Advent Message from the Choirmaster

by Jesse Ratcliffe, Director of Music

Hymn Writing: the marriage of text and melody

This Advent season, two hymns of sturdy composition and poetic beauty will bookend the season: Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending and Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.

Of the thousands of hymn-writers known in Christendom, the works of brothers John and Charles Wesley (1703-91 & 1707-1788) have proved to be timeless. Both were ordained as Anglican clergymen and served as missionaries, which exposed them to various types of music across Europe.

The music of the Moravians, known for their robust hymn-singing and singable melodies, inspired the Wesleys, and the two began to work. In total, approximately 6500 hymn texts were penned by the two.

Hugh T. McElrath, author of Sing With Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Hymnody, states that every piece produced by the Wesleys are a fine example of 18th century literary devices; filled with scriptural paraphrase; expresses the Christian Experience; speaks to God as a friend- “for all sorts and conditions of men” – and contain natural phrasing which allows pauses for breath without disrupting the line.

The two we will sing prove this to be true:

Come Thou Long Expected Jesus

“[…] born to set thy people free; from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee.”

“[…] rule in all our hearts alone; by thine all sufficient merit raise us to thy glorious throne.”

Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending

“Every eye shall now behold him, robed in dreadful majesty; those who set at nought and sold him, pierced, and nailed him to the tree deeply wailing, shall the true Messiah see.”

“Those dear tokens of his passion still his dazzling body bears, cause of endless exultation to his ransomed worshipers with what rapture; gaze we on those glorious scars”

The 18th Century proved difficult for Britain, but the work of the Wesleys provided a spiritual beacon through song for all men and women. That beacon continues to shine bright and will continue to do so for the ages to come.

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