PBEH Discussion: Brightest and Best
  • What about the hymns mentioned in Fr. Rutler's book, 'Brightest and Best, Stories of Hymns'? Though I love this book, I wonder what more studied people think of it.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,299
    I love Fr. Rutler's writing, don't you? "I heard this beautiful hymn, and it reminded me of a dinner in the twilight in Tuscany. At the dinner they served lamb chops, and the company included the Queen of England, and this was the hymn they sang on the British aircraft carrier that was lost at sea in the last days of World War II. Queen Elizabeth had christened its bow in 1943, and now this hymn reminds me of champagne. And lamb chops."

    Hahahahaha.

    ***

    Not that you're asking for this, but this is my take on the actual hymn:

    Sadly, I must take issue with this otherwise half-lovely hymn of the fine author Reginald Heber, who also gave us Holy, Holy, Holy ("casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea") and the excellent Virgin-Born, We Bow Before You.

    Here we have an Epiphany hymn in dancing dactyls, a song to the star that led the sages to the Lord. Verses 1 and 2 very effectively convey the joy of the pilgrims on the road, coming closer!

    But then for some reason, likely a bad theological reason, verses 3 and 4 flatten the joy with a strange dichotomization: we have no sacrifice, no gift, but God will accept our love.

    What a strange thing to say! In what universe does love come without cost? Have we nothing to give? Or are we as stingy as the man who buried the coin he was given to invest? "Beloved, let us love in deed and in truth, and not merely talk about it."

    Brightest and best of the sons of the morning,
    Dawn on our darkness and lend us Thine aid;
    Star of the East, the horizon adorning,
    Guide where our infant Redeemer is laid.

    Cold on His cradle the dewdrops are shining;
    Low lies His head with the beasts of the stall;
    Angels adore Him in slumber reclining,
    Maker and Monarch and Savior of all!

    Say, shall we yield Him, in costly devotion,
    Odors of Edom and offerings divine?
    Gems of the mountain and pearls of the ocean,
    Myrrh from the forest, or gold from the mine?

    Vainly we offer each ample oblation,
    Vainly with gifts would His favor secure;
    Richer by far is the heart’s adoration,
    Dearer to God are the prayers of the poor.
  • I don't see verses 3-4 in that light. I think the questions in verse 3 are rhetorical, and that it's a given that we do make such offerings; and the verse 4 clarifies the issue that these traditional gifts have no real meaning without the interior love being offered as well.

    Musically, I think only one composer has really fit text and tune in an inspired way, and it is very unfamiliar to most people. Sir George Thalden-Ball wrote the tune "Jesmian" for this text. I've only seen it in "The BBC Hymnal". The shape of the melodic phrases soar with the text. All the other tunes I've seen/heard move in exactly the opposite directions.
  • One of my favourite hymns from childhood ! At the old school I attended as a child, this was the final hymn at the end of the Christmas pageant. The year that I was one of the three kings, this hymn made such a deep impression together with the sort of summary homily given by the school's chaplain. In a very simple way he asked the students and the invited public to offer the most important gifts -- that of our hearts and our love to God the Child ... (The fourth verse reminds me so much of Father Andrew and also the Anglican Franciscans.)

    I have often seen this hymn paired with the hymn by well-beloved Christina Rosetti i.e., "In the Bleak Midwinter" making, as it does, a similar point of offering one's heart to the Christ Child. Both wonderfully crafted texts worthy of inclusion in any hymnal.
  • I add my voice in favor of this hymn. Have always loved it. Not familiar with the Thalden-Ball setting. Is it possible to find it somewhere on-line, anybody?

    Donna
  • I don't find it anywhere, just mention of it. It's probably under copyright. It's unfortunate because it really is beautiful.

    I believe organists need a comprehensive hymnal collection. Very few people even know that a BBC hymnal existed. Cyril V. Taylor was one of the editors of this hymnal, and it includes a number of his hymn-tunes. If you like "Abbott's Leigh" you'll love many others by him. Also many of R.R. Terry's tunes are used.
  • We lived in UK for five years, and I remember that BBC Hymnal. We put our daughter in the Parish Primary School, and they had music through the BBC Schools Programs. She also learned violin there with free instruction from a peripatetic teacher.Nothing like a third grade orchestra, altho she was good from the beginning. Went on to major in violin. I may have that BBC Hymnal somewhere. But I bet I could find it through Google.