Elijah Sings: Come On Baby Light My Fire
Text: Julius Schubring (1806-1889)
Music: Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
Tune name: BIRMINGHAM
Ok, maybe Elijah hadn’t heard Jim Morrison and ‘The Doors’ sing Come On Baby, Light My Fire, but he sure knew how to get an audience’s attention.
I hope you’ll take a minute to scroll down and read Jason’s remarks. He gives the history of this piece and its place in the classical music repertoire.
Felix Mendelssohn, one of my favorite early Romantic era composers, was a real master. And, he loved Bach! He’s responsible for bringing Bach’s music back into the minds and hearts of the music-loving public. His performance of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion resurrected Bach’s fame in a time when he was all but forgotten.
As Bach did in his hundreds of dramatic works (cantatas, oratorios, passions), Mendelssohn wrote a hymn to give the audience a “let’s-think-about-the-moral-of-this-story” moment. That’s our Hymn #110.
I highly recommend it for study to all who want to write hymns. It follows the structure and modus operandi, of the great old hymns.
My only regret is that there’s only 1 verse. Perhaps one of you enthusiastic hymn poets could write some additional verses? I would stick to the same Psalms that Ulius Schubring used as you basic materials.
This hymn deserves to remain in the hymnal and to be known by more of us. It is beautiful and moving. Well composed and meaningful.
That’s all for today. Tomorrow we’ll have a little more “rock” ‘n roll.
Have a good one!
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Commentary form “The Bench Warmer”
by Jason Gunnell, Organist
This hymn is an excerpted chorale from Elijah, an oratorio by Felix Mendelssohn. I don’t mean to borrow too much from Karen Davidson, but I think her description of the narrative from which this hymn is excerpted is excellent. “‘Cast Thy Burden upon the Lord’ occurs during a highly dramatic episode based on 1 Kings 18. Elijah and the priests of Baal are locked in a challenge: which god, Baal or the God of Israel, will send down fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice? The people watch as the priests of Baal call out to their god ‘and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets’ (v. 28), but Baal is silent. Then Elijah steps forward, and the people gather to watch in excitement. He builds an altar to God and offers up his prayer: ‘Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel.’ (v. 36)
“At this moment in the oratorio, the forward motion of the story pauses for a brief, peaceful contrast. A chorus of angels sings ‘Cast Thy Burden upon the Lord,’ and we are reminded of Elijah’s perfect faith and trust. Then, after another brief prayer from Elijah, ‘the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice.’ (v. 38) Elijah’s faith is vindicated before the people and before the false priests of Baal.”
This hymn is a fabulous example of Mendelssohn’s craft and ability as a composer and of his study and veneration of Bach. Mendelssohn is perhaps the most important figure in the revival of Bach’s music a century after his death, and one can see in Mendelssohn’s compositions the impact that Bach’s music had. Here we see a chorale in his oratorio that is so fitting today in our hymnal and bears all of the hallmarks of great hymn writing.
If I were performing this hymn as an anthem with a choir, I would be much more confident in choosing a slower, more expressive tempo. But as we are discussing these hymns in the context of congregational singing, I would take it a bit faster than I would in a choral setting. Thus I would take it about ten clicks faster than the top of the suggested range, at about 82-84 beats per minute. I would treat the fermatas as places of elongation, holding the note for two counts and resting on the third, then continuing on. The danger would be to hold them too long, which I don’t think is appropriate.
Registration Starting Point:
Great: Principal 8’, Flute 8’
Swell: Principal 8’, Flute 8’, 4’
Pedal: Subbass 16’, Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’