A Verdant Hymn of Rolling Hills
Text: Joseph Addison (1672-1719)
Music: Dmitri Bortniansky (1751-1825)
I miss our "old Kentucky home" for many reasons... we lived there for 9 years. One of the things I miss the most is the landscape of rolling hills.
Hymn #109 reminds me of this beautiful landscape.
The melody goes down and up and rolls from one melodic hill to the next.
It starts in the middle register, dips down, leaps up, steps down and settles briefly on high C.
The next hill beings at the same altitude as the first but goes up first instead of down. The same leap we heard in the first bar flips upside down leaping up a third, then down a third, then back again.
The two opening phrases (bars 1-8 and 9-16), both end on 5 chords. This keeps the momentum moving forward like harmonic cruise control.
By the last phrase, "My noonday walks" the hills are reaching a peak. It's a very satisfying phrase, the G-B, G-C, G-E-D-C-C-B... It gives us the satisfaction of reaching the top, yet doesn't yet fully resolve. The two Bs keep us just far enough away from the 1 chord to keep paying attention. Then we make the final descent down the final rolling hill and make it back home.
What a lovely, picturesque hymn. I wouldn't mind if there was another verse. It seems a little short with only 2.
As for its place in the hymnal, I think it should remain for sure.
That's all for today. Tune in tomorrow for a super rare hymn by one of my favorite early Romantic era composers.
Have a good one!
P.S. Click the buttons below to be notified when the 1st part of my Practical Guide to Hymn Composition is ready, and to subscribe to these posts.
Commentary form “The Bench Warmer”
by Jason Gunnell, Organist
Here we encounter another text strongly influenced by the 23rd Psalm. The language is quite beautiful, especially I am taken with the second verse. Interestingly, Karen Davidson in her survey of our hymns found it necessary to translate some of the words or give definitions, as we may have lost the meaning of them today. For example, a glebe means field, so a sultry glebe is a field too hot for sheep. Texts are interesting in that way in that sometimes words or phrases are used that have fallen into disuse or lost meaning due to changing circumstances.
Interestingly, I feel like I have had similar experiences with novels. We read to our boys before bed every night for at least a half hour, often longer. Kate (my wife) reads to them most of the time (and she is currently working through the Chronicles of Narnia, but when she can’t or needs me to, I will read. I choose something that they are not currently reading, because Kate doesn’t want to miss any of the narrative either, so on Wednesday when Kate had to go to the church for her calling, I pulled out Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I got through about 21 pages before the baby needed my attention, and I noticed there were many allusions or descriptions that I had a hard time understanding, as we live in a completely different world than that of Dickens. So it is interesting to me to see this kind of experience with this hymn text.
This tune is used in numerous hymnals, set to different texts. We needed a communion hymn a little while ago here at my job, so I found a very nice text that was set to this tune. I found, though, that we have slightly altered and elongated the last line of the tune, so that it is a few measures longer with just a slightly different melody at the end. It is a very nice tune for these kinds of reverent texts.
I return to my common complaint with this hymn concerning suggested tempo. It is far too slow. I find the tempo that is appropriate to have forward motion and singable phrases is around 112 beats per minute. That gives the hymn interest and a nice lilt, in addition to singability.
Registration Starting Point:
Great: Principal 8’, Flute 8’
Swell: Principal 8’, Flute 8’, 4’, String 8’
Pedal: Subbass 16’, Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’
Possible Final Verse Additions:
Swell: Flute 2’