During this time whilst we can’t sing together in worship we are aiming to post a different hymn each week. For some Sundays it will be the obvious hymn in Common Praise for a particular Sunday and a brief commentary – partly with reference to The Penguin Book of Hymns edited by Ian Bradley, The Nation’s Favourite Hymns by Andrew Barr or research on the internet – will be published with our hymn choice for the week. The words of the hymn will be provided alongside a recording of the hymn, courtesy of Lucy Colbourne at home whilst Lancaster University is in lockdown. This will have been recorded by Billy Colbourne (Assistant Organist) and includes use of his Hauptwerk organ also at home, with the sounds of Salisbury Cathedral’s organ.
Charles Pavey – Organist & Choirmaster
All Creatures of Our God and King
All creatures of our God and King,
Thou rushing wind that art so strong,
Thou flowing water, pure and clear,
Dear mother earth, who day by day
Let all things their creator bless,
W H Draper based on St Francis of Assisi
Music: Melody from an Easter hymn
CCLI - 1073121
It’s perhaps the wrong way round to consider the hymn tune before the words but it is significant that the fine music that accompanies All Creatures of Our God and King appears in Holy Trinity’s hymnal, Common Praise, two other times as it is set to two other hymns: the equally well-known Ye Watchers and ye Holy Ones and the Easter hymn Light’s Glittering Morn bedecks the sky. The greatest characteristic is the repetition of ‘Alleluia’ and ‘O praise him’ both in the middle and the end of all the verses. Also, if your musical interest goes beyond the tune itself, any altos, tenors or basses are asked to alternate between the melody and the harmony every two lines or so. This is not particularly obvious in the recording but there’s no doubting how the soaring melody line is maintained above the organ. The hymn tune is entitled Lasst Uns Erfreuen (literally translated let’s be happy) and is also known by the title Easter Song. It first appeared in a tune-book called Geistliche Kirchengesang in Cologne in 1623. Its first appearance in this country – and we’ve heard this said more than once before – was its inclusion in the English Hymnal of 1906 when the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) arranged the music and married it to the words of this hymn (and also Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones mentioned above).
So to the words of All Creatures of Our God and King. The presence of God in creation is the obvious theme here, as it is in this week’s Anthem for the Week, A Gaelic Blessing, whose first line is ‘Deep peace of the running wave to you’. The hymn was written by St Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) and is based on Cantico di fratre sole (Canticle of the Sun). Also known as the Canticle of Creation, it takes much of its imagery from Psalm 148 and the first four verses were said to have come to him during an hour of ecstasy after he had kept vigil for forty nights in his rat infested hut in San Damiano near Assisi, Italy. St Francis, remembered for his love of animals, was son of a wealthy merchant. But having renounced all earthly possessions he, in his own words, married Lady Poverty. He then went on to found the order of poor brothers known by his name and this became one of the largest religious orders in all Christendom.
The first translation of this hymn into English was made by Matthew Arnold in 1865 but the freer and more singable translation we know today was made by William Henry Draper (b. Kenilworth, Warwickshire, 1855; d. Clifton, Bristol, 1933). He put the words together whilst he was rector of Adel, Yorkshire for a Whitsuntide festival of school children in Leeds. He was influenced by the Oxford Movement – the High Church or Catholic revival that swept through the Church of England in the mid-1800’s – which encouraged the translation of great canticles and hymns from the early church. We’ve also heard it said more than once, but as Draper could translate from Greek and Latin, he has enabled many ancient hymns (with suitably impressive music) come to life in the English language.
Charles Pavey - Organist & Choirmaster