Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Dueling hymn versions

Though perhaps that's too violent a description ...

We attended a hymn sing with organ at Overture Center. One of the pieces was "We praise you O God." Deborah Smith said this was composed as a replacement for a militaristic version. The only other version I know is "We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing." Hmm. It would seem a trifle hypersensitive to object to this:

We gather together to ask the Lord's blessing;
He chastens and hastens his will to make known;
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing.
Sing praises to his name; he forgets not his own.

Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining,
Ordaining, maintaining his kingdom divine;
So from the beginning the fight we were winning;
Thou, Lord, wast at our side; all glory be thine!

We all do extol thee, thou leader triumphant,
And pray that thou still our defender wilt be.
Let thy congregation escape tribulation;
Thy name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!

"We praise thee O God" goes like this:

We praise thee, O God, our Redeemer, Creator;
In grateful devotion our tribute we bring;
We lay it before you; we kneel and adore you;
We bless your holy name: glad praises we sing.

We worship thee, God of our fathers, we bless thee;
Through life's storm and tempest our guide hast thou been;
When perils o'ertake us, escape thou wilt make us,
And with thy help, O Lord, our battles we win.

With voices united our praises we offer,
To thee, great Jehovah, glad anthems we raise;
Your strong arm will guide us, our God is beside us,
To you, our great Redeemer, forever be praise!

A little misunderstanding, perhaps: Hymn Lore suggests that "We Praise Thee" was an independent replacement for the Dutch original:

The hymn is a truly noble utterance of praise. Its dominant note is joy, and this is expressed in a quick-moving meter that makes the singing of it worshipful and jubilant. Because the life of young people is usually joyous, the hymn appeals to them. They respond to it with enthusiasm.

That this should be the character of the text can be partly accounted for by the fact that the author, Mrs. Julia Cady Cory, was born and reared in one of the happiest Christian homes in New York City. Her father, J. Cleveland Cady, an architect of national reputation, is remembered for his devotion to boys and girls, and as the one man in the city who was superintendent of the same Sunday School for fifty-five years.

As for the genesis of the hymn, the author writes as follows : "Years before I was married (in 1902), the organist of the Brick Presbyterian Church of New York City, knowing of my interest in hymnology, came to me and told me that he had a very fine Netherlands melody associated with most militaristic and unchristian words. He lamented the fact, and requested me to write more suitable words, which could be used for the Thanksgiving Day service at the Brick Church. The hymn, as you see it to-day, was the result.

OK, fair enough. Wikipedia carries the original dutch song, but google-translate throws up its bits in despair trying to translate it--the Dutch must be way too old. Someone who knows the language (Mysha) rendered a few verses without rhyme:

Let us now come forward for God, our Lord
Praise him above all, with all of our heart
And exult everywhere the honour of his name,
Who there now beats down our enemy.

For the honour of our Lord, in all your days
Commemorate especially this miracle
For God, oh human, make you well behaved,
Do justice to all, and heed treachery!

Pray, wake and make, that to temptation
And evil with downfall, you will not yield.
Your piety will disturb the enemy,
However strong the walls of his realm might be!

OK, I gather this was written (on an older tune) to commemorate a victory, but what’s translated here still doesn’t seem very harsh. When separated from the incident, the sense is much more generic. Maybe the other verses matter... (The German version, as run through google-translate, is also pretty mild.)

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