O come, O come, Emmanuel - November
At the end of November we enter the season of Advent when the Christian church specifically looks forward to Christ coming again as He promised He would do, as well as looking forward to Christmas and the celebration of the birth of Christ. In Christian music various music types are used, hymns and songs are the familiar ones, but how do we differentiate them? The term " hymn" seems to be given to music and words which are of a traditional type, ie a defined tune with a regular rhythm and verses of a fixed length which often have lines which rhyme, these are usually more than 3 or 4 decades old (but not always ) and the term "song" is used for compositions which have appeared over the past 2 or 3 decades and are more relaxed in style but, many newer compositions have the attributes of what we would call hymns and many older compositions are song like in nature.
Wikipedia, that ever helpful free online encyclopaedia, tells us that a "hymn" is a type of song specifically written for the purpose of praising God, adoration or prayer. This definition is backed up from standard dictionaries. The word "hymn" derives from the Greek word "hymnos" which means a song of praise. St. Augustine thought that four elements were necessary for a hymn, these are :
1) WORDS of 2)PRAISE to be 3)SUNG and 4)which addressed GOD.
So really we can use the terms "hymn" and "song" as we feel fit , there is no real clear division and personal and cultural differences will make the nomenclature very subjective anyway! To add to the mix of genre used in Christian music we can add the following terms — carols, anthems, plainsong and motets as well as contemporary Christian , gospel, praise and worship music i.e. something for all tastes with the opportunity for everyone to respect others’ favourite styles.
This month, our hymn comes from the 12th century and is sung in the style which is called plainsong. Plainsong developed in the early centuries of Christianity and was possibly influenced by the music in the synagogues and early Greek music systems. It is a form of music which involves chanting and particularly developed in the liturgies of the western church. The Eastern Orthodox and Western churches did not separate until long after the origin of plainsong but the Eastern Orthodox (Greek, Russian and Coptic churches) chants, which are called Byzantine, are very different from the plainsong we know in Western Europe. Originally there was just one line of music (monophonic) which was not accompanied. The same line of music , or melody, was used for each verse of the chant , much as we use the same tune for each verse of a song. From the 2nd and 3rd centuries right up to about the 9th century there was only the single line plainsong style. After that melodies were expanded with 2, 4 or more lines of music which blended together (polyphonic) and which were sung by voices having differing ranges, from very low to very high in pitch.
A well known hymn in the style of plainsong is often used during Advent services and will be sung at Christ Church at the 10:30 service on the first Sunday in Advent. The first verse of this is
0 come, o come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice, rejoice! Emmanuel
shall come to Thee, 0 Israel.
The words of this hymn came from the 12th century and were originally written in Latin . The tune we sing them to was composed in France about 100 years after the words. We owe the translation to a clergyman, John Mason Neale (1818 — 1866). He was born in London and was the son of a minister. He studied at Cambridge University and was ordained in 1842. Chronic ill health prevented him from taking on parish ministry and he became the warden of Sackville College which was an alms house for the poor. In 1854 he founded the order of St. Margaret , a female order in the Anglican church dedicated to nursing the sick. He was opposed by many in the Anglican Church who were suspicious of separate ‘orders’ but eventually his sincerity won over many of his opponents. A gifted linguist , he translated many Latin liturgies into English and also wrote a commentary on the Psalms. He made the English speaking world aware of a centuries old tradition of Latin, Greek, Russian and Syrian hymns and in particular gave us many hymns we still sing including –
All glory , laud and honour
Christ is made the sure foundation and
Of the Father's love begotten
We owe a great deal to such a quiet, but dedicated man who has enabled us to sing the same words as earlier worshippers in a language with which we are familiar.