Review: Hymns for All Season

Reviewed by Carl Daw

Hymns for All Seasons: The Complete Works of James Quinn, SJ, edited by Paul Inwood. Portland, OR: OCP, 2017. 924 pp.  Hardbound $40.00; Spiral-Bound $35.00

If only all hymnwriters could be rewarded posthumously with a collected edition like this one! The 230 hymns of the late Jesuit writer James Quinn, SJ (1919-2010) have here been brought together by his former collaborator Paul Inwood from a variety of sources: the published collections New Hymns for All Seasons (1969) [NHAS], Eucharistic Hymns (1982) [EH], and Praise for All Seasons (1994)[PAS] as well as unpublished experimental texts from 1972-1973 and the never-issued New Hymns for All Seasons 2 (prepared for publication in 1980) [NHAS 2], from which five of the texts included here (nos. 3, 31, 38, 48, and 89) are published for the first time. Ordered alphabetically by opening line, each text is printed in poetic form with indication of the substantive and accidental (i.e. details of punctuation and capitalization) variants in its successive appearances. As is true of other OCP publications, metrical information appears with the text credit rather than with the music credit.   This practice is especially pertinent with regard to a text like Quinn’s “Praise the King of All Creation” (no. 179), set to Wachet auf, for which the meter is usually given as 898.898.664.44.8, reflecting the structure of the Philipp Nicolai text it usually carries. But Quinn’s text is actually 898.898.664.88, validating the linking of text and meter. Most texts are provided with at least one tune, usually one chosen by Quinn. The consistent exceptions to this pattern are the experimental texts Inwood urged Quinn to write during 1972-1973 and texts that appeared only in PAS without a designated tune. Although Inwood created tunes for many of these, he has shown admirable restraint by not including them in this volume. (They are to be published separately in the near future.)

A word about the music: most of it appears in four-part homophonic musical settings with the text interlined between the two staves.  The principal exceptions are tunes intended for unison singing (especially folksong and chant) which are printed on three staves, the upper one carrying the melody with underlaid text and the two lower ones supplying an idiomatic and unobtrusive supporting accompaniment (often arranged by Inwood). The music is clearly printed, with adequate spacing to avoid crowding the words, and care has been taken to avoid page turns.  The absence of time signatures (claimed as “British practice” in the Editorial Notes, p. xxxi) rarely interferes with ready comprehension of appropriate pacing.

Although most texts appear with only one tune, several have been printed with two or more settings.  The most instructive and engaging instance of multiple settings occurs in connection with Quinn’s widely-used paraphrase of the canticle known as the Benedictus or Song of Zachariah (Luke 1:68-79), “Blessed Be the God of Israel” (no. 14). Because this text can be sung as ten stanzas of C.M. or five stanzas of C.M.D., it is printed here with one tune of the former kind, Cheshire, and three of the latter kind, Third Mode Melody, Forest Green, and Kingsfold. Singing through these changing settings for this unvaried text feels like a mini-seminar on how music affects one’s understanding of the words of a hymn. Another great virtue of the music gathered in this volume is that it draws on much traditional folksong of the British Isles (variously identified as Scots, Irish, Gaelic, and English) not readily available in most North American hymn collections.

Given that the hymn texts collected here were written by a Scottish Jesuit and edited by an Englishman for a North American publisher, it is inevitable that the result will be a hybrid production. So we find British spellings (Saviour vs. Savior) with US word divisions, US double quotation marks with British punctuation, and US patterns of title capitalization with British patterns of labeling double tune meters (D.L.M. vs. L.M.D.). Sometimes British hymn tune names such as Fulda (no. 122) do not have their US equivalents provided (in this case, Germany or Walton). Another effort to reconcile dual expectations occurs in the double numbering of the Psalms: as a Jesuit, Quinn understandably gave precedence to the Vulgate/Septuagint numbering yet Inwood appropriately follows current ecumenical practice by listing the Masoretic number first.  As a result an Author’s Note can read, as it does at no. 213, “Psalm 94 (95):1-7” while the editorial credit for the same text reads “Psalm 95 (94):1-7.” It would have been helpful to the unwary if such numbering issues had been identified and explained among the Editorial Notes regarding scriptural references (p. xxxi).

A somewhat more vexing dichotomy occurs when moving from Quinn’s consistent and more precise reference to a poetic grouping of lines as a “stanza” to Inwood’s customary use of the common British locution “verse” instead. (This terminology is also a constant annoyance to North American hymnologists using the otherwise admirable Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology.) That Inwood actually uses “stanza” in an Editor’s Note at no. 81 suggests that he could have done so throughout the volume, minimizing this unnecessary discordance. Because Quinn himself sometimes uses “line” rather than “verse,” identifying the Editor’s Notes in a “stanza number, line number” pattern would have bridged the differences between these two sets of terminology. Unfortunately, Inwood’s failure to understand Quinn’s use of “verse” as the term for a poetic line (see Austin C. Lovelace, The Anatomy of Hymnody, p. 19) leads him to an erroneous overcorrection of Quinn’s reference to “verses” (i.e. lines) in the Author’s Note to the one-stanza text, “O Light from Light” (no. 161) and to a silent editing of Quinn’s “verses” to “lines” in the Author’s Note to “To God with Gladness Sing” (no. 213).

It is also apparent that the editor was working from the UK without access to some pertinent North American resources. For example, many of the alternative tunes he lists (and blessings on him for correctly using “alternative” rather than “alternate”) but was not able to locate could have been found through D. DeWitt Wasson’s Hymntune Index and Related Hymn Materials (Scarecrow, 1998). Access to this resource might also have prevented him from making the erroneous assertion that “Russell Schulz-Widmar is not a composer” (p. 799).

Although this collection has manifestly been compiled with admiration and care, there is no attempt to present the author in a falsely flattering light or to treat all his texts as exemplary.  From the beginning the editor acknowledges that “Quinn’s fondness for exclamation marks also earned his some criticisms” (p. xv), as a representative text such as “Christ the King, Enthroned in Splendour” (no. 28) amply demonstrates: this eighteen-line hymn contains thirteen exclamation marks. Inwood further notes in a brief prefatory biography that “[Quinn] was suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease and by the late 1980s and early 1990s his condition was already quite advanced, as a result of which his formerly acute mental faculties had become rather variable” (p. vii).  So Inwood is admirably forthright in describing “Eternal God in Trinity” (no. 46) as a “rather uneven text of comparatively late (1991) composition” (p. 189) and “Saint Cecilia, Loving Patron” (no. 185) as “not much more than doggerel” (p. 703). It is regrettable that a similar willingness to identify problems was not brought to bear on the content as well as the style of Quinn’s hymns. In his paraphrase of the Lucan beatitudes, “Blessed Are You, O Poor in Spirit” (no. 13), for example, Quinn has blurred the significant difference between Luke’s “Blessed are you who are poor” (Luke 6:20) and Matthew’s “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3). Similarly, Quinn’s assertion in “Joseph, Wise Ruler of God’s Earthly Household” (no. 100) that Joseph was “nearest of all men to the heart of Jesus” is contradicted by longstanding tradition that such a distinction belongs to John the Beloved Disciple, who rested his head on Jesus’ chest at the Last Supper (John 13:23).

Inwood also identifies the advanced stage of the author’s medical condition as contributing to Quinn’s mistaken assertion that the text “Now Let Us All with One Accord” was his, an error he believed so thoroughly that he created revisions for it that were published in PAS. This is one of two texts (the other being Quinn’s revision of “Be Thou My Vision”) that Inwood discusses in a significant Appendix, helpfully elucidating the circumstances that prevent each one from being included in the main body of the book.

While Quinn may have been misguided in attempting to revise a text that was not his own, what Inwood describes as the “systematic updating of many of his texts, especially as regards inclusive language” (p. xxv) demonstrates quite remarkable skill. The numerous revisions of 1969 NHAS texts for the 1994 PAS, documented by the annotations provided here, will reward study by any aspiring hymnwriter as well as by a hymnal editorial committee seeking fresh ways of bringing older hymns into alignment with present-day expectations. In example after example, Quinn models how to recast entire lines in a manner that excises unwanted language without giving the line a patched-up appearance.

Despite the evident care that has gone into the production of this edition, it is almost inevitable that a volume of 924 pages would introduce a few errors of its own.  Two substantive errors have crept into texts in both their poetic and interlined versions: in “Lovely Your Dwelling Is” (no. 127) at 2.2, where “breed” should read “brood,” and in “Word of God, Come Down on Earth” (no. 225) at 3.6, where “word” should read “world.”  Another substantive error, in both printings of the hymn as well as the Scriptural Index, comes in the identification of “Jerusalem, Fairest of Cities” (no. 91) as a paraphrase of “Psalm 123 (122),” when it should be “Psalm 122 (121).” While editorial decisions to repunctuate Quinn’s texts are generally documented (as at no. 141), occasional unprecedented punctuation also appears, such as the comma after “only-begotten” at 2.3 in “Come, Joyful Pilgrims” (no. 35), the comma following “serve” at 2.4 in “Forth in the Peace of Christ We Go” (no. 56), the full stop replacing a comma at the end of 3.9 and the absent exclamation mark at the end of 3.10 in “Gabriel, to Mary Sent” (no. 58), the comma missing after “Eve” at 1.6 in “Hail, Our Queen and Mother Blest” (no.73), the uppercase “Promise” at 1.1 in “O Child of Promise, Come” (no. 152), the absent comma at the end of 4.3 in “O Father, Take in Sign of Love” (no. 154), the extra exclamation mark at the end of 1.3 in “Praise Him as He Mounts the Skies” (no. 177), and the uppercase “Precious” at 4.2 in “We Praise You, God, Confessing You as Lord” (no. 220). Although most variants in NHAS and PAS have been carefully recorded, I have found at least twenty-seven instances (some affecting more than one line) where unmentioned differences occur. None of these absent details, of course, affects the usability of this collection.

The volume concludes with multiple indexes: topical, liturgical/seasonal, scriptural, text and music sources, metrical, translated and paraphrased texts, and titles. The most problematical of these are the first three. Most of the topical indexing seems to have been based on the topics listed for each text in PAS, which were taken over here without adequate consideration of their accuracy or consistency. To take a representative example: the Transfiguration text “Lord Jesus, Once on Tabor’s Height” (no. 120) is assigned only the topics Transfiguration and Cross of Christ.  Even though this text naturally mentions Peter, James, John, Moses, and Elijah by name, none of those names carries a reference to this hymn in the “Biblical Names” portion of the Topical Index. The “Biblical Names” list is further muddied by the fact that three biblical characters—St. Andrew, St. Joseph, and St. Peter—are listed separately as saints with hymn citations that do not always appear in the “Biblical Names” section. (In a comparable instance, because PAS shows no awareness of the helpful background provided here for “Cry Out in Gladness All the Earth” (no.39), it took the reference to “Saint John” at 1.5 to be the biblical John rather than the hymn’s real subject, the Scottish saint, St. John Olgivie. The erroneous biblical name is perpetuated here as a listed topic (p. 163) and as a Biblical Name in the index.) With regard to hymn no. 120, it is also unhelpful that none of the three Transfiguration accounts in Matthew, Mark, and Luke is listed for this hymn in the Scriptural Index. While the Liturgical/Seasonal Index does list this hymn for the Feast of the Transfiguration on August 6, it does not take into account the regular commemoration of this event on the Second Sunday of Lent in the Roman Catholic lectionary (or on the Last Sunday after the Epiphany in the Revised Common Lectionary). Such weaknesses in the indexing should not dissuade anyone from taking advantage of the many virtues of this collection, but users of this book need to be aware that they will need regularly to augment the printed indexes with their own annotations.

In terms of production values, the publisher is to be commended for allowing numerous pages to remain without textual or musical content in order to minimize page turns in the presentation of the musical settings. Printing such otherwise blank pages with a greyscale version of the colorful Celtic cross on the book’s cover provides the reader with corroboration that nothing is missing. Apparently this good idea got carried over to pages with minimal printing at the top, so that smaller greyscale crosses were added at the bottom, resulting in an overabundance of such images.

Despite such occasional imperfections, this book is a substantial and valuable record of the enduring contributions that James Quinn, SJ made to twentieth-century Christian hymnody. No hymnological collection—institutional or personal—can be considered comprehensive without it.

Carl P. Daw, Jr.

Boston University School of Theology
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One comment

  1. This is an excellent review – thank you, Carl. I look forward to studying the collection, the fruit of Paul Inwood’s prodigious labor.

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