Worthy the Lamb Hymn!
Hymn #67 — “Glory to God on High”
Text: James Allen (1734-1804); altered
Music: Felice de Giardini (1716-1796)
Tune name: ITALIAN HYMN
Yesterday I bequeathed Hymn #66 as possibly the most perfect hymn in our book.
Actually, hymn #197 is THE perfect hymn in our hymnal, Bach’s PASSION CHORALE. We’ll get there in another 130 days…
Let’s say that #66 is in my top 10, to be sure. And today’s hymn, #67, is definitely in my top 20 and possibly top 10. I’d have to do a tally to be sure.
One of my favorite moments in Handel’s immortal “Messiah” is the final movement entitled “Worthy Is The Lamb” which quotes the same scripture as our Hymn #67.
11 And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands;
12 Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.
13. And every creature which is in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.
What a scene! “Ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands” worshiping and praising the Lord at His heavenly throne!
We get just a snippet of this powerful text at the end of Hymn #67, “Worthy the Lamb.” And verse 3 depicts the scene above.
The melody begins in the upper register of the voice with a nice big explosion of energy on “Glory.”
The tune comes down the scale to F and the ascends back up to a fun and energetic “praise flurry,” on “earth,” the dotted eighth-sixteenth.
Hymn-writers take note of the contrary shape in the bass line. It’s a beautifully composed counter motion in the bass part. Down then up in the soprano. Up then down in the bass.
First of all, this kind of motion almost guarantees that you’re avoiding parallel 5th and Octaves. Secondarily, it makes for a rewarding musical aura over all.
The second phrase begins with a unison figure. I really like this figure when considering the context of the entire hosts of heaven singing praise. We all come together in 1 and repeat the 3 opening notes of the hymn in unison praise (“…if ye are not one, ye are not mine…”).
What follows are 2 identical 2-bar phrases. Often, this kind of repetition would get boring. But not this time. After the unison opening to the line, these repeated bars feel like a an extension of the unity of the crowd started by the unison phrase. It’s like a big rock ‘n roll anthem or South American futbol song, but less worldly…
I also like how the shape of the melody emphasizes the words “grace” and “sorrows.” It’s strong doctrinal melody writing, emphasizing the important words.
After the 2 repeated phrases we get an extension of that repetition with the same rhythm (quarter-quarter-quarter | dotted-quarter-eighth-quarter). And notice how “Sing aloud” is an exact inversion (upside down setting) of the opening 3 notes of the piece. Nicely done. Very cohesive. And after this 3rd 2-bar phrase using the same rhythm we get the final hammer blows in straight quarters, “Wor-thy the Lamb!”
This hymn does not have a single accidental. All the notes are diatonic, belonging to the key signature. I think this makes sense, given the context. There’s no need to go far afield to sing praise the The Lamb!
It is not an adventurous hymn. It is a strong, standard harmony, well shaped melody, “worthy” piece of praise music that we should sing more often.
That’s all for today. Tomorrow we’ll talk about my favorite Reformer, Martin Luther!
P.S. Click below to subscribe to these posts and I’ll shoot you a quick email each time a post is published.
Commentary from “The Bench Warmer”
by Jason Gunnell, Organist
This tune is used in many hymnals, usually set to different texts. It appears in the Hymnal 1982 twice, with two different texts, neither of which is the text set in our hymnal. Also of interesting note is the melody of the tune is different in the Hymnal 1982.
I find this tune to be serviceable, and an example of a very well-crafted hymn, but it comes across to me as serviceable rather than a declamatory statement of “sing[ing] aloud evermore: Worthy the Lamb!”
This is another hymn that the suggested tempo marking is completely out-of-line with the tempo that the tune asks to be played at to communicate a joyful declaration of praise. Play this at 88 and see just how slow and plodding the tune is. I think congregations would absolutely dread this hymn at such a slow pace.
I give these tempo suggestions with congregational singing and the characteristic of each hymn in mind, and it never serves either purpose to have a hymn go so slowly. That is why I encouraged organists to work on these hymns to be able to play them at the tempo that serves congregational singing and the message of the text.
I make these comments observing the disparity between the suggested tempo and the tempo that seems to suit the tune and text so well, with the quarter note equalling about 130-134 beats per minute. That is a big disparity! Like the previous hymn, I harmonize the unison measure. I play a half note F major chord, moving to G7 chord on beat three, then C major on the next measure, all the while holding a C pedal point in the pedal.
This hymn also could call for a robust registration, though one could conceive a more clear registration, not filling out the 8’ so much, just using principals in the principal chorus through mixture.
Registration Starting Point:
Great: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Mixture
Swell: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Flute 8’, Nazard 2 ⅔’, Mixture, Hautbois 8’
Pedal: Principal 16’, 8’, 4’, Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’, 16’ Reed
Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Mixture, Trumpet 8’
Swell: Mixture, Bassoon 16’, Trumpet 8’
Pedal: 32’ Flue and Reed, Posaune 16’