Music Notes for May 5, 2024

Hymn of the Day: Come Down, O Love Divine (ELW 804)
Text: Bianco da Siena (1350-1434)
Tune: DOWN AMPNEY, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)

Bianco da Siena was an Italian poet and wool worker who was born at Anciolina, in the Val d'Arno. In 1367 he entered the Order of Jesuates, consisting of unordained men who followed the rule of St. Augustine. This order was instituted in that year by one John Colombinus of Siena, and suppressed by Pope Clement IX, possibly because of fear of not being able to control their mystical fervor. Little is known of Bianco beyond the fact that he is said to have lived in Venice for some years, and died there in 1434. His hymns were published at Lucca, in 1851, and edited by T. Bini, under the title, Laudi spirituali del Bianco da Siena. One of these, “Discendi, amor santo,” is the basis for this English translation by Richard F. Littledale in The People's Hymnal in 1867. Littledale translated four of the original eight stanzas, but most hymnals omit his third (beginning “Let holy charity”) for a consistent three-stanza text.

The first stanza of this text addresses the Holy Spirit as “O Love divine” and “O Comforter,” asking for His presence in our lives. The middle stanzas ask the Holy Spirit to purge us of all pride and evil passion, and to purify our love and light our path. The final stanza anticipates the greater love for God that will ensue from such purification, and recognizes that, as Paul wrote, “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you”

This hymn is addressed to the Holy Spirit. Though the third Person of the Trinity is not specifically named until the very last line of the hymn, it is clear through the terms “O Love divine” and “O Comforter” that He is the one to whom this prayer is addressed.

Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote the tune DOWN AMPNEY for this text in the English Hymnal in 1906. It was named after his birthplace, and has been praised as one of the most beautiful hymn tunes ever written.

OFFERTORY Awake, My Soul Nikolaus Herman (1500-1561), S. Drummond Wolff, arr.

This is a paraphrase of Psalm 36.

From 1518 to 1560 Nikolaus Herman was schoolmaster, organist and Kantor in Joachimsthal, Bohemia, just over the mountains from Saxony. Johann Matthesius, Luther’s first biographer and headmaster of the Latin school there from 1532, was also, until 1565, minister of the church; Herman was associated with him both as a close friend and as a colleague, and thus came into contact with the Reformation from an early date. As early as 6 November 1524 Luther wrote to him as ‘viro pio et erudito’. Toward the end of his life he suffered greatly from gout, and had to resign even his post as Cantor a number of years before his death.

Nikolaus Herman’s importance lies in his hymns, which were published in several volumes. He wrote both text and music, but most melodies are used for several texts. His poems are rhymed syllabic verses with no fixed metre.

Awake, my soul, to joyful lays And sing thy great Redeemer’s praise.
He justly claims a song from me. His loving kindness, oh, how free!

When I was Satan’s easy prey And deep in debt and bondage lay,
He paid His life for my discharge, His loving kindness, on, how large!

Then shall I mount and soar away To the bright world of endless day
And sing with rapture and surprise His loving kindness in the skies.