Commentary from “The Bench Warmer” — Hymn #82
by Jason Gunnell, Organist
Here we come to another of the all-time great hymns in hymnody. Tremendous text is coupled with an outstanding tune to combine for a wonderful hymn. This text has eight verses in the Hymnal 1982 and eleven verses in the original text. It was written as a processional hymn by Anglican Bishop William W. How.
The tune by Ralph Vaughan Williams was left unattributed in the first publication it appeared in, as Vaughan Williams was the editor of that hymnal and “was reluctant to let it be known that he was the tune’s composer.” Since it originally appeared without the composer’s name, the tune is known as SINE NOMINE, Latin for ‘without a name.’”
This hymn is unique in that it has both harmonization for unison singing and harmonization for part singing, both harmonizations masterful in their construction. This is widely considered one of the greatest tunes in hymnody, and rightly so.
I don’t know why the suggested tempo in our book is so wide, but I think the upper range of the suggestion is a good tempo for this stately tune. Quarter note equal to 116 beats per minute is a nice, robust tempo for this tune and it’s great walking bass line. A strong plenum is recommended, pulling back on inner verses, utilizing chorus reeds on the final verse.
Registration Starting Point:
Great: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Mixture
Swell: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Flute 8’, String 8’, Mixture, Hautbois 8’
Pedal: Principal 16’, 8’, 4’, Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’, 16’ Reed
Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Mixture, Trumpet 8’
Swell: Mixture, Bassoon 16’, Clairon 4’
Pedal: 32’ Flue and Reed, Heavy Reed 16’