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Hymn of the Week: ‘When In Our Music God is Glorified’

Deacon Greg Kandra - published on 10/28/17

This is my parish’s annual Choir Weekend: the choir will be singing at all five Masses, to drum up support for the year’s big annual fundraiser, our Christmas Concert in mid-December, sponsored by our Sacred Music Society.

The entrance hymn for the weekend Masses is this glorious rafter-raiser. A little history: 

Noted British hymnologist John Wilson (1905-1992) suggested that the Methodist poet and hymn writer Fred Pratt Green write a text to the tune ENGELBERG, composed in 1904 by the famous British composer Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924). Stanford’s tune had been well-known in the earlier 20th century until Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) composed the immensely popular SINE NOMINE in the same metre (sung to “For All the Saints”) for the English Hymnal (1906). Hymnologist J.R. Watson records that “Wilson urged Pratt Green to write a text for a Festival of Praise . . . which could be sung to Stanford’s neglected tune.” Pratt Green based his text on Psalm 150 but alluded to Mark 14:26 in stanza four of the hymn, a stanza recalling the hymn sung by the disciples at the Last Supper. The hymn, composed in 1972, first appeared in New Church Praise (1975) and in the single-author collection The Hymns and Ballads of Fred Pratt Green (1982) with the title, “Let the People Sing!” The opening line (called the incipit) originally read, “When in man’s music, God is glorified. . . .” Pratt Green reluctantly altered this to the current title for the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and this change has universally been accepted in North American hymnals. The Rev. Carlton Young, editor of the UM Hymnal, notes that the change in text, though an important “social witness” in the area of inclusive language, weakens the theological and aesthetic qualities of the hymn: 1) Theologically, “the change tends to weaken the affirmation that mere mortal musicians and their music may and often do glorify God”; 2) aesthetically, the wonderful alliteration between “man’s” and “music” paralleled by “God’s” and “glorified” is lost. Dr. Young speculates that this “text has probably been set in anthem form more than any other of the late twentieth century.”
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