Five 21st Century Hymn Tune Preludes
for  Organ

Danby,  Greensleeves,  St. Columba
Schmücke Dich,  
&  Slane

Click on the link below to download a PDF booklet
available 03/2024



    Three Canons and a Lilt on Danby offers a trio of contrasting verses of a lesser known hymn tune adapted by Ralph Vaughan Williams from an old English ballad melody. In the course of his travels through the English  countryside, Vaughan Williams first heard this distinctive air sung by a Mr. Broomfield at the Cricketer’s Inn of Herongate, Essex on February 22, 1904. The derivative tune first appeared in 1906 with a text by Charles P. Price, "Tis winter now," and with its present tune name in The English Hymnal, then subsequently in Songs of Praise. Its contemporary North American re-emergence in The Hymnal 1982 pairs it with another Price text, "The golden sun lights up the sky." The multi-verse setting provided here opens with a simple statement of the melody, followed by three canonic presentations, each at contrasting temporal and tonal intervals and separated by varied interludes. The concluding Lilt presents the hymn tune in an ornamented version, then gives way to a returning interlude and brief codetta. Subtle contrasts of tempo, timbre and registration from one variation to the next will enhance this gentle setting of Danby.

    Prelude on Greensleeves is an elaborate chorale prelude on an English ballad tune; although its origins likely go further back in time, the tune name first appeared in September, 1580 on two separately issued printing licenses for the title, Lady Greene Sleeves, and twelve days later for a sacred text with the same name. The tune is mentioned in Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor. Its familiar hymn format is drawn from the collaborative efforts of Henry Ramsden Bramley and John Stainer in their collection entitled Christmas Carols New and Old (London, 1871). This setting begins as a lilting siciliana, in which the traditional modal English folk melody emerges in long note values sounded in the soprano. At midpoint, the dancing dotted rhythms cede to a plaintively sighing eighth-note figure (in triple meter); the tune shifts to the tenor voice, then back to the soprano, accompanied by a return of the siciliana rhythm and opening dance figurations.

    Four Verses on St. Columba sets an Irish folk melody that was first collected by George Petri  (ca. 1855), and later published in CharlesVilliers Stanford’s Complete Collection of  Irish Music (London, 1902), prepared for the Irish Literary Society. The tune resurfaced in 1904 in Hymns Ancient and Modern, subsequentially included by Ralph Vaughan Williams in The English Hymnal of 1906 with the text, "King of Love". Its tune name evokes the name of Scotland's patron saint. After a brief introduction, four varied verses ensue, the first utilizing a rhythmic displacement of meter, the second presenting a  canon between tenor and alto voices. After a brief modulation, the third variation begins in a remote key (A-flat), then finds its way through a circuitous route back to the original tonic key (D-Major) for a  fourth variation and  briefly imitative codetta.

    Prelude on Schmücke dich is a neo-Romantic setting of a chorale by Johann Crüger that appeared with Johann Franck’s original German text, "Soul, adorn thyself with gladness," in Crüger’s own publication of Geistliche kirchen Melodien (Berlin, 1649). A gently rocking motif permeates almost every measure of this setting, along with a characteristically echoed repetition of single measures. The melody sounds in the soprano voice, while the pedal part is simple and unobtrusive.

    Prelude on Slane sets an Irish folk melody, so named for Slane Hill, located about ten miles from Tara Hill in County Meath, where it is said St. Patrick defied the pagan King Loigaire by lighting a  ritual  Paschal fire on Easter eve, prior to the king’s own celebratory spring festival fire-lighting on Tara Hill. An altered version of the tune first appeared in Old Irish Folk Music and Songs in 1909, with the  text, "Lord of all hopefulness," and subsequently in the Irish Church Hymnal  (Dublin, 1919) with the text, "Be thou my vision". The present setting frames two verses with a freely imitative opening and closing prelude. The first of the two central variations resets the tune from its original triple meter into quadruple, while the second offers a gentle verse with the melody appearing as a solo in tenor register.