ORK CONTINUES on the Brébeuf hymnal, which is scheduled to be released this year. I am honored to be part of its international committee, and we often discover the most interesting books while doing research. Fr. Ludwig Bonvin was a Jesuit priest who served as music director at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York.1 In 1914, he published a hymnal with a company in St. Louis, Missouri:
Jesuit Fr. Peter Leonard was appointed Censor of this work by the Bishop of Buffalo. He has nothing but positive things to say about the creation of his confrère (his assessment is printed at the very beginning of the hymnal) and I do agree this is one of the better American hymnals from that period.
Bonvin wisely chose many Divine Office hymns (Catholic), with English translations frequently taken from Hymns Ancient & Modern (Protestant). This is rather remarkable, since the tradition at that time was to use translations produced exclusively by Catholics: Donohoe, Caswall, Newman, Bagshawe, and so forth. Fr. Bonvin’s book was reviewed favorably in 1916 by his friends at the Catholic Choirmaster (cf. page 13):
Bonvin was concerned about the state of Catholic music in those days:
“Many choirs of children still use hymnals that are wretched from a musical as well as an ecclesiastical standpoint, hymnals that offer not only tasteless and insipid texts and musical bunglings, but even adaptations of well-known English, German, and French secular songs. Even such decidedly secular tunes as Tyrolese and Swiss Yodels, or such unbecoming music as abbreviated arias from Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor and Rossini’s operas are not wanting; all this, too, in a form so corrupt, mutilated and bungled, that in the concert hall or in the family circle we should turn away from it in disgust.”
Speaking of Catholic Choirmaster hymnal reviews, here’s one for the Old Saint Basil Hymnal by “Hymnologus” (a fake name) from 1916:
The language is quite strong—and the author even uses Dom Pothier’s famous disciple (Dom Lucien David) to attack—but we must remember this was published by Nicola Montani (d. 1948) whose hymnal was in direct competition with the Old Saint Basil Hymnal.
The anonymous author seems not to be in love with Germany:
For myself, I think that tune is quite dignified, and often used with “Glorious things of thee are spoken.” Moreover, if memory serves, Haydn did not actually compose that tune—he adapted it from a Croatian song.
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 Canisius College was founded in 1870 by members of the Society of Jesus from Germany and was named after St. Peter Canisius, whose church in Switzerland was used for the images in the Campion Hymnal.