A Hymn Published Before The Composer Was Born

A Hymn Published Before The Composer Was Born

Hymn #32 -- "The Happy Day at Last Has Come"

Text: Phil Dibble (1806-1895; LDS)
Music: Ebenezer Beesley (1840-1906; LDS)
Tune name: ANIMATION

I only recently realized that the first Latter-Day Saint hymnal, the one Emma Smith published, was not a hymnal that had any musical notes in it. The whole thing was a book of hymn texts.

When I first had a look at the birth and death dates of the poet and composer of this hymn combined with the comment "Included in the first LDS hymnbook, 1835," I wondered how Ebenezer Beesley could have written the hymn. He wasn't born until 1840. Maybe he was composing int he pre-existence?

Then I remembered that the first hymnal didn't have any musical settings. The Ebenezer Beesly tune ANIMATION was first printed with this hymn text in the 1889 Latter-day Saints' Psalmody

Karen Davidson discusses several changes to the text made for the 1985 hymnal (Our Latter-Day Hymns, pg. 61). The title and 1st line used to be "The happy day has rolled on" and the word "rolled" had to be spread out over 2 big syllables, which created an awkward singing pronunciation of this word.

The second sentence of the 1st verse used to read "The glorious period now has come" rather than "The truth restored is now made known." 

The final bit of the 3rd verse used to read "When God his strange work would perform." They swapped out "strange" for "great."

The final line of verse 4 used to read "Come down to converse hold with men" and was changed to "Come down to speak again with men."

Each of these changes provides substantial improvements.

How about the music?

The music is delightful and an improvement on the last Ebenezer Beesley hymn we analyzed, #16, "What Glorious Scenes Mine Eyes Behold."As in hymn #16, the 3rd phrase of hymn #32 employs a pedal point in the men's parts. In hymn #16, the pedantic way in which the pedal point was used really bothered me. But this time around, 4x-great-grandfather-in-law made the pedal point section much more interesting. I quite like it.

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So what did he do this time that makes it better? The last one emphasizes the 1 chord too much for my taste. The whole exciting point of a 'pedal point' is to get away from the 1 chord in the higher voices but tether the harmony down with repeated Do notes in the bass. If you use too much 1 chord in the upper voices, it doesn't take advantage of the opportunity the pedal point offers. And last time the tune kept circling back on itself, a bit like a broken record. This time, it has more of a complete phrase with somewhere to go.

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My favorite feature of this hymn is the use of melisma. What's a melisma? It's a type of text setting. Rather than giving every syllable of text a note of its own, a melisma offers several notes on one given syllable. Some melismas go on and on, like in Handel's "Messiah;" "For, un-to us a child is born - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - ." 

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Hymn #32's melismas are not as long as Handel's, not even close. Yet the combination of the 2/2 time signature, the extended syllable melismas, and the occasional dotted rhythm give the music a bright lilting quality that I enjoy. Phrase 1 starts with a 3 note melisma on the word "day" with the bass and alto joining in the fun. Phrase 2 has another melisma, this time a little longer.

The soprano and tenor make an upward sweep on the word "restores" which depicts the meaning of the text nicely, the restored truth being "made know." A melisma is a great way to depict any kind of proclaiming or shouting to the world.

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After the pedal point section, phrase 3, we get the most interesting part of the hymn, phrase 4. It begins with an upward journey in the soprano with accompanying melismas in the alto, tenor and bass over lovely half-step motion chromatic harmonies. If you look at the first chord of each of the last 4 bars, you can see how the harmony is basically 4 chord going to 5 chord going to 1 chord with embellishments. That's not much of an over-simplification. All the chromatic harmony works in between the pillars of the 4 chord going to the 5 chord going to the 1 chord. Though we do get a bit of a circle progression right toward the end, 6 to 2 to 5 to 1.

Though I don't think I've ever heard or sung this hymn in church, I wish I had. I like it. I think it deserves a place in the new hymnal. But for sheer lack of familiarity, I can imagine they may debate the decision to keep it or not. I hope it stays.

And, for what it's worth, for those of you who followed yesterday's discussion, I've been convinced that hymn #31 is too important a hymn to be taken out. I quite enjoyed the version send by a regular reader that showed how the Anglican's sing it. It was a rousing rendition with full Westminster Abbey congregation, blazing organ, and boy choristers singing a beautiful descent. That did it for me. Hey, I reserve the right to be proven wrong. 

That's all for today. Tomorrow we'll wave farewell to a hymn that will certainly not make the cut.

Have a good one!

Doug

P.S. To download my complete harmonic analysis of this hymn, click the button below.

P.P.S. Need some help with your hymn or primary songwriting? Or just another pair of eyes? Sometimes we get too close to our creations to notice some things that could be polished a bit. Apply for a hymn critique by clicking below and I'll help you sharpen up your hymn and get it ready for submission to the Church's new hymnal.


Commentary from "The Bench Warmer"

by Jason Gunnell, Organist

Returning to the sealed portion of the hymnal, we come across this wonderful little hymn. I’m certain that at some point in the past I have played through this hymn, but I must admit that I did need to move to my piano and play through it to remind myself of it (thus I can imagine it has almost never been done in Sacrament Meeting) and it is a great hymn! I think the tune works marvelously well in conveying a sense of the Happy Day described by Philo Dibble. I like it! It should be introduced to the Saints and worked into the rotation of hymns we sing.

This hymn is in two (again, happy day!) and needs to go at a good clip to maintain a sense of brightness. It seems to me to be at its happiest somewhere between half note equal to 84-88 beats per minute, so the upper end of the suggested tempo marking is about where you want to be. I would likewise register this hymn brightly, using high mixtures and the Larigot with the principal chorus.

Registration Starting Point:
Great: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Mixture
Swell: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Larigot 1 ⅓, Mixture, Flute 8’ if needed
Pedal: Principal 16’, 8’, 4’, Mixture, Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’
Sw/Gt, Sw/Ped

Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Mixture
Swell: Mixture
Pedal: 16’ Reed