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Hymn of the week: “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing”

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A lively English tune from the 18th century.

O for a thousand tongues to sing
my great Redeemer’s praise,
the glories of my God and King,
the triumphs of his grace!

The beauty of 18th-century polyphonic music has no bounds. Written by Charles Wesley, in 1739, “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing” is traditionally sung on the Fourth Sunday of Lent.

Wesley was a leader of the Methodist movement who is known for writing the text to over 6,000 hymns. He wrote an 18-stanza text, “Glory to God, and praise and love,” to commemorate the first anniversary of his conversion. It is from this poem that “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing” draws its lyrics.

While several tunes are associated with the hymn, this version was set to music by Thomas Jarman, a tailor by trade whose father was a minister. The joy he took in his composing is clear to hear in the tune, which goes by the name “Lyngham.” It follows the form of a fugue, beginning with chords and then moving to imitative lines that require part singing as well as repetition of some of the textual phrases.

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