... his Biblical scholarship changed the title and wording of this hymn

Caroline Marie Noel (1817-1877) wrote this hymn originally as a processional hymn for Ascension Day.

The text is based on the confession of faith Saint Paul quotes in Philippians 2: 6-11, which may well have been an early Christian hymn. Stanza 1 announces the triumph of the ascended Christ to whom “every knee should bow” (Philippians 2: 10). In stanza 2, Christ is the “mighty Word” (see John 1: 1-4) through whom “creation sprang at once to sight.” Stanzas 3 and 4 look back to Christ’s humiliation, death, resurrection, and ascension (Philippians 2: 6-9). Stanza 5 is an encouragement for submission to Christ, for us to have the “mind of Christ.” Stanza 6 looks forward to Christ’s return as “King of glory.” The text is not only concerned with the name of Jesus, whose saving work it confesses, but also with the glory and majesty that attends “the name of Jesus.”

This hymn was first published in 1870 in an enlarged edition of her collection The Name of Jesus, &c. It appears in the Irish Church Hymnal as ‘In the name of Jesus’ (No 94), but in the New English Hymnal it has the title ‘At the Name of Jesus’ (No 338).

Why does this popular hymn have two different names?

The verse in Philippians 2: 10 says in the original Greek: ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι Ἰησοῦ (en to onomati Iesou). This is translated in the Authorised or King James Version of the Bible as: “at the name of Jesus.” However, when the Revised Version (RV) of the Bible was published in 1881, mainly under the guidance of the Cambridge theologians Brooke Foss Westcott (1825-1901) and the Dublin-born Fenton John Anthony Hort (1828–1892), these words were translated more accurately as: “in the name of Jesus.”

Fenton Hort entered Trinity College Cambridge in 1846, and in 1852 became a Fellow; Westcott too had been an undergraduate and later a Fellow of Trinity, where Vaughan Williams would later become a student.

Caroline Noel died four years before Westcott and Hort published the Revised Version in 1881. She must have used the words found in the KJV, but when the hymn was published in the 1903 edition of Church Hymns (London), her family asked for the change, and this is how it was introduced to the repertoire of the Church of Ireland in 1915. So an Irish-born Cambridge theologian may have influenced the change of name in one of the most popular Anglican hymns.

Caroline Maria Noel was born in Teston, Kent, on 10 April 1817, the daughter of Canon Gerard Thomas Noel (1782-1851), and niece of the hymn writer the Revd the Hon Baptist Wriothesley Noel (1798-1873). These two brothers, who were born into a large, aristocratic family of 18 children, were evangelical hymn writers in their own right; although Gerard was an Anglican priest all his life, Baptist was a barrister who later became a Church of England before becoming a Baptist minister and later President of the Baptist Union.

At the age of 17, she wrote her first hymn, ‘Draw nigh unto my soul.’ Over the next three years she wrote about a dozen hymns or poems. Then, from the age of 20 to the age of 40, she wrote nothing. At age of 35, she became an invalid, and five years later, she once again picked up her pen to write hymns that would comfort people in their sickness and illness. In her last 20 years, she wrote the rest of her hymns and poems.

The first edition of her hymns was published as The Name of Jesus and Other Verses for the Sick and Lonely (1861). This was enlarged from time to time, and its title was subsequently changed by her publishers to The Name of Jesus and Other Poems (1878).

Caroline Noel, like Charlotte Elliott, suffered greatly, and many of her verses reflect those days of pain. They are specially adapted “for the Sick and Lonely,” and were written for private meditation rather than for public use, although several are suited to the public worship of the Church.

She died at 39 Great Cumberland Place, Hyde Park, on 7 December 1877, and is buried beside her father in Abbey Church, Romsey, Hampshire, where he had been the vicar for many years.

Strangely, this hymn is not what we would expect in a collection aimed at comforting the sick and the lonely. Instead, it is a hymn about Christ and how he bore his suffering on the cross so that he might rise victorious over death.

Both the Irish Church Hymnal and the New English Hymnal suggest the tune Evelyns, composed by William Henry Monk for this hymn at the publication of Hymns Ancient and Modern in 1875. The Irish Church Hymnal offers as an alternative tune ‘Camberwell,’ which was written in 1960 by the Revd John Michael Brierley (born 1932) while he was a student at Lichfield Theological College. He named that tune in honour of the Revd Geoffrey Beaumont (1903–1970), then the Rector of Saint George’s, Camberwell. Beaumont is remembered for composing his Twentieth Century Folk Mass in an attempt to make the Mass relevant to churchgoers in the 1950s, while he was the chaplain of Trinity College, Cambridge, where Vaughan Williams was once an undergraduate.

The New English Hymnal uses the tune Evelyns for ‘At the name of Jesus’ (No 338), but offers ‘Kings Weston’ by Vaughan Williams as an alternative setting for this hymn. Instead, The New English Hymnal uses ‘Kings Weston’ as the setting for Godfrey Thring’s hymn, ‘From the eastern mountains’ (No 50).

This tune is marked by distinctive rhythmic structures and a soaring climax in the final two lines. Like many of Vaughan Williams’s tunes, it is best sung in unison with moderate accompaniment to support this vigorous melody. The combination of Noel’s words and Vaughan William’s tune make this a festive hymn or anthem, and it is a favourite among many choirs.


Kings Weston, ‘At the name Of Jesus,’ by Cardiff Festival Choir

At the name of Jesus
Every knee shall bow,
Every tongue confess him
King of glory now;
’Tis the Father’s pleasure’ We should call him Lord,
Who from the beginning
Was the mighty Word.

At his voice creation
Sprang at once to sight,
All the angel faces,
All the hosts of light,
Thrones and dominations,
Stars upon their way,
All the heavenly orders,
In their great array.

Humbled for a season,
To receive a name
From the lips of sinners
Unto whom he came,
Faithfully he bore it
Spotless to the last,
Brought it back victorious
When from death he passed;

Bore it up triumphant
With its human light,
Through all ranks of creatures,
To the central height,
To the throne of Godhead,
To the Father’s breast;
Filled it with the glory
Of that perfect rest.

In your hearts enthrone him;
There let him subdue
All that is not holy,
All that is not true:
He is God the Saviour,
He is Christ the Lord,
Ever to be worshipped,
Trusted, and adored.

Brothers, this Lord Jesus
Shall return again,
With the Father’s glory,
With the angel train;
For all wreaths of empire
Meet upon his brow,
And our hearts confess him
King of glory now.

Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God,
who, in your tender love towards the human race,
sent your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ
to take upon him our flesh
and to suffer death upon the cross:
Grant that we may follow the example
of his patience and humility,
and also be made partakers of his resurrection;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ,
you humbled yourself in taking the form of a servant
and in obedience died on the cross for our salvation.
Give us the mind to follow you
and to proclaim you as Lord and King,
to the glory of God the Father.

Tomorrow: ‘Dona nobis pacem’ 1, ‘Agnus Dei’

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