What are hymns?
A hymn is a devotional song, usually addressed to a deity. In modern Christianity, hymns usually consist of a number of verses (stanzas), each of the same number of lines, which are sung to a melody, or “hymn tune”. However, hymns are not limited to Christian worship and are an integral part of various other religions as well.
Where do the hymns come from?
The word ‘anthem’ derives from ‘ὕμνος’ in ancient Greek literature, where it is used to describe songs for various religious purposes. Period references suggest that they were often accompanied by instruments such as the kithara (lyre) and aulos (pipes). The earliest examples of hymns appearing in Christian worship date from the 4th century, when Hilary of Poitiers (died c370) is credited with having written a Liber hymnorum (book of hymns). Originally sung on a single melodic line (monody), hymns began to appear in polyphonic (more than one melodic line) contexts from around the 15th century. Hymns in English as we know them today began to proliferate in the mid-eighteenth century, thanks in particular to John and Charles Wesleywhich made it a central pillar of Methodist church music.
When do we sing hymns?
Some hymns are sung throughout the year, but others are specific to particular seasons, such as AdventChristmas, Lent and Easter. There are also examples of hymns that are meant to be sung in the morning (such as “Awake, my soul, and with the sun”) or in the evening (such as “The day which you have given, Lord, is ended – which is also often used at funerals). Usually hymns are sung by the whole congregation, unlike other parts of the service which may be sung by the celebrant (priest) or choir alone.
Who wrote the hymn tunes?
Hymns can often be sung to a number of different, often familiar melodies and hymnals such as the english hymn – first edited by Percy Dearmer and Ralph Vaughan Williams in 1906 – have a section in the index indicating which words can be fitted to which melodies. A number of famous composers have written well-known hymn tunes, including Joseph Haydnof which ‘Austria’ is often heard accompanying ‘Glorious things of thee are said’ (in addition to providing the air for the german national anthem) and Hubert Parry, notably for the tunes of ‘Jerusalem‘ and ‘Dear Lord and Father of mankind‘ (a melody that originally appeared in his oratorio Judith).
Find the lyrics to your favorite hymns