Continuing our occasional series on hymns and and hymn tunes Dr Noel Preston suggests a tune for ‘O Jesus I have Promised.’
This wonderful hymn of commitment and dedication was written by The Revd John Ernest Bode (1816-74) for the confirmation of his two sons and daughter in 1869. Such is its appeal that it has appeared (usually with the full five verses) in a wide variety of hymn-books published from that time to the present day.
It is frequently used at confirmation and ordination, or merely as a ‘general’ hymn. Yet there is no consensus in choice of tune: at least twelve tunes are set to these words in various hymn-books, sometimes two or three in a single book – a sure sign that most of them do not really fit words of such strength and grandeur.
One of these tunes is described as jazzy. Two others that appear often (‘Wolvercote’ and ‘Day of Rest’) are somewhat jumpy, and have a surfeit of passing-notes (two notes to one syllable).
This lack of dignity is recognised by those who have set the hymn to Harwood’s ‘Thornbury’. But Basil Harwood wrote that magnificent tune for “Thy hand O God has guided” – with the refrain “One Church one Faith one Lord, one Faith one Lord.” It is quite unsuitable for John Bode’s words: “And shield my soul from sin, my soul from sin.” – unless maybe you are an ardent fundamentalist!
Faced with this dilemma at my last church, I used for many years the ancient (1536) German melody ‘Erfreut euch’ which is set to quite different words in Hymns Ancient and Modern Revised (no.625). This is a simple stately tune which progresses stepwise, with few leaps, and is congregation-friendly: as with many good eight-line tunes, the melody for lines 1-2 is repeated for lines 3-4.
In John Bode’s first verse, the words “I shall not fear the battle” are followed by “Nor wander from the pathway…” The tune ‘Erfreut euch’ is a perfect match for these words, as it leads us along that pathway without deviation, whereas ‘Wolvercote’ and ‘Day of Rest’ are wandering all over the place! Surprisingly, though, ‘Erfreut euch’ has been shunned by most hymn-book compilers.
Again, in Bode’s last verse, this tune directs us upward towards the things that are above, as it encourages us to sing out with enthusiasm “And then in heaven receive me.”
Lastly, though, to my great delight when I was doing some research for this present article, I found that I was not the first to realise how well these words and tune go together. In Church Hymns , published in 1903, they are set to an almost identical tune designated ‘Kreuznach’ (from a Magdeburg Songbook)! But I am amazed that this obvious affinity of word and music has subsequently been overlooked.
John Bode’s words “O Jesus I have promised…” have rightly been included in most hymn-books published in the last 100 years. Oh that, during the next 100 years, the tune ERFREUT EUCH (Rejoice, Be glad) may be their constant companion!