Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Lasst Uns, Nicht War?

We woke up Sunday morning singing Lasst uns erfruen.

It was the commemoration of two great church reformers: Theodor Fliedner, founder of the deaconess motherhouse at Kaisertswerth, and ... some Italian guy. We rose in a jolly mood, knowing that we would say a couple of Masses and then, toward afternoon, bless whatever animals God brought to our church door.

It was a Sunday worthy of the Te Deum, an ancient hymn which for which no really memorable combination of tune and translation has yet been provided by our service-books.  But, when the definitive English Te Deum appears, we have no doubt about the tune to which it will be sung.

Lasst uns erfreuen comes to us from the Auserlesene, Catholische, Geistliche Kirchengesange, published by Peter von Brachel at Cologne in 1623.  It has been used in many hundreds of hymnals since then, and the 2006 Evangelical Lutheran Worship matches it with no fewer than four different texts:
  • Now All the Vault of Heaven Resounds (367)
  • A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing (393)
  • Ye Watchers and Ye Holy One (424)
  • All Creatures Worship God Most High, Formerly Known as Our King (835)
(It could also be matched with The Whole Bright World Rejoices Now, Percy Dearmer's translation of Die ganze Welt, Herr Jesu Christ.  Were one interested.)

Each of these hymns is a masterpiece in its own right, and the same tune (give or take a few alleluias, which tend to move about) serves them all equally well.  And each strikes the notes of triumph and praise suitable to the Te Deum, as well as to the general run of Easter hymnody.

But which of them, we wondered as we hummed the tune, is the original -- the English translation of the German hymn which has lent us its opening verse as a name, lo these four hundred years?  The answer, we were surprised to discover, is none of them.  Despite the immense popularity of the music, the text of the hymn printed at Cologne in 1623 seems to be utterly absent from English  hymnals; indeed, we cannot even find an English translation.

Turns out to be a nice little Easter hymn.  We imagine that it was never picked up for translation because most English hymnals were historically Protestant, and this hymn mentions by name the Much-Dreaded Mother of God.  Still, it's not a bad German song, and we expect some capable poet could make it into a very good English one.

Here it is, if you were curious (source):

1. Laßt uns erfreuen herzlich sehr
Maria seufzt und weint nicht mehr
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Verschwunden alle Übel sein,
Jetzt glänzt der helle Sonnenschein,
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

2. Sag an, o freudenreiches Herz,
Wo ist denn jetz, Ach, Weh und Schmerz?
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Glorreich vom Grab erstanden ist
Der Menschen Trost, Herr Jesu Christ.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

3. O freudenreiche Osterzeit,
Wo sich ein jeder Christ erfreut,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Stimmt an den fröhlichen Jubelton,
Singt alle, wer nur singen kann:

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

There is a supplementary stanza, of unknown provenance, which Paul Villiger prints between 2 and 3 above:

Sag an, Maria, Jungfrau rein, Alleluja!
Kommt das nicht von Sohne dein?  Alleluja!
Achja, dein Sohn erstanden ist.  Aleluja!
Kein Wunder, daß du fröhlich bist.  Alleluja!

Our own German is pretty much useless, but here is Google Translate's rough draft, ever-so-slightly amended:

1. Let us rejoice most heartilyMaria sighs and no longer cries
Alleluia ! Alleluia !Be gone all evil,Now shines the bright sunshine,
Alleluia ! Alleluia ! Alleluia ! Alleluia ! Alleluia ! 

2. Tell me, O heart rich with joy,

 Where are now "Ah, woe and pain" ?
Alleluia ! Alleluia !
Risen glorious from the graveIs our consolation, Lord Jesus Christ .
Alleluia ! Alleluia ! Alleluia ! Alleluia ! Alleluia !

3. O Joyful Eastertide ,

Where every Christian doth rejoice,
Alleluia ! Alleluia !
Together on the happy note of joy,
Sing, all those who can sing:
Alleluia ! Alleluia ! Alleluia ! Alleluia ! Alleluia !

And that dubious supplemental stanza may go like this


Tell me, Mary, virgin pure, Alleluia !

Is it not about your son?  Alleluia !

Ah, yes, your son is risen. Aleluja !
No wonder that you're happy. Alleluia !