06 September 2022

Praying with USPG and the music of
Vaughan Williams: Tuesday 6 September 2022

‘Leave the gloomy haunts of sadness / Come into the daylight’s splendour’ … early morning on Stowe Pool in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

Today, the Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship remembers Allen Gardiner (1851), founder of the South American Mission Society, with a Commemoration.

Before today begins, I am taking some time this morning for reading, prayer and reflection.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose music is celebrated throughout this year’s Proms season. In my prayer diary for these weeks I am reflecting in these ways:

1, One of the readings for the morning;

2, Reflecting on a hymn or another piece of music by Vaughan Williams, often drawing, admittedly, on previous postings on the composer;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

The Apostles and Evangelists in two sets of icons in the tiny Church of the Twelve Apostles on the island of Gramvousa off the north-west coast of Crete (Photographs: Patrick Comerford; click on images for full-screen view)

The Gospel reading for today in the lectionary as adapted by the Church of Ireland is:

Luke 6: 12-19 (NRSVA):

12 Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God. 13 And when day came, he called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles: 14 Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew, and James, and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, 15 and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Simon, who was called the Zealot, 16and Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.

17 He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.

Today’s reflection: ‘Deck thyself, my soul with gladness’

For my reflections and devotions each day these few weeks, 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).

This morning [6 September 2022], I invite you to join me in listening to the hymn ‘Deck thyself, my soul with gladness,’ for which Vaughan Williams arranged a setting of the tune Schmücke dich.

If you sing the hymn with attention, it is really impossible to come away gloomy. It has the effect that its words intend – inviting us to ‘leave the gloomy haunts of sadness’ and rejoice in the opportunity to come and receive the Holy Communion, which Christ has provided for us by his great goodness and humility.

The original words in German were written by Johann Franck, 1649 (Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele), and were translated into English by Catherine Winkworth, who had them published in Lyra Germanica (1858) and The Chorale Book for England (1863).

The original melody by Johann Crüger is found in his Geistliche Kirchen-Melodien (Berlin, 1649). Johann Sebastian Bach used the tune for one of his most celebrated organ chorales, the fourth of his 18 chorales (BMV 654), and also in Cantata 180. Schumann once described this ‘as priceless, deep, and full of soul as any piece of music that sprang from a true artist’s imagination.’ Mendelssohn declared that ‘if life were to deprive me of hope and faith, this one chorale would bring them back.’

Many other composers have written organ chorale preludes on this tune, including Johannes Brahms, Sigfrid Karg-Elert and Peter Hurford.

Vaughan Williams harmonised this tune for the first edition of the Engish Hymnal in 1906, and this harmonisation is used for the hymn in the New English Hymnal (No 280) and in the Irish Church Hymnal (No 445), where it has been edited as ‘Soul array thyself with gladness.’

Later, Vaughan Williams arranged a setting of Schmücke dich for cello and strings, which was first performed in London on 28 December 1956 in honour of the 80th birthday of Pablo Casals.

Johann Franck (1618-1677) was born at Guben, Brandenburg, the son of Johann Franck, a lawyer and councillor. After his father died in 1620, he was adopted by his uncle, the Town Judge, Adam Tielckau, who sent him to schools in Guben, Cottbus, Stettin and Thorn. In 1638, he began studying law at the University of Königsberg, the only German university left undisturbed by the Thirty Years’ War. There he was known for his religious spirit and his love of nature.

After his return from Prague in May 1645, he began practising as a lawyer. In 1648, he became a burgess and councillor, in 1661 burgomaster, and in 1671 was appointed the deputy from Guben to the Landtag (Diet) of Lower Lusatia. He died in Guben in 1677.

As a hymn writer, he displays firm faith, deep earnestness, finished form, and noble, pithy, simplicity of expression. His hymns are marked by a personal, individual tone and a longing for the inward and mystical union of Christ with the soul.

Johann Crüger (1598-1662) was born in Gross-Breese, near Guben. After his education in Guben, Sorau and Breslau, the Jesuit College in Olmütz, and the Poets’ School at Regensburg, he made a tour in Austria, before settling in Berlin in 1615. He was a private tutor until 1622, when he was appointed Cantor of Saint Nicholas’s Church, Berlin, and a teacher in the Greyfriars Gymnasium. He died in Berlin in 1662.

Although Crüger wrote no hymns, he was a distinguished musician and composer of hymn tunes, including Nun danket, the setting for ‘Now thank we all our God’ in the New English Hymnal (No 413) and the Irish Church Hymnal (No 361).

Catherine Winkworth (1829-1878), who translated thus hymn, was born in London, the daughter of Henry Winkworth, of Alderley Edge, Cheshire. She spent most of her early life in the Manchester area, and later moved to Clifton, Bristol. She died in Monnetier in Savoy in July 1878.

Deck thyself, my soul, with gladness,
Leave the gloomy haunts of sadness,
Come into the daylight’s splendour,
There with joy thy praises render
Unto him whose grace unbounded
Hath this wondrous banquet founded;
Higher o’er all the heavens he reigneth,
Yet to dwell with thee he deigneth.

Now I sink before thee lowly,
Filled with joy most deep and holy,
As with trembling awe and wonder
On thy mighty works I ponder;
How, by mystery surrounded,
Depths no man hath ever sounded,
None may dare to pierce unbidden
Secrets that with thee are hidden.

Sun, who all my life dost brighten:
Light, who dost my soul enlighten;
Joy the sweetest man e’er knoweth;
Fount, whence all my being floweth;
At thy feet I cry, my Maker,
Let me be a fit partaker
Of this blessèd food from heaven,
For our good, thy glory, given.

Jesus, Bread of Life, I pray thee,
Let me gladly here obey thee;
Never to my hurt invited,
Be thy love with love requited:
From this banquet let me measure,
Lord, how vast and deep its treasure;
Through the gifts thou here dost give me,
As thy guest in heaven receive me.

Street art in Rethymnon in Crete … Sunday 4 September marked the beginning of Creation Season (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayer, Tuesday 6 September 2022:

The theme in the USPG prayer diary this week is ‘Season of Creation,’ was introduced on Sunday by the Season of Creation Advisory Committee.

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

During this season of creation, may we take extra care in how we treat the environment. Let us recognise how much we depend on the earth and all it gives us.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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