Isaac Watts Strikes Again!

Isaac Watts Strikes Again!

Hymn #90 — “From All That Dwell Below the Skies”

Text: Isaac Watts (1674-1748)
Music: John Hatton (d. 1793)
Tune name: DUKE STREET

In his book of hymns, Psalms of David, Isaac Watts wrote a rhymed, metrical version of each of the Psalms. This hymn text is Isaac Watts’ version of Psalm 117, and it is excellent!

I don’t think I’ve ever heard this hymn in Sacrament meeting, which is a shame. It’s a lovely hymn, full of the majestic features of the old Protestant zingers.

I’m not quite sure about the melody and text matching in the middle of the 2nd line, “Let the Creator’s praise arise…” The tune is doing to opposite of rising.

A couple bars later we get a great “rise” on “Redeemer’s.”

The tune is great in both spots, but it’s just a little mismatched, if you’re going for a clear text painting and using verse 1 as the main guide.

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There’s one little out of place syllable in the third verse. Placing “The” on the strong beat wouldn’t work for Vaughan Williams. He would most likely offer an alternative syllabic setting. Possibly with a rest on beat 1 which gives a lot of energy to the phrase.

The final high D has a nice rhythmic variation, the only one of the hymn. The opposite direction of the alto and men’s parts, with dotted quarter, eighth, quarter, is a nice way to round things out at the end.

It’s a “short but sweet” hymn that deserves to see the light of day. I’ve added it to my list of hymns to introduce to the congregation with a Ward Choir intermediate musical number.

That’s all for today.

Have a good one!

Doug

P.S. Need some help with your hymn? Let me have a look. I’d love to offer some thoughts. Click the green button below and send me your piece, finished or not. I’'ll gladly offer some thoughts.


Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”

by Jason Gunnell, Organist

This text is found in virtually all hymnals of English-speaking countries and is perhaps Isaac Watts’s most famous of his metrical paraphrases of the psalms. In contrasting shared hymns across multiple denominations, we find a welcome departure from the norm in this hymn, as our hymnal retains all of the verses of the text, while many other hymnals only select one or two verses for inclusion. I’m so glad we did, as this is a fantastic text.

This tune is generally set with one of three tunes: LASST UNS ERFREUN (which we sing  as All Creatures of Our God and King), OLD HUNDRETH (which we sing as Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow), and DUKE STREET, which is the tune we have in our hymnal. What a classic and powerful hymn tune to pair with this majestic text.

I am writing this after Doug’s entry (so hopefully he adds it after I finish!), so I have already read his thoughts on this hymn and would like to ever so kindly quibble with him just a little. He highlights a word that he finds doesn’t quite fit in with the tune. His proposals for changing the tune or text I find to be somewhat problematic, as this text is generally split evenly between the three tunes above, and an alteration would have to be made in each tune to satisfy this “mismatching.”

Also, Vaughan Williams would have probably not been too upset about the word placement. One of his fantastic hymn arrangements is his setting of the Old Hundredth Psalm Tune. The text is “All people that on earth do dwell.” Indeed in three of the five verses are text placements that might be deemed weak or unstressed words on stressed syllables. But he retains the integrity of the tune and does not alter it in a nod to the text. That is but one example.

I think it important to remember that hymns are but the text only, and they are set to tunes that match the meter. The function of the tune isn’t necessarily for textual painting or a unified artist composition, but rather a vehicle for a congregation to sing the text. This text is a wonderful example in that there are three tunes commonly used and commonly known for this text. Occasionally words will fall in awkward spot in the tune, but there is great power in these wonderful texts set to tremendous tunes, that the fusion of text and tune create something far greater than either in solitude. This power I think overcomes any perceived deficiency in text placement.

This majestic hymn is far too slow at the suggested tempos in the book. It needs to move along in two with stately manner. The half note equal to 82-86 is a very good tempo for this tune, I think. I would be robust and strong in my registration as well, employing the full resources of the organ.

Registration Starting Point:
Great: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Mixture
Swell: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Flute 8’, String 8’, Nazard 2 ⅔’, Mixture, Hautbois 8’
Pedal: Principal 16’, 8’, 4’, Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’, 16’ Reed
Sw/Gt, Sw/Ped

Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Mixture, Trumpet 8’
Swell: Tierce 1 ⅗, Mixture, Bassoon 16’
Pedal: 32’ Flue and Reed,  Heavy Reed 16’