Handel’s notoriety left me with egg on my face one Easter Sunday…
George Frederick Handel wrote a tune, known in hymnals today as Judas Maccabeus, for his Joshua oratorio and the stately tune became so wildly popular he later reused it in another oratorio, Judas Maccabaeus.
The tune was then reused – again – in hymnals with Charles Wesley’s text Christ the Lord Is Risen Today. But Swiss minister Edmond Louis Burdy wrote a French hymn text – À toi la gloire O Ressuscité (To you, the glory, O Resurrected) – especially for Handel’s tune. And when British theologian Richard Hoyle translated Burdy’s text into English in the early 1920’s for a World Student Christian Federation hymnbook, the new hymn, Thine Be the Glory, really struck a chord with singers (pun intended). 🙂
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 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!
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. Enjoy!
endless is the victory thou o’er death hast won!