A Jaw Dropping Ferrari of a Hymn
Hymn #66 — “Rejoice, the Lord Is King!”
Text: Charles Wesley (1707-1788)
Music: Horatio Parker (1863-1919)
Tune name: JUBILATE
This has to be the most perfect hymn in the book. It has everything a hymn should have.
The text is bold, powerful, full of rejoicing, and honors the Lord like the best of King David’s Psalms. The only unfortunate bit about the text is the strangeness of the word “The” on the down beat of the 2nd line in verse 3. Maybe “All” is a better choice than “The”? Hmm, not by much. What about “Pow’r o-ver death and hell…” That’s a little better. I’m no poet. I’ll have to rely on others to smooth that bit out.
I remember when I was first starting to learn how to play hymns on the piano, I started with the standard easy LDS hymn like “Sweet Hour of Prayer,” “We Thank Thee Oh God for a Prophet,” “Choose the Right.” And then I’d hear my Dad play Hymn #66. “Wow, I wanna play THAT one,” I remember thinking. I sounded like so much fun. And it is!
It’s also a delight to sing. It’s written really well for the voice. The tune is shapely, with a decent amount of appropriate congregational unison. It keep us on our toes a bit with some chromatic passages.
And then the chorus just sings itself right off the page. I could geek out on this hymn all day. I actually beat my alarm this morning because I was so excited to wake up and write about this hymn. (I know, music nerd through and through…I can’t help myself.)
It opens with a big 1 chord broken up in a unison melody. G-C-G-E-C, and then it pauses on the 4 chord. An interesting choice after the unison 1 chord and on the word “King.” To my ears it says that this is just kind, a Shepherd King. That pastoral 4 chord endears me to the King right away even though the tempo is fast and it’s a strongly accented chord.
And I have to say that pausing on La, the 6th scale degree, after a big 1 chord entrance, was brilliant. Because La is a tendency tone, it has gravity in it. It has a sense of expectation. Our inner “feels” know that it has to resolve somehow. And by holding ourselves still and in awe of the “King” on a tendency tone, we’re poised for action. Whatever He says, we’re gonna do it. And the music leads the way. We all march in step to His tune. Ooo, I’m getting goose bumps.
The second half of line 1 feel so regal to me, like we’re marching through the royal chamber to worship at His throne. The A major chord on “Your” gets a march-like motion started and the bass line “clip-clops” in step against the shapely melody before a strong “adoring” cadence on the 1 chord.
What a fantastic way to open a hymn of praise. When I get to the end of line one, I’m so please at this point I can only wonder what fun Horatio Parker has in store for me in the rest of the hymn. He sets a high bar for himself with this A+ first line. Can he keep it up? Can he take us to even greater heights of praise and rejoicing? You betcha!
The beginning of line 2 is the first sign that Parker’s not through. He’s got something to say and a journey to take us on. We start, like several other big praise hymns, the 2nd line in unison to match the format of the first line. But Parker doesn’t simply repeat what he’s done before. He starts us on the 3 scale degree, E. And before I forget, this is the one and only time we get a dotted eighth-sixteenth rhythm in the whole hymn. And it comes at the spot where, if he was going to follow with boring music, it would become apparent right here. It’s like a 2nd shot across the bow. “Hey, I ain’t through yet. Listen up!”
Now, what could we imply from starting on an E here? We’ve just had a big cadence on the 1 chord and right after, we take one of the the notes of the 1 chord and start a unison passage. What chord is he emphasizing with this unison passage. Well, he “could” have emphasized the 1 chord again. That’s the most obvious choice. But E also belongs to the 6 chord, A-C-E, and it belongs in the 3 chord as well, E-G-B.
Before we get settles on any diatonic tonality, Parker steps up to an F# and then a G#. Wooo, baby. We’re not in C major any more. Like J.S. Bach, who used raised harmonies (sharps) to add a sense of raised, upward, heavenly, exultant worship to his music, Parker increases our rejoicing with raised chromatic tones starting on “thanks.” Perfect!
But where is he going with these “wrong” notes. First, he’s heading towards A-minor. The first bar of line 2 is basically an E-major chord followed by bar 2 which is basically an A-minor chord. Then we get a D-major chord in the 3rd bar and a G-major chord and cadence in the final bar. Major 3 chord (which is usually minor, hence the F# and G$) to minor 6 chord to major 2 chord (which is also usually minor, hence the F#) to major 5 chord. He goes right around the circle of 5ths. It’s actually quite simple harmonically. But the way use unison and the rising tune all the way up to the climax of the 1st half on high D “evermore” is superb! To make it even stronger, he ads a suspension in the alto. That G doesn’t fit the chord until it steps down to the F# adding even more gravity to this cadence on the 5 chord.
Oh man, I’m sweating. And we’re only half way through! Can he keep it up? Can he raise the bar again and keep this excited praise going? Let’s see.
First of all, THIS is how you set a text that says “lift up…” over and over. You take the tune up and up and up until you can’t get any higher. And that’s what he does. He starts down on the low D and works for 6 bars to raise it up and up to the top of the congregation’s register, the high E in the 3rd to last bar. How does he stretch his ascension over 6 bars so convincingly?
He starts with one of my favorite strategies. A sequence. Remember those? It’s a kernel of music that repeats itself up or down by step. D-E-F on “up your heart!” turns into E-F-G on “up your voice!” The the 3rd time, as he should, he takes it up a notch to start on F in the 3rd bar of line 3, but as it typical, on the 3rd iteration of the sequence, he does something different and more exciting. we get a big soaring melody moment with a wonderfully contrasting shape in the bass. This phrase is kind of a mirror of bars 3 and 4 from the first line. It has that same marching feel.
But we’re not finished looking at this sequence yet. Have a look at the bass part at the beginning of line 3. F-E-D, the descending bass tune then steps up to G-F-D in the 2nd bar. So, while the melody is moving up by step in a lovely sequence, the bass is doing the mirror opposite. Talk about perfect contrary motion. And as I already mentioned, he keeps up the contrary motion in bars 3 and 4 as we march against the tune.
But he’s not through just yet. We’ve got one more line to go.
The down beat of line 3 starts on low D and then we rise to an E on the down beat of the next bar followed by an F on the down beat of bar 3. He gradually steps us up on each subsequent bar within the sequence.
Line 4 follows suit. Now we being the bar with another step up to G, and the up to an A on the 2nd bar after getting an interesting B-flat in their. He’s tossed in a quick pastoral 4 of 4 chord. That’s when the 1 chord becomes a dominant 7th chord and then resolve to the 4 chord. In a way, he’s mirroring what he did at the start of the piece by pausing on “King” with the 4 chord. Only this time, he’s made that move to the 4 chord, which occurs on the down beat of the 2nd bar in line 4, a little spicier with the B-flat that absolutely MUST resolve down to the A of the 4 chord. That make his sequence even stronger.
Sorry, I got a little side tracked by the B-flat. Basically, line 4 begins the same way line 3 did with an upward moving sequence in the soprano and a contrary, downward moving sequence in the bass. All the time it’s stepping up and up until we reach the pinnacle “Rejoice” on high E. After all the switchbacks and gradual stepping up and up, it’s so rewarding when we arrive on the high E.
Any normal composer would probably have considered setting the high D and E of “Rejoice” with a 5 chord going to a 1 chord. It’s the obvious choice. But Parker has proved himself much more than a normal, or ordinary composer. He manages to squeeze every last drop of juice from his harmony, and does so again here. The high D is set to a chord outside of this key. It’s a D-major chord with a dominant 7th. Normally, this chord would have to resolve to a G-major chord. It’s like a 5-1 resolution in G major. But instead of going directly to the G chord, which he knows he must get to eventually before the piece is over because it needs to end with a 5-1 in C major, which is a G chord going to a C chord, he uses this climax moment to suspend the drama just a little more.
The resolves his D-major 7 chord to a quasi-G chord. It’s a C major chord with G in the bass which is like a suspended 5 chord, not quite ready to resolve yet. Then, he keeps us in suspense by adding a brief unison passage, the one that was the “good boy” passage he should have used at the start of the 2nd line (E-F-G instead of the ‘naughty’ but very exciting E-F#-G#). After demonstrating he is a good boy after all, we finally get the 5 chord, the G chord we’ve been aiming at for so many bars and a resolution to the final 1 chord.
My goodness! What a drop dead gorgeous hymn! This is the kind of hymn I aspire to compose. I don’t think comparing it to a Farrari is over doing it at all. It’s a :0 to 60 mpg in under 4 seconds: kind of hymn.
Phew….I need to take a break and catch my breath….
More tomorrow! And it’s another BEAUTY!
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Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”
by Jason Gunnell, Organist
This is a another hymn on the coveted “well-known hymns” list that I think deserves a spot there. This text is popular across Christian hymnals, but is set to a number of different tunes. I think the tune selected for our book is as, or more, successful than the different tunes in other books. Sister Davidson points out that “J. Spencer Cornwall [described the text] as ‘heroic in character and...sequentially climactic.’ The tune is a wonderful complement for the words. In the chorus, particularly, each segment of the melody rises upwards; like the text, the music is ‘sequentially climactic’” (Davidson, 95-95). I agree with the power that the use of sequencing has to amplify the text, especially in the chorus. This is coupled with unison singing to make this tune exceeding strong powerful for the text.
This tune is yet another in the long line of tunes that, “again I say,” are much better with the pulse being a half note, rather than thinking the pulse in four. A tempo with the half note equal to 58-62 is a very good tempo to give this tune an exciting forward propulsion and excitement. I almost always harmonize the spots where the hymnbook harmonization has the voices singing in unison. So on the first measure I play a full C major chord. In the first measure of the second line I play an E major chord, followed by A minor on the next measure, and stepping the pedal down to a G on beat three of that same measure, maintaining the A minor harmony in the manuals. This tune cries out for the strongest of registrations, utilizing all resources of the organ for the final verse.
Registration Starting Point:
Great: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Mixture, Bourdon 16’
Swell: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Flute 8’, Nazard 2 ⅔’, Mixture (choose the lower pitched-mixture between this and the Great Mixture…, Hautbois 8’
Pedal: Principal 16’, 8’, 4’, Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’, 16’ Reed
Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Mixture, Trumpet 8’
Swell: Mixture, Contra Trompette 16’, Trumpet 8’, Clairon 4’
Pedal: 32’ Flue and Reed, Posaune 16’