Something to listen to while you read…sheet music available at Sheet Music Plus.
Songwriters will tell you there is no one right method to compose a song but, early in my composition classes, a professor once said that it’s easier to start with a text and write the music to fit the words rather than the other way around.
I’m glad no one told that to Henry van Dyke or we may have missed out on one of the best-known hymns of praise: Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee.
Henry van Dyke (1852-1933), an American author, educator, clergyman, and U.S. ambassador (i.e. a really busy guy), penned the text Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee in 1907 during a stay at Williams College in Massachusetts. He presented the text to the college president one morning stating that it should be sung with a tune found in the final movement of Beethoven’s ninth symphony: Hymn to Joy (a.k.a. Ode to Joy).
If you’ve ever listened to (or like me, sung) Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, you’ll hear syncopation in the Hymn to Joy melody. Some church musicians feel that maintaining those rhythms keeps the music authentic but most hymnal publishers – and many who lead congregational singing – know that it isn’t practical to ask sleepy Sunday morning worshipers to sing syncopated rhythms. So it’s common to use a simpler straight downbeat rhythm instead.
Since I didn’t need to worry about sleepy Sunday singers for the piano arrangement featured above, I borrowed Beethoven’s syncopation idea but used offbeats in different places than he did. The real fun came, though, in pairing Joyful, Joyful with All Creatures of Our God and King. Just as Henry van Dyke manipulated his text so it would fit into a tune, I manipulated the two melodies and wove them together toward the end of the arrangement. Enjoy!
Mortals, join the mighty chorus,
Which the morning stars began;
God’s own love is reigning o’er us,
Joining people hand in hand.
Ever singing, march we onward,
Victors in the midst of strife;
Joyful music leads us sunward
In the triumph song of life.