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Forth in Praise

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The Forth in Praise Organists' Blog

The personal views of a Catholic parish organist

August 15, 2014

Assumpta est Maria

evelyn @ 7:38 pm

There wasn’t an enormous crowd at the morning Mass – most parishioners had probably been at last night’s Vigil – but I was still able to bring out all the stops on this Feast Day of the Assumption. The hymns were all hymns to Our Lady, and as usual with hymns to Our Lady, the singing was first-rate.

This enthusiasm suggests that devotion to the Virgin Mary could be an instinctive thing with Catholics. It certainly goes back centuries, and was one of the causes of the Reformation. Why the Reformers objected, I never understood, but this isn’t a theological blog, so I won’t pursue the question. Also puzzling is the apparent side-lining of Our Lady in Catholic liturgy after Vatican II, but let’s not pursue that either, as its effect on hymns features in an earlier blog post.

Coming back to today’s music, we had I’ll sing a hymn to Mary – without the wicked men, alas! – but still sung lustily. The other hymn that has made it through the shoals of the twentieth century is Hail Queen of heaven, which we sang at the end. There was also My soul is filled with joy. This paraphrase of the Magnificat is sung to the melody of the ‘Wild mountain thyme’. Although the ‘Wild mountain thyme’ song itself is in copyright, no-one can work out whether the tune is Irish or Scottish, or how old it is.* All the hymnals have it in 4/4 time, but I play it, possibly Scottish-fashion, in 6/8, a steady 2-in-a-bar, boosting the stops at ‘through all generations’. The response from the people below is always excellent.

Before Mass, I improvised on some of the older, forgotten Marian hymn tunes, and the exit voluntary was Schubert’s Ave Maria. All very satisfying.

Must go and listen to Palestrina now …

*For what it’s worth, I didn’t meet this tune when working on my PhD in early Scottish secular music, although there were one or two seventeenth-century melodies not unlike it. This doesn’t mean it wasn’t early, just that without the survival of a written-down version, we can’t tell.


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