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No. 17: A Review of the New Trinity Hymnal, Part 2

Rite Reasons, Studies in Worship, No. 17
October 1991
Copyright (c) 1991 by Biblical Horizons

(continued from Rite Reasons No. 16)

Historical Periods of Hymnology

Timothy Dwight, 1800

New Trinity Hymnal #353, v. 2 and 4

The best brief review of hymnology is found in Erik Routley’s The Music of Christian Hymns. Because the book is written in English he deals almost exclusively with hymns that were written by English-speaking composers or hymns that have standard English translations. We believe that most Christians have very little idea of the rich heritage available to them because their music leaders have not explained it to them. Many church musicians probably are not aware of their heritage either. Routley gives roughly the following outline of the historical periods of hymnody:

Plainsong Hymnody

The Late Middle Ages–carols and hymns

Lutheran chorales

Calvinist Psalters

Early English and Scottish Psalmody 1549-1564

Developed Psalm Tunes 1564-1677

Unofficial Psalters and hymnbooks 1560-1637

Psalmody after the Restoration 1677-1738

German Hymnody 1600-1850

J. S. Bach

English Evangelicalism 1738-1800 (Wesley)

Roman Catholic Hymnody 1680-1850

English Psalm and hymn tunes (1800-1860)

English Hymnody, Oxford movement (1860-1890)

Victorian composers

Edwardian composers

Welsh hymn tunes

American hymnody 1776-1900

New England style

Appalachian folk hymns

Black Spirituals

Gospel songs

England, 20th century Renaissance 1900-1930

Other English Hymnody 1900-1955

American, Canadian and Australian hymnody in the 20th century

English church music since 1955

How many of these categories did you sing from last Sunday? Even this wealth of material is a fraction of what could be available with good translations. The musical heritage handed down by the church is rich and varied and is continually being expanded by composers of our generation.

The Kingdom Model and the Work of the Priest as Guard

We learn in Genesis 2:8-14 that God divided the world into three regions: the sanctuary, the home, and the workplace. Certain types of activity are proper to each sphere. Work tasks do not belong in the midst of sanctuary worship just as home duties do not belong in the workplace. Certain types of music fit the workplace, others the home, and still others the sanctuary. Music serves varying functions in the different regions of our lives. In the context of this review we are concerned about music for the sanctuary.

Adam was to guard the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15). He failed at that task, so God placed cherubim at the east of the garden to guard it after Adam fell. God later raised up a priesthood to guard the sanctuary. Now we are all priests and thus we are all given the responsibility to guard the sanctuary. This is a very unpopular thing to do in the area of music. One of us was called a snob by a member of the hymnal revision committee for suggesting that trained musicians among God’s people are to act as guards. In this age of relativism most Christians do not believe in holding up a standard in this area.

Perhaps the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers has led to an egalitarian view of our gifts, talents, and training, and we have allowed people who do not understand the raw materials of music and God’s pattern for shaping them to produce music for God’s sanctuary. When God instructed Moses to build the Tabernacle, He did not say to let everyone contribute, but He chose Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah and filled him "with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability, and knowledge in all kinds of crafts. . . . So Bezalel, Oholiab, and every skilled person to whom the LORD has given the skill and ability to know how to carry out all of the work of constructing the Sanctuary are to do the work just as the LORD has commanded" (Exodus 35:31; 36:1).

Evaluation of the New Trinity Hymnal

With this background let’s now return to our original complaints about the old Trinity Hymnal and see what has been done in the revision.

Typesetting: Perhaps the best thing about the new Trinity Hymnal is the improved set up. The hymnal is much easier to read. It was set up on a computer using the software Finale, FreeHand, Word, and Pagemaker. The type for the music is Petrucci and the text is in Times and Helvetica. Printing was done by Dickinson Press, Inc., in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The type is larger, and no more than five lines of text are placed between staves (though this is still too many, and works a hardship on ordinary pianists and organists). All in all, however, this is a great improvement from the old Trinity Hymnal. (For a truly easy-to-read hymnal, however, look at the 1958 Service Book and Hymnal of the Lutheran Church in America, still one of the best hymnals ever put together.)

Overabundance of nineteenth century hymns: One of the bigger disappointments to us was that the preponderance of 19th century hymns in the OTH was made even worse in the NTH. Nearly half of the hymns come from only one century. The American Gospel song, the Victorian style, and Lowell Mason and his school are particularly over-represented. There are too many other styles that were neglected to justify this.

Too few twentieth century hymns: The committee has made a real effort to rectify this problem. Many fine modern hymns were added. We were personally sad not to see represented many of the fine Lutheran composers of today such as Jan Bender, David Johnson, Carl Schalk, Walter Pelz, and Paul Manz, and also some of the major British contributors, such as Herbert Howells and John Ireland. Perhaps the texts for some of their hymns were not acceptable to the theological advisors.

Too few Genevan psalm tunes: The old Trinity Hymnal contained only six Genevan Psalm tunes [OTH #1 (#348), #72 , #148 (#246), #511, #512, and #514]. One was added to the NTH and one was subtracted. We were told by a member of the committee that these tunes were too hard for most congregations. Some of them are indeed difficult and take some study and patience to learn. Many, however, are just as accessible as the tune for Psalm 134, known in English speaking circles as Old Hundreth (All People that On Earth Do Dwell). Numerous Christian schools use the rhythmic Genevan tunes, and the children love them.

"No Longer, Lord, Despise Me" (OTH #511) (Geneva Psalm 6) is one of our personal favorites from the Psalter. The rhythm of this psalm tune, as well as all the others represented, needed to be restored to the original, but we do not understand why it was removed altogether. The hymnal designed for two Calvinistic denominations really should include more of their musical heritage. The Genevan Psalter is a treasure-trove and is available in English translation. Book of Praise: Anglo-Genevan Psalter (1984), a complete translation of the Genevan Psalter using the original Genevan melodies, is available from Premier Printing Ltd., One Beghin Ave., Winnipeg, Manitoba, R2J 3X5.

The tune that was added is a setting of the Ten Commandments (NTH #724). This is a very useful addition and acquaints you with the Genevan tune to Psalm 140. The rhythm here is also close to the original.

Too few Scottish Psalms: By this we mean that there are too few tunes from the Scottish Psalter of 1929. Two tunes from the Scottish psalters of 1615 and 1635 were added to the NTH. One of the few pairings of a text with its commonly sung tune, "Behold! The Mountain of the Lord," (OTH #272) was not carried into the new hymnal. (The 1929 Scottish Psalter is available from Oxford University Press. A marvelous compact disc will introduce you to the beauty of these psalm settings: Psalms of Scotland, performed by the Scottish Philharmonic Singers directed by Ian McCrorie; Abbey SCSCD 2830.)

Important Chorales–Additions and Deletions: The NTH adds many of the great chorales but unfortunately deletes some of the few that were in the old hymnal. The chorale style is a rich heritage from the Protestant Reformation. The melodies have provided source material for composers down to the present generation.

The chorale style was used extensively during the Reformation and often follows the pattern of AAB or "bar" form. `A’ represents the melody of the first line, which is then repeated (the second A). This is followed by B, a contrasting melodic phrase usually twice the length of A. Often B will close with the same melodic cadence as closes A. Thus there is unity and diversity built into the chorale form making it easy to learn because of the repetition but interesting by way of contrast in the sections. "A Mighty Fortress" is a good example of the bar form.

"O God, My Faithful God" (NTH #602) is an addition and is an example of a finely crafted hymn both textually and musically. The text was written by Johann Heermann (1585-1647), a German pastor who was undergoing severe trials at the time. The Thirty Years’ War had produced havoc in his town of Koben, and he lost all his possessions on more than one occasion. The text of "O God, My Faithful God," is scriptural in sentiment and expression. In this (altered) English translation by Catherine Winkworth (1858), Heermann refers to God as the "true fountain ever flowing." The believer seeks God’s help in bearing the cross instead of trying to bear it by his own fortitude and determination. Although it is a devotional prayer, it is also objective in its praise to God because of the great attributes ascribed to His name. It does not become overly personal or sentimental in character, but remains universal so that all believers can sing it. One can expect a good hymn when it is authored by Johann Heermann and translated by Catherine Winkworth.

This particular chorale does not use the bar (AAB) form. The melody is well constructed with four phrases. The tension builds to the end of the third phrase and then is brought to rest in the fourth phrase creating good drama in the music. The harmonization is by J. S. Bach, always a good choice for a hymn.

The NTH adds three chorale tunes that are particularly good: "Soul, Adorn Yourself With Gladness" (NTH #421), "From Depths of Woe I Raise to Thee" (#554), and "Jesus, Priceless Treasure" (#656).

"Soul, Adorn Yourself with Gladness", is based upon Revelation 19. Unfortunately the editors saw fit to use the translation as found in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), perhaps because they thought the original Winkworth translation was too archaic. (It isn’t.) The original is also nine stanzas instead of four as is found in the NTH. Are we afraid of spending an extra three minutes in praise and thanksgiving to the God who instituted the great Eucharistic feast so that we might enjoy His presence? Personally, we’d like to use the time singing to Him.

(The way to deal with hymns that have many stanzas, like "Ah, Holy Jesus" [NTH #248], which should have fifteen, is to place an asterisk next to the optional stanzas. That way the hymn can be used in its entirety sometimes, and in condensed form at other times. The best source for complete chorales is the 1941 Lutheran Hymnal of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, published by Concordia. These are un Copyrighted and can be photocopied for congregational use. Other long hymns that are unfairly shortened include "The Church’s One Foundation" [ten stanzas] and "The God of Abraham Praise [twelve stanzas].)

AUS TIEFER NOT is one of the greatest chorale melodies and fits the text of Psalm 130, "From Depths of Woe I Raise to Thee" (NTH #554) as well as any melody that we know. The opening drop of the fifth and subsequent ascending fifth is a beautiful depiction of being brought out of the depths of woe. The OTH had coupled this text with ALLEIN GOTT IN DER HOEH (OTH #461), a wonderful tune but a jarring mismatch with the text.

"Jesus, Priceless Treasure" (NTH #656) was found in the OTH but set to LINDEMANN. Although the Lindemann tune is very nice, it doesn’t fit as well as Crueger’s JESU, MEINE FREUDE. This would have been an instance where we probably would have opted for both tunes to be in the hymnal, but given the choice, the NTH has definitely made the right one (though it is too bad that not all six stanzas were included).

But the NTH does not contain several of the great chorale hymns found in the OTH, such as: "The People That In Darkness Sat" LOBT GOTT, IHR CHRISTEN (OTH #123), "Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates" MACHT HOCH DIE TUR (OTH #146), "Lord, Keep Us Steadfast In Thy Word" ERHALT UNS, HERR (OTH #91), and "Savior of the Nations Come" NUN KOMM, DER HEIDEN HEILAND (OTH #165).

Early Chorales "Pietized": Sixteenth century chorales and psalm tunes have a characteristic swing and vigor that was stopped cold in the 18th century by Pietists who thought the rhythms too complicated for congregational singing. "The hymns of Luther have had their wings clipped and have put on the straight-jacket of 4/4 time," as a writer put it in Evangelische Kirchenzeitung No. 84 (quoted by Carl F. Schalk, "German Hymnody," in Marilyn Kay Stulken, Hymnal Companion to the Lutheran Book of Worship [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1981], p. 32).

The original rhythms were restored in the hymnbooks of the Confessional Revival of nineteenth-century Germany. In many recent American hymnals (Lutheran Book of Worship, Augsburg, 1978; Lutheran Worship, Concordia, 1982), the rhythm of these hymns has also been returned to their original form. (The older Lutheran Hymnal [1941] of the LCMS also uses original rhythms.) Chorales and Genevan psalm tunes lose their delightful Renaissance swing when they are reduced to even quarter notes.

When we received the 1986 "Report on the Revision of the Trinity Hymnal," we were glad to see that the editors were going to offer an alternate version of "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" (NTH #92). In its original version (which you can see in the 1941 Lutheran Hymnal and more recent Lutheran hymnals), this truly magnificent hymn is full of dance-like vitality. Its variable rhythms sound like syncopations to our ears. But alas, in the NTH, stodgy tradition has won and we have lost the opportunity for a fresh look at an old friend. The difference between the original and the "Pietized" version is akin to the difference between the fresh clear colors of the restored Michelangelo Sistine Chapel and the dark muddy way it had come to look before the restoration. This same criticism applies especially to "Comfort, Comfort Ye My People" (NTH #197), and "If Thou But Suffer God to Guide Thee" (NTH #670). (Compare the way this last hymn sounds when sung from either Trinity Hymnal with its beauty as sung in the wonderful film, Babette’s Feast. It is hard to believe that the square, pound-each-note style of the Pietists could mow down such a lilting, bouyant tune!)

Incomplete Representation of the Psalms in Music: The Preface to the NTH, p. 8, says that the committee "sought to preserve the completeness of each section in the hymnal and the priority of Psalms and Psalm-based hymns." Yet the NTH does not come even close to including all the psalms in singing versions. Look at the list on pages 900-901 and see how many complete psalms, or even psalm portions are listed, as opposed to mere one-verse allusions. How can a hymnal in the Reformed tradition be put together without all 150 Psalms represented within its pages? With a selection of over 700 hymns and the expressed priorities of the committee, we would think that room could have been made for all 150 Psalms. Contrast the 1987 Psalter Hymnal of the Christian Reformed Church, which not only contains all 150 psalms (some more than once, and usually with very good music), but also has 46 other scripture portions set as metrical hymns, including the Song of Hannah, the Song of Jonah, and many parts of Isaiah and New Testament passages. Additionally there are 404 hymns. This is a far better example of a Reformed hymnal!

Incomplete Psalter Readings: Not only are only a few psalms represented in singing versions, but not even all the psalms are represented as responsive readings, perpetuating one of the strangest features of the OTH. Additionally, the NTH continues the odd practice of alternating whole verses, paying no attention to the parallelism of the Hebrew poetry of the psalms. James Jordan’s critique of the OTH was published in 1985, and called attention to the problem of the OTH’s inadequacies as a psalter (Jordan, "Church Music in Chaos"). Others have criticized this feature of the OTH as well. Evidently it was not given much weight by the committee.

Because of its amazing lack of a complete psalter, either sung of spoken, the NTH cannot be considered seriously as a Reformed or Presbyterian hymnal, if measured by Calvinistic history and doctrine.

Tunes Changed in the New Trinity Hymnal

Let us begin by mentioning several of the improvements in the NTH. The OTH was overloaded with nineteenth century hymn tunes that did not always best serve their texts. Many great texts have been joined now with equally great melodies. "At the Name of Jesus" (NTH #163) is now set to KING’S WESTON, a sweeping and uplifting tune by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Another great Vaughan Williams tune is SINE NOMINE, which is now joined with "For All the Saints" (NTH #358). The ancient text "Of the Father’s Love Begotten" (NTH #162) is rightly joined to its flowing and lovely Gregorian chant–one of the few plainsong melodies (sad to say) found in the NTH.

Some of the hymns from the OTH have been retained with improvements. We have never known anyone who sings the second line of "O Come, All Ye Faithful" (NTH #208) as it was in the old hymnal. Here the irregularities of rhythm and text are set right and the key is lowered.

"Great God of Wonders!" (NTH #82) has replaced the tune PATER OMNIUM with SOVEREIGNTY. The new tune expresses this magnificent text with music that is just as powerful as the text. BROTHER JAMES’ AIR has been added to the several tunes set for Psalm 23 ("The Lord’s My Shepherd, I’ll Not Want"; NTH # 86).

Some of the tune changes, however, are problematic. Unfortunately the editors of the new Trinity Hymnal decided that the Vaughan Williams tune KING’S WESTON ("At the Name of Jesus") would also be a good tune for NTH #285 (OTH #208) "Jesus, Lord, Redeemer." It fits the text well but there was no reason to change the tune (KIRKLAND) from the OTH since it fits as well if not better. We like for a tune to be wedded to a specific text so that the melody causes an association with particular words. Although we realize that it is a long-standing practice in Reformed circles (Genevan and Scottish Psalters), it bothers us to see one melody used for four or five texts, thereby weakening any associations made with that tune.

A similar example of an unnecessary tune change is "All Praise to God, Who Reigns Above" (NTH #4; OTH #4). Both tunes are good hymn tunes but LOBET DEN HERRN, IHR by Melchior Vulpius expresses the joy of this text beautifully and did not need to be changed. MIT FREUDEN ZART is also better associated with its original text by Georg Vetter "With High Delight Let Us Unite," a hymn that should have found its way into the new hymnal.

"Welcome, Happy Morning!" (NTH #268; OTH #199) is a hymn that needed a new tune but not NOEL NOUVELET, which was the choice of the new hymnal editors. This melody has too many associations with Christmas to be used with this text. There was a tune written specifically for this text by Arthur Sullivan called FORTUNATUS, which although not perfect, is better than any of the choices found in either of the Trinity Hymnals.

Some hymns were retained without improvements but with existing problems. A minor disappointment to us is that the wrong accidental in "All Glory Be to Thee, Most High" (OTH #92; NTH #102) in the fourth measure from the end was not corrected. The last bass note of that measure should have been an E-natural, not an E-flat. (As conductor Julian Craster says in the film The Red Shoes, "Makes all the difference, doesn’t it? Should be an E-natural.") Every time we hear it played as written it sets our teeth on edge. Also, though the Mendelssohn setting of this melody is beautiful, it destroys the original dance-like rhythm, which should have been restored by imitating the Lutherans.

Another hymn retained with an accretion is BRYN CALFARIA, the rugged Welsh tune used for several texts. The dreaded rit. (slow down) mark over the 8th phrase in the OTH has not been eliminated but has been moved back to include both the 7th and 8th phrases. One was bad enough! The slowing down negates the power and drive of the quick moving notes, and changes it from forceful to sentimental. Too bad.

Other tunes that were changed and should not have been are as follows:

Some tunes were left out altogether such as ISTE CONFESSOR, a great melody and one that fit the "Ah, Holy Jesus" text quite well (OTH #179a). There are many wonderful medieval and Reformation hymns that would be well matched with ISTE CONFESSOR.

(concluded in Rite Reasons No. 18)