1) This page is under development; collaborators welcomed.
2) This page is not intended to be comprehensive discussion of what a hymn is, or is not.
3) Consensus on some ideas presented in this page has not yet been reached, therefore some content on this page
should be considered to be only the recommendation by the author.
Comments welcome on the talk page.
What is a Hymn?
The word hymn is used colloquially to refer to a sacred, strophic (poetic) text, intended for group singing, where the strophes (stanzas) are sung to the same tune, or to a small number (two or very rarely three) of related tunes. A more formal definition often used is that first provided by Bishop Augustine of Hippo in the 4th Century, a song in praise of God. There are strophic sacred texts which are intended for, or at least well suited to, group singing, which are not hymns as defined by Augustine These texts are sometimes called spiritual songs. Yet another (dictionary style) definition of hymn is: A song of praise or thanksgiving to God or a deity. A song of praise or joy; a paean. To praise, glorify, or worship in or as if in a hymn. To sing hymns.
Hymn texts and hymn tunes are characterized as "strophic" because they most often are divided into units called "strophes" or stanzas. All of the stanzas in a particular text usually have common attributes: the same number of lines, the same number of syllables per line, and usually one predominant pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in each line.
Three terms are used in a specific sense on CPDL. The phrase "Hymn tune" is used for a specific reference to a melody; the phrase "Hymn setting" is used to refer to the harmony composed for a specific hymn tune; the word "Hymn" is used for a text with a tune or setting.
- Hymn tunes (melodies) at CPDL (listed alphabetically by tune name).
- Hymn settings (melodies and harmonizations) at CPDL
- Hymns (texts and settings)
Association between text and tune
There are a few cases where there is a strong correlation between a hymn tune and a particular text. This may have happened because the a composer found particular inspiration in a poem, and set it to music. This is what happened in the case of Bishop Reginald Heber's text from 1826, Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty. In 1861 John Bacchus Dykes composed the tune Nicæa specifically for this text, in the Hymnal Hymns Ancient and Modern. It has also happened that a poet wrote a text specifically for use with a particular tune.
Some think that this is the case with John Wesley's text, "Love Divine". Because the specific character of the text so closely matches the character of Henry Purcell's music for Venus' Song "Fairest Isle" at the end of Dryden's play King Arthur, some think John Wesley wrote the text to be used with Purcell's music as a substitute for the Dryden's text.
Hymn tune meter and Metrical Indexes
Because in most cases the association between text and tune is not hard and fast, and because when it was desirable that a group desired to sing a text, it was more expedient for the group to sing the text to a tune they knew, than to have them learn a new tune, metrical indexes were developed to facilitate this interchangeability. However, a review of the metrical indexes of a number of hymnals shows that consensus has not yet been achieved on the best way to lay out either a hymn meter, or a metrical index. In the latter case, of the two schemes which seem to predominate, one method indexes by first by the number of syllables in each line, and secondarily by the number of lines. The other method indexes first by the number of lines, and secondarily by the number of syllables within the line. Since that consensus has not yet been reached, both schemes are incorporated in CPDL. At the same time, this review shows that consensus was not reached on representation of Hymn meters, either. Not only are differences of opinion are noted on how to count the syllables, but also on whether to use the meter represented by the music, or by the text. There is also no agreement on how to represent the meters in writing, either. In once source, one will find "188.8.131.52.184.108.40.206" assigned to a tune, in another source, the same tune is represented "7 6. 7 6. 7 6. 7 6" in a third, "7 6, 7 6, D", in a fourth, "7s and 6s, eight lines". There have been alphabetical shorthand for a number of meters, in different source.
The nature of CPDL in general, and the sorting mechanisms built on the WIKI software which organizes CPDL, suggest the desirability of recommended practices for representing Hymn meters on CPDL. Of the sundry alphabetical abbreviations, it is recommended that only four be commonly used in CPDL: D (Double); SM (Short Meter), CM (Common Meter), and LM (Long Meter). The decision as to whether a particular bit of musical material is a pair of phrases, the first of which is 6 units, and the second is 5; or whether that same bit is a single phrase of 11 units, should be made on a musical basis, and should not be influenced by one or another text associated with the tune. Obvious musical repose after six units would dictate that the material should be treated as two phrases, and designated 6 5; the absence of any musical repose or cadential material except at the end of the phrase means that there is a single phrase of 11 units. In most cases, it is sufficient to use a only a space as a separator between numbers representing phrases, for example "6 5". Thus, 8 7 8 7 7 7 8 8 is a sufficient designation for the tune for Psalm 42 from the Genevan Psalter. Occasionally, the musical structure combines two or more phrases in a cohesive musical unit; one way to indicate this is to use a period before the spacel "8 8 6. 8 8 6 designates a tune consisting of two groups of phrases in which the groups form a cohesive unit. The review of printed hymnals showed that it was the custom with tunes which had a common refrain on all stanzas, to indicate the presence of a refrain, but not to specify the meter of the refrain. The tune "Mendelsssohn", commonly associated with Charles Wesley's text, "Hark! the herald angels sing" is generally given the meter designation "7 7. 7 7. 7 7. 7 7 . with refrain". However, since refrains are not always the same length, it seems preferable on CPDL to indicate the presence of the refrain, but to also provide its meter in some hymnals. Thus, the tune "Mendelssohn" CPDL would be designated as "7 7. 7 7. 7 7. 7 7. with refrain (7 7)", or "7 7. 7 7. D with refrain (7 7)". Interjections in the metrical indexes of printed hymnals are often treated in similar manner to refrains: the presence of the interjection is acknowledged, but not their meter. "Easter Hymn" is designated "7 7 7 7 with Alleluias", and Alleulia is by far the most common interjection, so it seems appropriate to adopt the custom of printed hymnals not to include interjections in the designation of the in the designation of Hymn meter.
A particular tune may be adapted to texts with different meters, so that the same tune may have several meters attached. Schein's Hymn setting, Machs mit mir Gott is an example. While the tune was originally composed with a meter of 8 7. 8 7. 88, by omitting the repeat, it can be used with a texts with meter 8 8. 8 8; by subdividing a note, it can be used with a text with a meter of 8 8. 8 8. 8 8. Such versatility can be easily accommodated in CPDL by assigning multiple categories to the tune. In like manner, a tune with a meter of 6 5. 6 5. D, which may be good fit to a text with a meter of 11 11 11 11 may be given that category designation in CPDL, too.
Hymn Tune Names
Most hymn tunes have names, sometimes related to the text with which they were first associated, but often times, not related to the text at all. Because there is not a strict one-to-one association between hymn tunes and names, it is necessary to distinguish between multiple tunes with the same name.
To complicate matters further, there are hymn tunes where the same tune has more than one name. While it has been a custom in the English speaking world to assign a name to a hymn tune, this was not as common a practice in other areas where the convention was to refer to a tune by the incipit of the first text with which it was associated. When compilers of English hymnals began adapting tunes from German and Scandinavian sources, almost two hundred years ago, they assigned English style names to the tunes they adapted. Thus, for example, in most English hymnals, the tune associated with the German chorale "Valet will ich dir geben", was assigned the name, "St. Theodulph".
Naming conventions on CPDL
Ambiguity about hymn tunes, hymn settings, and hymns can be minimized by carefully choosing the names for the page. One convention used on CPDL is to name a page containing hymn tune or hymn setting with the name and meter of the tune or setting, with the name of the composer in parentheses. An example of his is the page containing the hymn setting "Nettleton". Such pages have no associated text. Under this convention, pages containing Hymns, that is, hymn settings with a particular associated text, are designated by the first line of the associated text, with the hymn tune name, or name and meter, in parenthesis. Thus it is obvious that this page containing Stand up! Stand up for Jesus is a hymn.