Hymn of the Week: Easter Day - April 4
by Robert W. Lehman, Organist and Choirmaster
The Church of St. Michael & St. George, Clayton
Hymn 194: Jesus lives!
Words: Christian Furchtegott Gellert (1715-1769); tr. Frances Elizabeth Cox (1812-1897), alt.
Music: St. Albinus; Henry John Gauntlett (1805-1876)
The words and music of this hymn are in the public domain.
Considered one of Christian Furchtegott Gellert's finest hymns, Jesus lebt, mit ihm auch ich, in its translation by Frances Elizabeth Cox, has been included in the hymnals of English-speaking countries since 1861and first appeared in the hymnal of the Episcopal Church in 1871. The text is built around John 14:19 – “In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.”
Born in Saxony, Gellert always intended to enter the ministry but financial hardship, coupled with his own shyness and uncertain health, caused him to abandon his plans. Instead, the academy became his life and he qualified as a university lecturer in 1744. A year later, he was made professor at the University of Leipzig where he lectured in poetry, rhetoric, and moral philosophy. He was made Extraordinary Professor of Philosophy in 1751 and he remained in that post until he died.
Widely loved by his students for his demeanor and generosity, Gellert promoted the religious and moral character of his students through didactic language that was often long-winded but always clear. This practice extended to his prolific letter writing to friends and strangers alike, many of whom were seeking his moral guidance.
Frances Cox’s translation of this particular text was first published in her Hymns from the German, 1864 with a slightly different opening line:
Jesus lives! no longer now
Can thy terrors, death, appall me…
The great churchman and ecclesiologist Percy Dearmer (1867-1936) describes the opening line as “unfortunate” in his hymnal companion, Songs of Praise Discussed, 1933. The text was revised twice by the author in the years that followed. Ultimately, two final lines were deleted from each verse and an Alleluia added. Four of the original six stanzas are included in the Hymnal 1982.
First published in the Church Hymn and Tune Book (1852), the tune St. Albinus was composed by Henry John Gauntlett whose contributions to our hymnody also include the tunes Irby (Once in royal David’s city), St. George (For thy dear saints, O Lord), and St. Fulbert (Lo! What a cloud of witnesses). In total, he composed over a thousand hymn tunes. Gauntlett, though trained as a barrister, began his musical career at the age of nine when he was made the organist of the Olney parish church – where the well-known Shrove Tuesday pancake races have been run since 1445 – where his father was the curate (later vicar).
The sturdy tune St. Albinus is named for Alcuin, an early English ecclesiastical scholar, reformer, and advisor to Charlemagne. The tune is of irregular meter – a tremendous oddity for a strophic hymn tune composed in the nineteenth century – and is particularly noteworthy for its opening notes sung in unison rather than four-part harmony. It is also interesting to note that the tune ends with its highest pitches – a departure from the normal melodic shape of a hymn tune. Of course, this construction sends the final “alleluias” soaring in a festive praise-shout so befitting of Easter.
An arrangement of this hymn can be heard here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/82od53hubyxlb8b/St%20Alb...
Jesus lives! thy terrors now
can no longer death appall us;
Jesus lives! by this we know
thou, O grave, cannot enthrall us.
Jesus lives! for us he died;
then, alone to Jesus living,
pure in heart may we abide,
glory to our Savior giving.
Jesus lives! our hearts know well
nought from us his love shall sever;
life, nor death, nor powers of hell
tear us from his keeping ever.
Jesus lives! to him the throne
over all the world is given:
may we go where he has gone,
rest and reign with him in heaven.
The recording of “Jesus lives!” is an arrangement by Robert Lehman recorded for Easter 2021 by the Choir of the Church of St. Michael & St. George.