All glory be to God on high

Today’s hymn from Sing Praise is “All glory be to God on high” by Timothy Dudley-Smith.  Apologies for posting this late in the weekend, but my wife is in hospital so I’ve had other things on my mind.

It’s a paraphrase of the Gloria, an ancient hymn or canticle of praise, set to a 16th century German tune. I expect that the composer of the tune would have known the Gloria at least in its Latin form, and maybe (though he lived early in the Reformation era) there was already a German translation.

The four verses, to a 16th century German tune, cover the four sections of the canticle nicely. The first praises God the Father for his glory and his promise of peace on earth; the second responds to him as Father, Lord, God and King; the third verse addresses Christ as the only Son of the Father, the Lamb of God who died for us, and the one who reigns with the Father; and the fourth, the whole Trinity of Father, Son and Spirit.

Until recently ‘Glory to God in the Highest’ was a regular part of both Morning Prayer and Holy Communion. There are many settings of it from all periods of music, perhaps until our own generation, but it seems to be used much less often at Communion these days (certainly our own church hasn’t used in for the last few years, either spoken or sung), and isn’t part of the regular Morning Prayer in Common Worship at all, although I presume it’s still an optional substitute for another canticle. This setting is undated in the book so I would be interested to know when it was written.

2 thoughts on “All glory be to God on high”

  1. Stephen, my prayers and best wishes for Linda.

    In his book “Lift every heart”, Timothy writes of this hymn (p198) that it was written August 1981 at Ruan Minor (a village in Cornwall where he used to holiday each year) and October 1981 St Julian’s Coolham (after having received comments on the first draft – he describes the process in his preface). It was his second attempt to cast the canticle into a hymn form, and he had begun with 4-line verses but felt that Common Meter was too pedestrian for the purpose, and on revising it had added an extra line and strengthened the rhyme-scheme. He wrote it for the tune “Repton” (i.e. “Dear Lord and Father of mankind”), as I suspected when I mentioned this tune at Morning Prayer (and “Repton” requires the last line of each verse to be repeated).

    As set out in the Common Worship book (in the Holy Communion service as you say) the canticle falls naturally into three stanzas of equal lengths but unequal content, in that the last natural stanza has slightly too much material in it for a metrical verse – so it’s quite common to find settings of the canticle as 4-verse hymns rather than 3-verse ones. Actually the paragraphs on the canticle in Jasper & Bradshaw’s “A companion to the ASB 1980” on are worth reading (presumably they are also in later commentaries on Common Worship).

    I thought the hymn was pretty standard, but nonetheless worthwhile for all that – and the “Nicolaus” tune definitely more suited to the words than “Repton”. About the tune, the page
    gives some details about the composer of the music, who was also a hymnwriter himself, and his tune was written for a hymn of his “Let all creation praise our God” (which has also been translated into English).

  2. I should have responded to Stephen’s comment about the use of the canticle. Gloria in excelsis was set as the Thursday canticle in the ASB Morning Prayer (the canticle came after the bible readings and before the creed), and in Common Worship it is the alternative to Benedictus on Thursdays (so comes in the same place after the NT reading). At St Luke’s Eccleshill we used it almost every Sunday in the more formal of our two services, but since we combined them it has been replaced by a “songs of praise and glory” slot of up to three short songs led by the music group (the organ and choir leading most of the other items in the service).

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