Music Notes

Filter By:
Showing items filed under “Music Notes”

Come to Calvary's Holy Mountain

"Come to Calvary's Holy Mountain." This hymn text was written by James Montgomery (1771-1854), a Scotchman amongst whose favorite hymns are “Come to Calvary’s Holy Mountain” and “Angels from the Realms of Glory.” The son of a Moravian minister, he attended seminary in Yorkshire but tired of that and soon became a writer for the Sheffield Register, which he soon took over and which he used to promote his spiritual and political beliefs. For 31 years he remained a Sheffielder, being imprisoned twice for his political ideas, and yet somehow ending his life with a royal pension. Although Montgomery was certainly not an Anglican, his hymns quickly found their way into the gargantuan monument of nineteenth-century hymnody, Hymns Ancient and Modern, from which Lutherans drew early in the twentieth century when they quickly had to find English hymns to supplant the German (with the advent of WWI.)
There is a monument and a stained glass window devoted to Montgomery in Sheffield Cathedral, in which the writer of music notes played a concert a few years ago. Prior to the concert, he was doing his best to overcome jetlag and a long train ride from London, whilst having to practice on the rather unique organ in the cathedral. He was not able to visit the monument until after his concert. 
This hymn takes as its inspiration Isaiah 25: 6-8: “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And we will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.” Although in the Old Testament, this verse was quoted by Paul in I Cor. 15: 55 as an encapsulation of the Gospel: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting.” Although Jesus was unknown in the Old Testament, the mercy of God was not, and His mercy if fulfilled in Jesus’ death on the “mountain.”
If anyone wishes to see a handwritten manuscript of a different Lenten hymn by James Montgomery (“He Saved Others,” Scorners Cried”), the writer of music notes will have it at the organ console after church!


Posted by Benjamin Kolodziej with

The God of Abraham Praise

Music Notes
12 March, 2017

“The God of Abra’m Praise” This hymn is based on the Jewish “Confession of Faith” as developed by the Hebrew theologian Moses Maimonides (1135-1204.) Maimonides served the Muslim rulers of Spain as a physician and theologian. His intellect was well-known, having even been consulted for advice by Richard the Lionhearted. His theological work is as important to the Jews today as Augustine is to Christians today. Later, in the 14th century, Jewish poet Daniel ben Judah set this creed to meter, this form being known as the “Yigdal,” in order to be sung. (As has been done with our Nicene Creed.)
This metrified, sung, Hebrew profession of faith was heard by the Christian Thomas Olivers when he went to a London synagogue in the 1760s. The great cantor Meyer Lyon (or “Leoni”) sung it that day to the same tune we sing it today. Olivers was so moved that he set about to paraphrase the text to be useful in a Christian context. Olivers’ Christianized version is the hymn we sing today.
Olivers, having been born in 1725, was orphaned at age four and shortly thereafter was accepted as an apprentice to a shoemaker. However, Olivers grew up living a “dissolute life,” and was known as the “worst boy around.” One day, while in Bristol, he heard the great evangelical preacher George Whitefield proclaim the Gospel using the text, “Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?” Olivers—at least to hear the Baptists tell it—was converted immediately and thereafter devoted his life to preaching the Gospel. John Wesley happened to hear the youth preach one day and was so moved that he asked him to be one of his own evangelists. For the rest of his life, Olivers served as a charismatic and visionary preacher for the Gospel and for the new Wesley-inspired Methodist movement in England. Olivers is buried in the back courtyard of Wesley’s Chapel, City Road, London, where on his large memorial obelisk is engraved the first stanza of “The God of Abra’m Praise.” (This monument’s discreet location makes for a quiet location for tired organists to eat lunch in peace before heading back to the City in search of books.)
We sing this morning many of the original twelve stanzas. Consider the OT imagery: In answer to the question of “Who is this God,” the first stanza answers: the “God of Abraham” (who blessed the patriarch and his descendents), the “Ancient of everlasting days” (an ascription found only in the Book of Daniel), the “God of love” (who rescued His people from Egyptian slavery), and “Jehovah, Great I Am!” (remember God’s name on Mt Sinai). This hymn also has a covenantal aspect as well. We must respond to the greatness of God when we “bow and bless the sacred name,” when we “on His oath depend,” and “sing the wonders of His grace.” We are likewise reminded that the angels sing “holy, holy, holy” to God (Is. 6.3) and that we, too, can join in this unending hymn. The final stanza is a doxology (“hymn of praise”) to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Olivers realized the unfulfilled nature of the Old Testament and, as was the custom when hymnwriters paraphrased OT texts (such as the psalms), included this great doxology to ground us in the Trinity of the Christian faith.

Posted by Benjamin Kolodziej with

12345678910 ... 4243