OOGLE HAS UPLOADED a complete copy of HYMNS ANCIENT & MODERN, and I’ve included the PDF (41MB) toward the end of this article. HYMNS A&M is a famous Anglican hymn book containing many praiseworthy melodies and texts later adopted by Catholic hymnals. Number 145, for example, is an English translation of “Rex Sempiterne Coelitum,” a Roman Catholic hymn. (Orby Shipley has reminded us that the majority of Anglican hymns are ancient Catholic hymns translated into English.) I’m part of a team creating the St. Jean de Brébeuf Hymnal, and the marvelous hymns we’ve uncovered along the way are bewildering—to say nothing of the many contemporary works we’ve commissioned.
We love exploring hymns sung in two parts, for choirs who struggle with SATB. 1 Here is a glorious example:
REHEARSAL VIDEOS for each individual voice await you at #4736.
That link (#4736) also contains a version totally in English—in case your choir is scared of seeing Latin!
EARLIER, I MADE REFERENCE to Number 145 in HYMNS A&M, which uses a translation by the compilers beginning with “O Christ the Heaven’s Eternal King.” There’s nothing wrong with that translation; indeed, about fifteen other translations might have been chosen. My choice, however—as shown above—was the excellent English translation by Fr. Fitzpatrick. Make sure to download Google’s scan of HYMNS A&M (1904 edition). The 1972 edition is also worth obtaining, but isn’t available online.
The hymn above (“Rex Sempiterne”) is actually a Renaissance revision of the ancient hymn “Rex Aeterne Domine.” This hymn can be sung at any time during the liturgical year. Indeed, we have made a special effort in the St. Jean de Brébeuf Hymnal to include pieces suitable for use throughout the year. We believe many hymnals fall short in this area, yet provide abundant choices for Advent, Christmas, Easter, and so on. Those hymnals would be adequate if church musicians only worked on major feasts—but the reality is, choirmasters must choose music throughout the entire year.
Consider two literal translations of this hymn:
Do you know a more beautiful hymn? I do not.
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 Unfortunately, many choirs—both Catholic and Protestant—feel they are “good enough” to sing SATB, but the results are unsatisfactory. SATB singing is supposed to sound good. If it’s not sounding good, the choirmaster should switch back to unison or 2-voice.