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Of the Father’s Love Begotten. SATB, Organ, Congregation, opt. Brass, Percussion (3 Horns, 3 Trumpets, 3 Trombones, Tuba, Timpani, Suspended Cymbal). Text: Corde natus ex parentis, Aurelius Clemens Prudentius (348–c.413), Verses 1–4 trans. John Mason Neale (1818–66), Verse 5 trans. Henry Williams Baker (1821–1877). Music: DIVINUM MYSTERIUM (13th c. Plainsong), arr. Kile Smith. 5′. Commissioned for The Westminster Symphonic Choir by Westminster Choir College for the 2018 Evening of Readings and Carols, and premiered 7, 8 Dec 2018 (3 performances), Princeton University Chapel, Princeton, NJ, conducted by James Jordan, with Solid Brass and organist Ken Cowan. (Published by G.I.A. under the Westminster Choral Series.)

Composed for choir with descant and congregation (on the last two verses), organ, a large brass choir, timpani, and suspended cymbal, this arrangement can be performed with choir and organ alone. The organ part includes small notes to be played in the absence of other instruments.

Of the Father’s Love Begotten provides a good example of how we don’t give ourselves and others credit for being able to handle unusual musical material. This is a chant which breaks naturally, mainly, but not always into the ungainly time signature of 5/4, interspersed with 4/4s and 3/4s. And yet we sing it without a hitch. We sing it because we know it, and we know it because the melody organically unfolds itself, beautifully and easily. If ever we struggled with the music early on, when we first attempted it as children, we quickly digested and enjoyed it. We forgot the struggle, if there was one.

The music is almost always found in E-flat major in our hymnals, although a few have it in D. This arrangement begins in the minor of E-flat, transitioning to major at the first utterance of “Evermore.” Two musical bits are heard right away, which appear throughout and help tie it together, the dotted rhythm followed by two eighths (usually ascending a fifth), and parallel triads.

Conductor James Jordan brought the idea of a Christmas carol arrangement to me, for Westminster’s annual Readings and Carols events for December 2018, and for publication under the Westminster Choral Series of GIA. In casting about for a suitable hymn to set, I kept coming back to this one. The tune I’ve already mentioned, but it may have been the glorious text that repeatedly drew me back. I kept hearing “O ye heights of heav’n adore him; Angel hosts, his praises sing…” over and over, and quickly decided this was to be the one.

It was requested to divide the sopranos, and they are, beginning in stanza three. We wanted to employ a descant, and I may have made that job more difficult because I added one to the fourth verse, there being still one verse to go. The words, however, made a natural drama, and so the crescendo of form manifested itself nicely, I thought, as the descants for the last two verses accompany the congregational singing.

 

1. Of the Father’s love begotten
Ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega;
He the source, the ending he,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see,
Evermore and evermore!

 

2. O that birth for ever blessed,
When the Virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving,
Bare the Saviour of our race;
And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed his sacred face,
Evermore and evermore!

 

3. This is he whom seers in old time
Chanted of with one accord;
Whom the voices of the prophets
Promised in their faithful word;
Now he shines, the long-expected;
Let creation praise its Lord,
Evermore and evermore!

 

4. O ye heights of heav’n adore him;
Angel hosts, his praises sing;
Pow’rs, dominions, bow before Him,
And extol our God and King;
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Ev’ry voice in concert ring,
Evermore and evermore!

 

5. Christ, to thee, with God the Father,
And, O Holy Ghost, to thee,
Hymn and chant and high thanksgiving,
And unwearied praises be:
Honor, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory,
Evermore and evermore! Amen.

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