21 February 2015

Through Lent with Vaughan Williams
(4): ‘Jerusalem, thou City blest’

‘No sun, in all his radiance bright, / Thy glory could reflect’ … sunset at Skerries Harbour last week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

For my reflections and devotions during Lent this year, each day I am reflecting to 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 [21 February 2015], I have chosen the hymn ‘Jerusalem, thou City blest,’ which is set to the tune ‘Newbury’ in the New English Hymnal (No 228).

Yesterday, I was reflecting on the hymn, ‘There is no moment of my life,’ by the late Father William Brian Foley (1919-2000), which is set to this tune by Vaughan Williams in the Irish Church Hymnal (No 19). But he first harmonised ‘Newbury’ for the English Hymnal in 1906, and set it to ‘The Maker of the sun and moon’ by Laurence Housman (1865-1959).

This tune is one of the many folk melodies arranged by Vaughan Williams. He found it in a collection published by Miss MG Arkwright in the Journal of the Folk-Song Society. There it was used for a Christmas carol, ‘There’s six good days set in a week,’ also known as the ‘Hampshire Mummers’ Carol.’

‘Jerusalem, thou City blest’ is similar to a hymn with the same name written by the Revd Edward Caswall (1814-1878), but this hymn is attributed to the Editors of the New English Hymnal, where it first appears.

The New English Hymnal, published in 1986 by the Canterbury Press, is the successor to the 1906 English Hymnal. Its general editor was the then chairman of the English Hymnal Company, George Timms, and the musical editor was Anthony Caesar, assisted by Arthur Hutchings, Christopher Dearnley and Michael Fleming.

The English Hymnal (1906) was edited by Percy Dearmer and Vaughan Williams, and was seen as the musical companion to Dearmer’s practical guide to liturgy, The Parson’s Handbook.

‘The music is intended to be essentially congregational in character …’ Vaughan Williams said in the opening words of his preface. The high quality of the music is due largely to his work as musical editor. The standard of the arrangements and original compositions made it one of the most influential hymnals of the last century. The hymnal included the first printing of several arrangements and hymn settings by Vaughan Williams.

Today’s hymn is particularly recommended for holy days, and verse 6 is suitable for a saint’s day.

Jerusalem, thou City blest,
Fair home of God’s elect!
No sun, in all his radiance bright,
Thy glory could reflect.

In thee no sickness may be seen,
No hurt, no ache, no sore;
In thee there us no dreads of death,
But life for evermore.

The blessed saints, who’ve run the race,
With glory there are crowned;
No tongue can tell, nor heart conceive
What joys in thee they’ve found.

God is their sun, and Christ their light,
They see him face to face;
The Spirit’s perfect bond of love
Doth every heart embrace.

O happy ones, in heaven who dwell,
Pour forth for us your prayer,
That God our Father through his Son,
May bring us with you there.

And praise and honour be to him
Whom earth and heaven obey,
For that blest saint whose festival
Doth glorify this day.

Tomorrow:O God of earth and altar

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