Sunday, April 01, 2007

Come, faithful people, come away

Many years ago when I was a student and later when I was a research fellow and a young mum in Cambridge, we used to go to LSM when not at King's Chapel or wherever else, and every year on Palm Sunday there was a procession from Laundress Green to LSM. That's still true, but what are no longer there are some hymns of which I have particularly fond memories.

Today's subject is "Come Faithful People Come Away". It's classified as a carol by the English Hymnal, which says (in its Palm Sunday Procession section) "If required, the following carol may also be sung". But the words are by G. Moultrie (1829-85) and the music, a jolly skipping melody written as three crotchets in a bar, is "Come Faithful People" by C. Bicknell, 1842-1918. The hymn recounts the story of Christ's entry into Jerusalem on a donkey and all that palm waving stuff.

It's a good hymn to process to. Now that might seem surprising because of the tune being in three time. For many years after we moved to Oxford we tried to persuade our Oxford Vicar to put "Come, faithful people, come away" into the Cowley St John street procession for Palm Sunday, but he wouldn't have it (there we had "Onward Christian Soldiers" and other traditional marching hymns, nothing seasonal at all, except maybe "Ride On Ride On"). The trouble is, you could never persuade anyone who didn't already know it that it could be a marching hymn.

The reason why it works so well for marching is that it really goes at one in a bar, or, if you like, in 6:8 so it's like two sets of triplets, dum de de, dum de de. So if it's taken quickly it's very easy to march to because you stride out on the first beat of each bar and the skipping triplets give you plenty of time to move at a stately pace without the tune become plodding or boring. Brilliant really.

What's tragic is that it's gone altogether from the NEH.

What a loss. Here (from the Oremus Hymnal, but converted to English spelling) are the words:

Come, faithful people, come away
your homage to your Monarch pay;
it is the feast of palms today:
Hosanna in the highest!

When Christ, the Lord of all, drew nigh
on Sunday morn to Bethany,
he called two loved ones standing by:
Hosanna in the highest!

"To yonder village go," said he,
"An ass and foal tied shall ye see,
loose them and bring them unto me:"
Hosanna in the highest!

"If any man dispute your word,
say, 'They are needed by the Lord,'
and he permission will accord:"
Hosanna in the highest!

The two upon their errand sped,
and found the ass as he had said,
and on the colt their clothes they spread:
Hosanna in the highest!

They set him on his throne so rude;
before him went the multitude,
and in their way their garments strewed:
Hosanna in the highest!

Go, Saviour, thus to triumph borne,
thy crown shall be the wreath of thorn,
thy royal garb the robe of scorn:
Hosanna in the highest!

They thronged before, behind, around,
they cast palm-branches on the ground,
and still rose up the joyful sound:
Hosanna in the highest!

"Bless├Ęd is Israel's King," they cry;
"Blessed is he that cometh nigh
in name of God the Lord most high."
Hosanna in the highest!

Thus, Saviour, to thy passion go,
arrayed in royalty of woe,
assumed for sinners here below:
Hosanna in the highest!


Anonymous said...

I'm willing to be corrected, but I think this hymn had fallen out of use at LSM in the last few years before it went over to NEH. I don't recall having sung it anywhere.

Meanwhile at our church a visiting singer - usually competent - came to grief over a verse of the Lent Prose. This was because they'd somehow got hold of a melody-only version of EH, and the melody was only given in square notes! Here I think NEH, which gives modern musical notation, reflects reality; these hymnbooks are issued to the congregation in many places, and how many people now, even in Anglo-Catholic circles, read square notes fluently? I wonder how many ever did?


Annie said...

They might not, but they should, it's honestly not that difficult to learn, especially if you do so when you're young ;-)

In fact, I think it's more common sense than modern notation. But then, I am a medievalist.

Anyhow, what I was going to say was three cheers for Come faithful people!

Catherine Rowett said...

I was going to say something similar myself, Annie (though perhaps that's not surprising since I was one of those who taught you to read plainsong notation from the cradle).

In my experience it's much easier to get the plainsong tunes right if you read the square notation, and the mistakes almost always come from people who are trying to sing from the modern notation in the organ accompaniment (or from the melody editions of the NEH which insist on putting the plainsong melody into modern notation). I can't see why ordinary folk in the pew can't handle this stuff: if anything it's a lot simpler than modern notation because there's no need to read a key signature or note lengths.

It also seems to me to be very important that the young trebles in choirs should be brought up reading it from childhood, otherwise they'll be struggling later on when they have to handle seriously complicated Gregorian chant as adults in cathedral and college choirs. They'll end up in the position of those who try to get it by reading the organ part, and get stuck when faced with just a line of chant.

And this (by the way) is also my reply to the comment someone made a while back about "O Trinity of Blessed Light". I can't see why anyone would have difficulty fitting the words to the melody, so I was very surprised by that question. I find it entirely straightforward (but doubtless it is difficult if you don't use the hymn book with the proper plainsong notation).

Anonymous said...

Actually, I was using a hymnbook with square notation. I don't normally have a problem with square notation or strange pointing (going on the evidence of this morning, less than you do). I just find the way that tri-i-i-ni-ty-y" is written wrong for the way my mind works. I'd have preferred "tri-i-ni-i-ty-y".

I'm sorry, I just think ensuring that I'm perfectly on pitch slightly more important than learning an alien notation. Would that there were more like me.

Catherine Rowett said...

The advantage of plainsong notation is not just in conveying the same message as the regular notation only in a different code. There are some things that it alone encodes, such as which notes you lean on and the flow of the notes in a group and so on, which just aren't there in regular notation. In fact you have to kind of translate back from the mere notes in the regular notation to work out how it ought to be in plainsong.
I don't see why it should be either pitch or an ability to read. Why not think that both go to make a musical result? Of course you don't have to be able to read if you learn the things by ear, but mostly we do them by sight-reading in these days of printed copies.

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Catherine Rowett said...
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Catherine Rowett said...

Oh, and of course the other thing to say about O lux beata trinitas is that the syllable with the multiple notes in the first line is lux in the Latin and not the beginning of Trinitas at all. Trinitas is (as you suggest) Tri-i- ni-i- tas in the last three beats of the line.

Annie said...

Which leads to all sorts of observations about the translation of verse that is set to music. Because even if the verse itself when translated ends up carrying the same stresses and meaning as the first, once you put it in the music you end up with the wrong bits in the wrong places.
This is why verse translation is insanely complex.

If one is reading from square notes, the ones that are on the same syllable are stuck together so one knows not to move until there's a gap. The problem only occurs when, in translation, the syllables don't fit the original plainsong line. Hence why we should sing plainsong in latin, and there would no longer be any problem.

Catherine Rowett said...

If you follow the link below (at links to this post) you will find a relevant post by Annie on her own Blog.

Fake SteveC said...

There is an absolutely barnstorming setting of these words in the OUP's "Ash Wednesday to Easter for Choirs", by Alan Bullard. We sang it for Palm Sunday this year - it was one of the best pieces we've done for a long time.

Richard Fairhurst
organist, St Mary's, Charlbury

Catherine Rowett said...

Intrigued by this I've just looked up Alan Bullard's website at to try to trace this anthem you mention. I'm trying to remember whether we've sung it.
It would seem to be the one called The Feast of Palms (1998) - for SATB and organ.

Fake SteveC said...

Yes, that's the one.

Cupbearer said...

I don't think I agree that it's important for children to learn square notation: I found it perfectly easy to pick up.

Anonymous said...

You'll be glad to hear that the service booklets issued to the congregation at sung eucharists in Lincoln Cathedral print congregational responses in square notes (where appropriate). At least the booklet for Eastertide does this.