Sunday August 2, 2020
Summer Sundays: Musical Musings from Angelynne Hinson, Chapel Music Director
There are many tunes in the chapel hymnal that use melodies written by famous Western composers. There are hymns set to the tunes of Mozart, Mendelssohn, Haydn, Schubert, Schumann and Handel to name a few. By far the most well-known tune is by Ludwig van Beethoven, Hymn to Joy, #53 and one of 18 in the Praise and Adoration section.
This year marks the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth and although he never wrote any hymns in his lifetime, the main theme from the final movement of his last symphony is popular in many denominational hymnals. It has long been a chapel favorite. Maybe because the words evoke nature and the ebullience of creation – flowers, field and forest, blossoming meadow, chanting bird, joyful music – all within our view and hearing as we sit in the chapel on a Sunday morning.
In 1907, Henry Van Dyke, a Presbyterian minister and college English professor, wrote the text after visiting Williams College as a guest preacher. Like Katherine Bates (author of “America”), Van Dyke was inspired by the nature around him, in this case the Berkshire mountains. Van Dyke was not the first use this tune and to see a fascinating chronology of how this tune came into religious use, click here.
There are many performances of this hymn tune online – contemporary, gospel, traditional, even a “congregational” rendition sung by thousands at Royal Albert Hall. I thought I’d pick a version least expected – it leaves out the second verse but they are out there in the “blossoming meadow.” I think it captures the exuberance of this most beloved hymn!