To those who have grown up in the Protestant Church, the hymn tunes here presented will be as familiar as their own childhoods and as loved as their own homes. Drawn from the sixteenth through the nineteenth cen-turies, they represent the highest achievements of Protestant Hymnody, and their enduring worth and appeal is well proven by time.
Since they are designed for use in the service, they cover a wide range of emotional and liturgical require-ments. The church year calls for hymns of rejoicing and hymns of quiet prayer, hymns of humble adoration and supplication, hymns about God and Christ, about the Church, about moral values, and the individual Christian's relationship to all of these. The emphasis shifts from one to another in the different centuries, and the history of the hymns is inextricably linked with the story of Protestantism itself.
Martin Luther recognized clearly the value of congregational participation in the worship service. His was a singing people, and from the start he encouraged music in the church. He believed that all the arts, in-deed, all of life which represented man's high aspirations should be represented in the church, and that all forms of work and play should be acts of worship to a joyful, just and loving God. With incredible versatility he wrote music and words alike, setting a standard of vigorous, singable tunes and texts abounding in faith and poetic imagery. A Mighty Fortress is one of our greatest treasures.
In the following centuries more and more folk tunes (Fairest Lord Jesus is a lovely example) were incorporated into the body of liturgical music growing up around the new Church. J. S. Bach did an incalculable service in his resettings of the old tunes, and many contemporaries drew upon this fertile source as melodies for their religious poetry. Valuable contributors, too, were the classical composers like Joseph Haydn, whose Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken, taken from his Austrian national anthem, is one of the happiest of melodies.
From the spirit of universality and objective praise which dominated the texts of these hymns, the nineteenth century evolved a more personal approach: the lone man contemplating the wonders of the Passion, or crying for help in his afflictions. The music, too. changed with the times: the chromatic harmonies and softer out-lines of the Romantic movement were reflected in the music for the Church. For the first time, American composers are represented. Lowell Mason and Thomas Hastings exerted a tremendous influence in their day, and such hymns as My Faith Looks Up to Thee, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, and Rock of Ages take a rightful place among our best-loved sacred music.
More important than the differences in origin, design and purpose of these hymns are the similarities which unite them in the "best-loved" category. All the poems. despite their different authors, are alike in the simple sincerity with which they state their faith. The tunes share a magnificent singability the basis of all great music. Text and tune are so closely related that it is almost impossible to separate them. Yet there is a purely musical relationship of phrase to phrase which eludes definition but which constitutes the essence of this particular musical form. Thus it is that we may listen with great satisfaction to the hymn tunes played on the organ. Although the words may be a constant accompaniment in our minds, the music has the power to communicate its own message which can transcend as well as illuminate the text.
The Church owes a debt of gratitude to the hundreds of poets and musicians who have contributed to this spiritual literature. The individual names are often unknown or forgotten: they merge into the great stream of workers in the Christian faith. But their creations live on in the hearts of the millions of people who have found strength, inspiration and joy through congrega-tional singing.
Notes by ALICE PARKER
© by Radio Corporation of America, 1957.
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