3 Gaelic Melodies (Download)
- The King of Love My Shepherd Is (St. Columba)
- Morning Has Broken (Bunessan)
- Be Thou My Vision (Slane)
Small wonder that these old Gaelic melodies have found their way into the worship service. As unison hymns, they are gratifying to sing. All the tunes unfold in modal rhythms, with varied and original phrases.
Sir Henry W. Baker’s refreshing versification of Psalm 23 was included in the 1868 edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern, to a traditional Irish tune named after a sixth century saint. Vicar of Monkland, Herefordshire from 1851 to his death, Baker (1821–1877) penned many familiar hymns, including “Of the Father’s Love Begotten.” ST. COLUMBA arches like a suspension-bridge and traces a path through death’s dark A-minor vale to a major-mode “transport of delight.”
Listeners may remember the popular song “Morning Has Broken” from a 1971 album by folksinger Cat Stevens. But neither the words nor the tune were composed by that artist, known today as Yusuf. The words are by British poet and children’s author Eleanor Farjeon (1881-1965). Her brother Harry was a noted composer, and Eleanor collaborated with him on the operas Floretta and A Room at the Inn.
BUNESSAN is a Gaelic melody that was first published in Macbean’s Songs and Hymns of the Gael (1888) as a setting for Mary Macdonald’s carol “Child in the Manger.” The tune is named after Macdonald’s birthplace on the Isle of Mull, Scotland. BUNESSAN never repeats itself, yet is instantly memorable. This setting reflects the energy that morning brings.
SLANE is an old Irish air, “Bí Thusa ‘mo Shúile,” set to a translation of Irish verses by Mary Byrne, versified by the Irish scholar Eleanor Hull (1860–1935). It is perhaps the most varied setting, with an imitative introduction and treatment quasi barcarola that concludes with pensive harmonies.The tune is also used as the final hymn in my oratorio, The First Apostle.
The Melodies are dedicated to pianist Mary Jo Gothmann, who has been offering a musical reflection on YouTube every day since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. And “Morning Has Broken” is also dedicated to my neighbor Michele McGaughey, who requested it one day from the backyard.