Something to listen to while you read. Solo piano sheet music available at Sheet Music Plus.
Handel’s notoriety left me with egg on my face one Easter Sunday.
In 1747, George Frederick Handel (1685-1759) wrote a tune, known in hymnals today as Judas Maccabeus, for his Joshua oratorio. The stately tune became so wildly popular he used it as the chorus for See, the Conqu’ring hero comes in another oratorio, Judas Maccabaeus, before it made its first hymnal appearance set to Charles Wesley’s text Christ the Lord Is Risen Today.
Later, Swiss minister Edmond Louis Burdy (1854-1932) wrote a French text – À toi la gloire O Ressuscité (To you, the glory, O Resurrected) – especially for Handel’s tune and the hymn appeared in the 1885 Swiss hymnal Chants Evangéliques. In the early 1920’s, the World Student Christian Federation commissioned British theologian Richard Hoyle to write an English translation of Burdy’s text for their hymnbook Cantate Domino. Hoyle’s translation, Thine Be the Glory, has since become the most popular text used with Handel’s tune and is a favorite in Great Britain where it serves as a standard for the British Royal Family Easter services.
I first discovered this gem of an Easter hymn when I was working as an organist in a Catholic church. I was raised in a Protestant church so, when I saw that the music for Thine Be the Glory was written by Handel, I assumed (always a mistake) that it was an old hymn, familiar in the Catholic church but unfamiliar to someone like me who grew up Protestant. I thought the tune was really great – very singable – and I excitedly scheduled it as the closing hymn for Easter Sunday. But on Easter, when I played the hymn, the reaction from the congregation was…
Afterward, the priest – a middle-aged, life-long Catholic – approached me and said, “I’ve never heard that hymn before.” Talk about egg on my face! That day I learned two things: (1) singing a closing Easter hymn as a solo in a packed church is painfully embarrassing and (2) never assume a hymn tune is familiar to a congregation – even if it was written by one of the greats like Handel. Always check to see if they know it and, if they don’t, be sure to teach it to them!
Despite my first, rather rocky experience with this hymn, I still think it’s one of the best hymns ever for the Easter season. When I sat down to write a piano arrangement of it, I couldn’t resist marrying it with (arguably) Handel’s most famous Easter piece: Hallelujah Chorus from his oratorio The Messiah and – of course – include all those grand “Hallelujahs!” for a dramatic ending.
May you have a blessed Holy Week and Easter season full of beautiful, meaningful music – both old and new.
Thine is the glory, risen, conquering Son;
endless is the victory thou o’er death hast won!