The Church with Psalms Must Shout
If his only bequest to the Church had been the hymn tunes Down Ampney and Sine Nomine, we would have cause to be grateful for the gifts of Ralph Vaughan Williams. The melodies that he composed for Christians to sing the fourteenth-century hymn, “Come down, O Love divine,” and the mid-nineteenth-century, “For all the saints, who from their labors rest,” continue to convey the quiet spiritual urgency of the first and the triumphant confidence of the second. Both tunes were devised for inclusion in The English Hymnal, which Vaughan Williams edited, a liturgically seminal volume published in 1906 (the story of which I summarized in “Taught by Melodious Sonnets,” in the November/December 2017 issue of Touchstone).
Apart from hymns, Vaughan Williams wrote very little music for use in liturgical settings. But the catalogue of his works includes some remarkable compositions for performance in concert that employ Christian texts and explore Christian themes. The celebration this October 12th of the 150th anniversary of his birth offers an occasion for Christians to become more familiar with these works.
A Fantasia for All Time
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Ken Myers is the host and producer of the Mars Hill Audio Journal. Formerly an arts editor with National Public Radio, he also served as editor of Eternity, the Evangelical monthly magazine, and This World, the quarterly predecessor to First Things. He also serves as music director at All Saints Anglican Church in Ivy, Virginia. He is a contributing editor for Touchstone.
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