Martin Rinkart (1586-1649) was a Lutheran pastor in Eilenberg, Germany during the 30 Years War. Eilenberg was a walled city, and so a place of refuge, but the number of refugees strained local resources. Rinkart took many into his own home, and had to scavenge for food and supplies. The city was overrun by enemy armies three times.
And then came the plague. Rinkart was left as the only pastor in the city, doing as many as 40 or 50 funerals a day, including that of his wife. He himself did not live to see peace.
Nevertheless, sometime before 1648, he sat down and wrote a poetic table prayer that began, “Nun danket alle Gott,” “Now thank we all our God.” Soon after a tune was composed by Johann Cruger. Our English translation came from Catherine Winkworth in the 19th Century.
While still I may, I write for you The love I lived, the dream I knew. From our birthday, until we die, Is but the winking of an eye
W.B. Yeats wrote fondly of his native Ireland and the pagan faerie roots he supposed it has. These lines from his poem, “To Ireland in the Coming Times,” published in 1893. Composer Thomas LaVoy arranged the last stanza into this choral piece, performed by The Same Stream.
I cast my heart into my rhymes, That you, in the dim coming times, May know how my heart went with them.
I still haven’t finished reading the book I’ll review next. It is a mark of my desperation for material that I’m going to post a music video that represents an utter betrayal of my younger self.
What you see here is a clip from the old Lawrence Welk TV series. It features the popular singers, The Lennon Sisters, doing “Mockin’bird Hill,” a song popular in the 1950s. Patti Page had a big hit with it. I remember that my mother and her sisters were fond of it.
What nobody told me at the time was that it’s a Scandinavian song – arguably Norwegian. It was first recorded by a Swedish accordionist named Carl “Calle” Jularbo in 1915, but it sounds suspiciously similar to a Norwegian folk tune, “Norska Bondvals” (Norwegian Farmer’s Waltz). In the clip, the accordionist introducing the song is Myron Floren, a Norwegian-American who was a regular on the Welk show. He was the single major star at Norsk Høstfest in Minot for many years until his death, which was years before I ever attended.
I like the song, but still hate myself for posting it in
this incarnation, because of my childhood. My parents loved Lawrence Welk, and
my brothers and I despised him (and all his works and all his ways, as we
Lutherans say). We had a conspiracy to blind our parents to the program’s
existence. It was broadcast on Saturday evenings in our area, but there was
another channel that showed Tarzan movies at the same time. My brothers and I
loved Tarzan. So when the folks fired up the Remote Control (which consisted of
having one of us change the channel for them), we would zip past the channel
showing Welk, hoping they wouldn’t notice.
Sometimes it worked.
Now that I’m old, I rightly ought to be learning to appreciate Lawrence Welk’s oeuvre. Sometimes they run his programs on the public television station. I’ve long been a confirmed fuddy-duddy. I ought to appreciate them now.
But honestly, I can’t. I’ll admit that some of the girls are
pretty. But that “Champagne Sound” (Welk’s personal trademark) just leaves me
cold. Too processed. Too polka-based. And those obligatory, rictus-like smiles
on all the performers, who were known to be paid minimum union scale regardless
of their popularity with the audience.
Too much ancient bitterness there. Too much blood shed, to wax hyperbolic.
In case you missed the memo, today is the last day of 2019. That doesn’t make it the end of the Teens Decade (even though Dennis Prager says it does), but that’s not a fight I want to have right now. In any case I’m more than ready to ashcan this one.
2019 was a year in which I hoped for much, and (mostly due to my own mistakes) ended up with my teeth scattered in the gravel. On top of that, we suffered a tragedy in my extended family – which I’ll not discuss right now – last weekend, just to wrap it all up in an ugly, asymmetrical bow.
I’m bemused by the memes going around pointing out that we’re about to enter the new Roaring Twenties. I kind of like that. Both my parents were born around 1920, and I grew up among people to whom that year was recent history – because it was. So I’m more comfortable with the Jazz Age than with whatever Age we’re shambling into now.
I looked for songs that became hits in the year 1920, and here’s one: “Look For the Silver Lining.” From the musical “Sally,” which debuted that year. Music by Jerome Kern, lyrics by Clifford Grey and book by Guy Bolton, who was P. G. Wodehouse’s regular collaborator. There’s are a couple songs with Wodehouse lyrics in the play, “Joan of Arc” and “The Church Around the Corner,” recycled from earlier flop shows. “Sally” was a big hit, and made a star of its female lead, Ziegfield Girl Marilyn Miller.
It’s not a bad message to start a year with, even a century later.
How many Christmas songs do we play that don’t have anything to do with Christmas? “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” (with a new cute video from Idina Menzel and Michael Bublé) is a winter song, not a Christmas song, but then “Silver Bells” is a Christmas song, and it has very little to do with it.
“My Favorite Things,” “It’s a Marshmallow World,” “Let It Snow,” “Winter Wonderland,” “Frosty the Snowman”? Not Christmas songs. How did “My Favorite Things” get on the seasonal playlist anyway?
Maybe the same way a movie set in December with Christmas trees, perhaps with a Christmas party, gets labeled as a Christmas movie. Is Die Hard a Christmas movie or a movie set near Christmas? Is Home Alone one? (BTW, the score from Home Alone has good Christmas music. “Star of Bethlehem” is marvelous.)
Dixie-Ann Bell writes, “5 Reasons Little Women is a Great Christmas Movie” She enthuses over the theme, and oh my word! I tucked the main theme from this Thomas Newman score into my head years ago and forgot where I’d heard it. I don’t remember where I thought it was from; I think I ruled out Emma and Sense and Sensibility.
Greensleeves was all my joy, Greensleeves was my delight, Greensleeves was my heart of gold, and who but Lady Greensleeves
“Greensleeves” is a 400-year-old tune you may know as “What Child Is This?” Ralph Vaughan Williams composed his “Fantasia on Greensleeves,” a marvelous piece made all the more so by starting with this melody.
Many people tell fanciful stories about the origin of this song. Was it written by Henry VIII for Anne Boleyn, who “cast [him] off discourteously” without losing her head for the moment? Was it an old Irish song, as we all know every good song is? Was it first sung by dog-headed men surrounded by rats? The rumors abound. The Early Music Muse drills into this musical history and reveals the truth, as is so often the case, rather boring. In short, a musician wrote a hit tune that many people used for their own songs, and everyone loved it–they still do. It’s the feature song in the K-drama I just blogged about, Mr. Sunshine. While Savina & Drones have a good composition based on Greensleeves, what Vaughan Williams did with it can’t be outdone for sublimity.
I was surprised to find this hymn on YouTube. It’s a classic hymn for the Haugeans (the Lutheran “sect” I grew up in. Though we never actually sang this one much in my church), and it’s sung my none other than the divine Sissel Kyrkjebo. I didn’t even know she’d done it.
The two verses she sings are translated thus:
1 Jesus, I long for Thy blessed communion, Yearning for Thee fills my heart and my mind; Draw me from all that would hinder our union, May I to Thee, my beginning, be joined; Show me more clearly my hopeless condition; Show me the depth of corruption in me, So that my nature may die in contrition, And that my spirit may live unto Thee!
7 Merciful Jesus, now hear how I bind Thee To the sure pledge of Thy covenant word: “Ask, and receive: when ye seek, ye shall find me;” Thus have Thy lips, ever faithful, averred. I with the woman of Canaan unresting, Cry after Thee till my longing is stilled, Till Thou shalt add, my petitions attesting, “Amen, yea, amen: it be as thou wilt!”
Hans Nielsen Hauge, the Norwegian lay revivalist I’ve written about here before, was singing this song as he plowed his father’s field on a day in 1796. Suddenly, he said, he was overwhelmed with the glory of God, and felt himself filled with love for God and all his neighbors, and called to serve them with his whole life. After that he started preaching to small groups — which was illegal. Eventually he would spend ten years in prison for this activity. But by the time he died, he was a national hero, respected by nearly everyone, high and low.
I attended a meeting yesterday where we heard a lecture from a Norwegian scholar, a woman, who’s been studying Hauge’s life and work for years. Her subject was the effect of Hauge’s ministry on public literacy in Norway — because that was one of his many achievements — getting the common people reading (and even writing).
In the midst of this, I came to a new realization about the “liberal” origins of evangelicalism — a subject that fascinates me. As people are no doubt weary of me telling them, early liberalism (late 18th and early 19th Century liberalism) had nothing to do with socialism, or sexual identity, or the size of government. It was simply about whether the common people would be allowed to participate in governing themselves.
I’ll be writing more about this — but probably for the American Spectator Online. Because they pay me, after all.
Above is a traditional Scandinavian hymn by the Danish hymnwriter Hans Adolf Brorson. The music was arranged, I believe, by Edvard Grieg. If you’re patient, you’ll hear the English words.
It’s a hymn about the blessed saints in Heaven, based on a passage from Revelation. It’s particularly suited to All Saints Day, which is today. It was also a favorite of my father’s. Gene Edward Veith, at his Cranach blog, laments how this festival day, devoted to eternal life, has come to be overshadowed by celebrations of death and horror.
After a month which (for me) has been full of genuine death, it’s good to contemplate our eternal hope.
If you listen to classical music radio, you’ve probably have heard of Smetana’s full orchestra piece on a river in his homeland, which the English call The Moldau. In this 2012 video, Valérie Milot interprets this symphonic poem for harp, and the result is magical. I liked the piece well enough before, but this is marvelous.
You could probably tell that my birthday yesterday left me a little melancholy. I pursued music on YouTube to soothe my savage breast, and came on a version of “Les Bicyclettes de Belsize” sung in 1969 by the French singer Mireille Matheiu. I’ve always loved the song, which first appeared in my college years, but I’d never heard this singer before. She’s sort of a successor to Edith Piaf, and her performance kind of blew me away.
According to Wikipedia, Miss Mathieu is a major star in France. She is a devout Roman Catholic (though famously superstitious) and politically conservative. She has, regrettably, ties to Vladimir Putin in recent years.
The song comes from a 1968 short film directed by Douglas Hickox. In spite of the name, it’s an English film, not French. Nor does London’s Belsize Park appear anywhere in it.