Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Comfort, Comfort Ye My People

Here is another hymn! Less than a week until Christmas is here!

Title: Comfort, Comfort Ye My People

Tune: Freu Dich Sehr


Composer: Louis Bourgeois (c. 1510-1561)

Author: Johann Olearius (1611-1684), Trans. Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878)

Originally written as a German versification of the text Isaiah 40: 1-5, the text of this hymn was meant to show the promise of better days to come within the coming of the Messiah. The passage from Isaiah marks the beginning of the remaining large passages of prophecies (Isa. 40-66), in which the prophecies display messages of condolence and of hope that the exile of Judah from Babylon will soon be over. The hymn was written by Johann Olearius in honor of St. John the Baptist day, and was published in the 1671 collection Geistliche Singe-Kunst. This collection contained nearly 1200 hymns, 300 of which came from Olearius himself. it wasn't until nearly 200 years later that Catherine Winkworth translated this hymn from German to English and published it in her 1863 collection of translations Chorale Book for England. Known for her clean translations, Winkworth was good at maintaining the original form of the texts she translated. 

            Born the son of a Johann Olearius, the pastor of St. Mary's Church, and the superintendent in Halle, Germany, Olearius was born into a long line of Lutheran Theologians. He began his studies at the University of Wittenburg in 1629, where he earned his master’s degree in 1632, and eventually his doctorate in 1643. Eventually, while studying at the university, Olearius became lecturer, and in 1635 was named as an adjunct member of the Philosophical Faculty. Two years later, in 1637, Olearius was appointed superintendent at Querfurt, where he remained until 1643, when he was appointed by Duke August of  Sachsen-Weissenfels as the chief court preacher and private chaplain at Halle. During his time in Halle, Olearius became Kirchenrath (1657) and eventually the superintendent (1664). In 1680, upon the death of Duke August, the administration in Halle fell under the control of Duke Johann Adolf, who gave Olearius many of the same positions that he already held, only this time in Weissenfels, which Olearius held until his death in 1684. During his lifetime, Olearius had published many different works, one of which was a commentary on the entire bible itself. Olearius was also known as one of the biggest contributors to the largest collection of hymns at the time, Geistliche Singe-Kunst (1671). Olearius worked on both the first edition of the collection and the second edition of the collection (published only a year later, updated with nearly 100 more hymns). Olearius is also known for having translated Thomas A. Kempis's book Imitatio Christi (the Imitation of Christ), which is a widely read book. 

            Catherine Winkworth was a woman of great note, being a well-educated woman, and a supporter of women's rights and higher education for women. Beginning her education with her mother, Winkworth was raised with her close relatives in Dresden, Germany, where she became interested in her German Hymnody. Eventually, Winkworth moved to Manchester, England, where she remained until 1862, when she moved with her family to Clifton, which is just outside of Bristol, England. Spending most of her life translating texts of German hymns, Winkworth began with a collection of hymnals from her friend, Baron Bunsen. Though the translations are often changed, most of her original translations are used in many different hymnals today. The bulk of her work was published in two collections of Lyra Germanica (1855, 1858), as well as her book Chorale Book for England. In this collection (Chorale Book for England), Winkworth was sure to pair each tune with the appropriate German text, which was annotated by two gentleman, Sterndale Bennet and Otto Goldschmidt. During her lifetime, Winkworth also translated biographies of German Christians who supported ministries to the poor and to the sick, as well as biographies of German hymn writers, and published them in Christian Singers of Germany (1869).

            Originally written as an accompaniment for the text from Psalm 42, the tune "Freu Dich Sehr" was composed by Louis Bourgeois. Born in 1510, Bourgeois was a famous French Renaissance composer and music theorist. Though almost nothing is known about Bourgeois's early life, it is known that his first publicatioin was a collection of secular chansons published in 1539 in Lyon, France. In 1547 however, Bourgeois moved to, and became a citizen of Geneva, where he published his first collection of four-voice psalms. Between 1549 and 1550, Bourgeois worked on a number of tunes that were supposed to accompany psalms. Though it was known that Bourgeois had worked on this collection, the extent to which he was a composer, compiler or arranger was unknown until a copy of a long-lost copy of the Genevan Hymnal was brought to the library at Rutgers University. In an avertissement (or note) to the reader, Bourgeois specified the exact work that had been done by his predecessors, what he had changed, and which arrangements were his. Bourgeois is one of the three main composers who contributed to the Genevan Hymnal. 

            Around this time, Bourgeois lost his reputation with musical authorities around France, and was eventually thrown in jail in 1851 for having made changes to popular hymn-tunes "without a license." Eventually, Bourgeois was released from prison on a personal recommendation from John Calvin himself, but, even after his release, the controversy continued. Because the singers had already learned the original tunes, had no desire to learn anything new, the town council demanded that a burning of his instructions be held, claiming that his instructions were too confusing and unnecessary. Shortly after this incident, Bourgeois (understandably) left Geneva, and moved to Lyon, which his wife followed sometime after. Shortly after his move, his employment in Geneva was terminated. Eventually, in 1560, Bourgeois moved to Paris, where he published a fierce piece of invective against the publishers in Geneva. During his time in Paris, a Parisian publisher came out with a collection of four-voice chansons written by the composer, a form of music which Bourgeois had claimed to be "dissolute," during his time in Geneva. Oddly enough, his daughter was born around this time, and she was baptized as Catholic. Nothing is known of Bourgeois's life after 1560, though most hymnals print his date of death as 1561. Bourgeois is the most responsible for the tunes in the Genevan Psalter, a source for music in both the Reformed Church, and the church in America. Though many of his tunes were written in a monophonic style (containing only one part for voice), it is known that he had written harmonization for each of his tunes, but that was usually reserved for performances in his home. Of all Bourgeois compositions, perhaps the most famous is known as the Old 100th, which many in the protestant church known as the tune for the Doxology.

The Text:

(1) Comfort, comfort ye my people,
Speak ye peace, thus saith our God;
Comfort those who sit in darkness,
Mourning 'neath their sorrows' load;
Speak ye to Jerusalem
Of the peace that waits for them,
Tell her that her sins I cover,
And her warfare now is over.

(2) Yea, her sins our God will pardon,
Blotting out each dark misdeed;
All that well deserved His anger
He will no more see nor heed.
She hath suffer'd many a day,
Now her griefs have passed away,
God will change her pining sadness
Into ever-springing gladness.

(3) For Elijah's voice is crying
In the desert far and near,
Bidding all men to repentance,
Since the kingdom now is here.
Oh that warning cry obey,
Now prepare for God a way;
Let the valleys rise to meet Him,
And the hills bow down to greet Him.

(4) Make ye straight what long was crooked,
Make the rougher places plain,
Let your hearts be true and humble,
As befits His holy reign;
For the glory of the Lord
Now o'er earth is shed abroad,
And all flesh shall fee the token
That His Word is never broken.

My Take on the Hymn:

            This hymn is very important to the message that is coming with the season of Advent. In the time of Advent, it is important that we take the time to not only to admit the sins we had committed, but also to atone for them. In the first verse, the voice of the text speaks to those who are in times of trial. When we are struggling with something, sometimes it is very difficult for us to admit that we are struggling, but that is all God requires of us, to give our sorrows and struggles to Him. The second stanza speaks to God’s ability to forgive and forget. The fact that God is willing to accept us into his house, no matter what we have done, is incredible. Christ is the only one who can forgive us our sins, but we must go through Him in order to be completely forgiven. Into the kingdom of heaven, there is no shortcut, and there is no easy way in, which leads us into the third stanza. This stanza is all about atoning for the sins that we have committed, which is the only way that Christ will forgive us. God knows the sins we have committed, but he wants us to admit to Him that we know what we have done, and that we know that what we have done is wrong. The fourth stanza is all about the power of Christ. At the end of time, Christ will bring everything to light, and he will take what is crooked and make it straight, and he will take everything that once was dark, and he will awaken the dead, and raise them up into the realms of glory!
            On another note, I feel that the magnitude of what has occurred this past week deserves a response. The event that took place at Stony Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, is one that has no explanation, no reasoning, or any resemblance of an iota of sense. For the parents of the children that have been killed (as well as the rest of their family), and to the families of those adults who were killed, I am truly sorry for your loss, and I pray that you will be able to heal and find comfort in the time to come. Please remember, there are two powers at work in this world, Satan, and God himself. Though it may seem easier to blame God for this, he would not ever cause his children this much pain. This may be the darkest hour in your life so far, but through God, healing will come, and he will not allow you to go through this alone. Christ will be with you, He will be with you, and He will provide for you the things you need to heal. The thing that we must concentrate on most now more than ever, is how we can help the families heal, and then we can deal with things as they come.

The Hymn:

If you cannot read music, just play the Youtube video and follow along!


"Comfort, Comfort Ye My People." Hymnary.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Dec. 2012.

Julian, John. "Louis Bourgeois." - Hymnary.org. Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, n.d. Web. 18 Dec. 2012.

Julian, John. "Catherine Winkworth." - Hymnary.org. Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, n.d. Web. 18 Dec. 2012.

Julian, John. "Johann Olearius." - Hymnary.org. Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, n.d. Web. 18 Dec. 2012.

Julian, John. "FREU DICH SEHR." Hymnary.org. Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, n.d. Web. 18 Dec. 2012.

"Comfort, Comfort Ye My People." Comfort, Comfort Ye My People. The Hymns and Carols of Christmas, n.d. Web. 18 Dec. 2012.

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