Editor’s Note: Each contributor is reflecting upon Comparison of 15 Traditional Catholic Hymnals. Rather than rehashing Mr. Craig’s article, they were given freedom to “expand upon” this vast subject. Click here to read all the installments that have appeared so far.
HEN READING the amazing (and thorough!) article by Daniel Craig—which meticulously compares fifteen traditional Catholic hymnals—one cannot help but think in relief: “Phew, I’m glad someone else did what I’ve been thinking of doing myself!” Upon each read of Mr. Craig’s article, I wanted to go back over some of my old favorite hymns. Two of the hymnals discussed I have had extensive familiarity with: Hymns, Psalms, and Spiritual Canticles and the Adoremus Hymnal. As I played my favorite hymns from these hymnals, I noticed something: in almost every case, I noticed that Dr. Theodore Marier had written the harmonization! (Well, or J. S. Bach…but he’s not the focus of this article.) Since Hymns, Psalms, and Spiritual Canticles was the hymnal I first learned many tunes from, I still have many of Dr. Marier’s harmonizations embedded in my subconscious as the “proper version”. Playing now from other hymnals, I find myself yearning for his arrangement and harmonies. I also notice myself using some of the style and tricks that Dr. Marier used while accompanying or composing. I wanted to highlight some of these reharmonizations for you and to compare them to the “normal” way these hymns are accompanied.
We’re going to highlight one hymn that I particularly noticed in his “style”: Soul of my Savior (ANIMA CHRISTI). In this reharmonization there is both a complete rethinking of the third line of music as well as a slowing down of the “harmonic rhythm”—the pace at which the harmonies happen. I have taken the hymn from Hymns, Psalms, and Spiritual Canticles and transposed it into F to ease the ability to compare at a glance. I have also chosen to notate the chords with letters in the more modern way rather than Roman Numerals. I’ve found this might make sense to more people. The original hymn and harmonies were written by William J. Maher. Here are the two versions in their entirety:
And here are the MP3’s of them both (recorded directly from the notation software, Finale):
ANIMA CHRISTI, Original Harmonization by W. J. Maher
ANIMA CHRISTI, Reharmonization by Dr. T. Marier
Sensitivity to Text and Purpose
What Dr. Marier does here is one of the things I respect about his compositional style: his sensitivity to the text and the purpose of the hymn. First, note that the original tune, by W. J. Maher has a lot of movement compared with Marier’s reharmonization. This lack of movement makes it easier to fit at Communion—its obvious place in the Mass. The absence of constant movement helps the hymn ‘breathe’—giving a little more of a sense of rest and peace. In Marier, the movement picks up throughout, reaches a peak at the third line (even continuing through the whole note at the end of the line) and then tapers off in the last line. It’s very well balanced! (A term often thrown out at this point is harmonic rhythm, which is the rate at which harmony changes—Marier is definitely slower than Maher.)
For the beginner re-harmonizer, take note! Sometimes having less actually adapts the hymn to your purpose more effectively than making sure to cram in every compositional trick up your sleeves. Don’t forget the beauty of simple things, more complex doesn’t mean more better [sic!]. We don’t feel rushed by Marier. I could see an organist playing the first two verses with Marier’s gentler harmony, and then switching to Maher’s on the last verse to increase interest and variety; or I could see an organist using Maher’s first, and then drawing the hymn to a gentle close with Marier.
Let’s look at each line and I’ll add some comments on them as we go. Green will indicate parallel chords. Blue will indicate voice leading. Red indicates notable differences.
In our first line, Marier uses less variety in the chords he chooses, often letting a harmony cover two of the melody notes. Maher has an almost relentless bass line, and even includes a couple eighth note pairs in measure 3 to keep the movement going. Marier’s by contrast is simple, using simple harmonies, keeping the harmonic rhythm in sync with the melody.
In the second line, we see in Marier’s harmonies D minor (the vi chord) highlighted before we get the C chord as our goal. We have the C#o7 and A/C# chords both borrowed from D minor to immediately add flavor. Maher chooses to move very quickly to C major (with the inclusion of B natural)—he transitions and keeps things centered around C for the entire line. And despite being harmonically more travelled than Maher’s, Marier sounds like he’s keeping things more simple, due to the unhurried half note chords with no suspensions, passing tones or changing harmonies.
Marier still keeps things moving more slowly (keeping one harmony per melody note), but manages to put two key centers in the space of one line. This is difficult to manage, as it can make the line divided or disjointed. (Here it does not sound that way.) Notice again, though, that Marier doesn’t feel the need to modify the last two measures of the original harmony; but in keeping with the idea of the piece, he simplifies it, excluding the dotted rhythm (and typical ornamentation) at the end.
The third line of music is where things get exciting—Marier travels to the ii (G minor), and uses a Phrygian-feeling half cadence to accomplish this. However, in Maher’s original, we travel back to F major, the home key.
A couple of tweaks to the original harmony help to accomplish this move to G minor without it feeling out of place. First, instead of staying on the V (C major), Marier returns home to the tonic. This sets up a firmer foundation to move to the ii (G minor) and the exotic cadence without sacrificing continuity. We also see much smoother chord movements in measure 11 for Marier – the alto moving by half step, and the distinct lack of bass moving by 5ths makes the voice leading more fluid. Maher uses in the same place A – D – G – C – F which is movement by a 5th solid through. Maher uses the same motion again in the last measure.
The tenor’s movement on the last chord of this line is so heart wrenching—I love that flatted 9 (Eb) that gives such longing to the already interesting cadence here.
This moment really is the centerpiece of the reharmonization. Perhaps by design, this climax happens at the point mentioned constantly by Jeff Ostrowski at the Sacred Music Symposium: the “golden mean” (a.k.a. sectio aurea or sectio divina). Whether for a movie, a composition, or a phrase of Gregorian Chant, the “golden mean” is somewhere around the 3/4 marker.
Moving a bit backwards in this line, notice also the bass line’s shape remains identical in measure 9 to the original, only moved down by a fifth.
And in measure 10, Marier juggles the original bass line between tenor and bass to create an interesting continuity from the original.
Here is the final line of the Hymn:
This Phrygian half cadence seamlessly is picked up by the last line when Marier starts on the ii (G minor), and then backtracks to the vi (D minor) and then keeps up a much gentler ending flourish. Here, though, Maher uses many more chords and some chord coloring, since he is not in need of modulating or connecting back to the home key. Maher’s original uses an ornamentation that adds a 9th chord flavor (I love this moment!) in the first measure, and then a secondary dominant (A – D minor) in the final cadential figure. Marier is able to use that same move from A – D minor earlier, and thus actually extends the final cadence over 4 measures, whereas Maher uses all these chords only in the last two-and-a-half measures.
Final Line of Marier (leaving out repeated chords): 1. Gm, 2. A7, 3. Dm, 4. Gm7, [F/C], 5. C7, 6. F
Final 2.5 measures of Maher: 1. Gm, 2. A, 3. Dm, 4. Gm7, 5. C7, 6. F
To put it in other words (other than the cadential six-four F major chord) Marier uses the same harmony over the course of an entire line that Maher uses in the last measure alone. Talk about a slower harmonic rhythm here! Marier actually uses only one chord (with some coloring) per 2 beats here to bring things to a tidy close.
Overall, Marier’s harmonization goes farther harmonically with less motion; while Maher stays relatively close to the home key of F while adding lots of movement under the melody. I honestly love moments of both versions and not sure which is better, but it is interesting how different Marier feels from Maher’s while using such similar harmony in certain places. With that in mind, it is interesting that Marier did change the harmony on this one for his Hymnal. What he has done, though, is to create a solid and convincing hymn harmonization that is unique and memorable, but without being eccentric or far out.
Studying tasteful reharmonizations can give us more insight into how to reharmonize if that’s our thing. Knowing tasteful alternatives gives us a nice variant harmonization to mix in with our hymn playing as well. I do know above all else, that Marier’s version of the hymn makes for a much more compelling choral piece, as the harmonies lend themselves very much to vocal reproduction. It was amazing to finally recognize and write on one of the musicians that had a great impact on my musical tastes, even though at the time I had no idea that he was influencing me. It is also amazing to discover how an individual can have such an influence on the tides of liturgical music when he is in touch with the real spirit of the liturgy and “sits in his cell” to get his work done.
ANIMA CHRISTI is by no means the most characteristic of Dr. Theodore Marier’s harmonizations from Hymns, Psalms, and Spiritual Canticles—there are others that have an even more unique flair that I’ve come to associate with Marier’s name, among them: GROSSER GOTT, SLANE, and even several of his own hymn tunes, like EMENDAR, which sets the Gaelic text “Think of the Son of God.” This last one should be in more hymnals, in my humble opinion. I may delve into some more of the interesting lessons of Dr. Theodore Marier’s harmonizations in the future.