Music Notes for Sunday 5/8/2011
We sang the Sanctus (Holy, holy, holy) today to a different melody, and will be doing so for the next few Sundays. The tune is very familiar, both to us and the Christian world at large, appearing in many different contemporary hymnals and supplements. It is probably one of the most frequently sung of 19th century American hymn tunes, likely due to its ease of learning and great appeal.
It was originally a pentatonic melody (a five-note scale using tones 1,2,3,5, and 6 of modern scales) known since ancient times, much used in Asia and by French composer Claude Debussy, who heard it in France in the later 1800s and used it in much of his music (not sure about how it arrived in North America).
Here’s some of the history of this very appealing tune. It first appeared in a Methodist hymnal collection in 1836, and was included in several other collections during the rest of the 19th century (including one with the stunningly misguided title ‘The Casket’), usually with a text beginning “’O land of rest, for thee I sigh.’ It also appeared in the major American hymn collection of the time, ‘The Sacred Harp.’
Most contemporary Christians know the tune to the words “I come with joy to meet my Lord” (Hymnal 1982, H-304), to one of the greatest of modern hymn texts, written by prominent hymn author Brian Wren.