Laudis Corona: A set of three songs by Maurice Saylor

Note: Rachel premiered Laudis Corona, written for her, at the Church of the Epiphany in 2004. The set went on to sweep the awards at the 2005 Diana Barnhart American Song Conference.

The preface to the 1885 Catholic hymnal called Laudis Corona reads:

The tunes in this collection were selected by a lady in Baltimore. They have been arranged for the press by Prof. Francis A. Harkins, M.A., of Boston College. The object has been to give to Sunday Schools and Sodalities of youth something that ALL can sing. For this end the Christmas Carols and the May Hymns will prove particularly useful.
Boston: Feast of the Sacred Heart, June 4, 1880

The challenge of setting these texts to new music was to respect the piety and devotion of the authors but at the same time to recognize the way that Christianity has changed and with it, the language used to express religious devotion. "And thou, dark fiend, six thousand years / The bride of Christ in vain tormenting, / Shall find our hate and scorn of thee / Deep as thine own, and unrelenting…" Give that to your first-grade Sunday School class!

These hymn texts were written at a time when lofty language was the tradition. The composer has striven for settings which revel in the archaic phrases which sound purple to our ears but at the same time can be deeply moving. "Glorious Mother" was irresistible for the line, "Earth is darksome, we are weary, /Satan setteth snares for all."

Many of the major religious denominations published new hymnals in the 1980s and 1990s. Gender-exclusive language was revised, obsolete words and usages were updated to modern English, and some hymns with controversial subjects were taken out altogether. Such was the fate, for example, of "Onward, Christian Soldiers" in the Methodist hymnal, whose chorus reads: "Onward, Christian soldiers, /Marching as to war, /With the cross of Jesus /Going on before." Compared with "Christians! To the War!", those words are quite tame.

The text "Oh Beautiful Thou Art" is not attributed to an author; it seems to be a poetic English rendition of the traditional "Ave Maria" text. The new setting reflects the heartfelt devotion intended by the author.

I. Glorious Mother (Cull)
Glorious Mother! From high heaven,
    Down upon thy children gaze,
Gathered in thy own loved season,
    Thee to bless and thee to praise.

See, sweet Mary, on thy altars
    Bloom the fairest buds of May;
Oh! May we, earth’s sons and daughters,
    Grow by grace, as pure as they;

Earth is darksome, we are weary,
    Satan setteth snares for all,
Pray for us, O tender Mary,
    Pray to Jesus, lest we fall.

II. Christians: To the War!
Note: The verse in italics is left out of Maurice Saylor's setting.
Christians! To the War! Gather from afar;
    Hark! Hark! The word is given;
Jesus bids us fight “for God and the right,”
    And for Mary, the queen of heav’n,    

Now first for thee, thou wicked world,
    Puffed up with godless pomp and pageant,
Avenging grace, to humble thee,
    Can make the weakest arm its agent.

And thou, dark fiend, six thousand years
    The bride of Christ in vain tormenting,
Shall find our hate and scorn of thee
    Deep as thine own, and unrelenting.

Ah, self! so oft forgiven, thou
    Canst play no part but that of traitor;
We spare thy life, but thou must bear
   The felon's brand, the captive's fetter.

But worse than devil, flesh, or world,
    Human respect like poison creeping,
Chills and unnerves the host of Christ,
    When weary war-worn hearts are sleeping.

III. Oh, Beautiful Thou Art
Oh, beautiful thou art,
    Our sweet Virgin Queen,
Come reign within each heart,
    Peaceful and serene.
See, with love now thrilling all thy children’s hearts,
    Joy each breast is filling,
Sadness now departs.

Ah! When we’re sad and weary:
    Tired of life and sin,
And when the way looks dreary
    Haste thy child and win.
When death lays his finger
   On our icy brow,
Oh, then near us linger,
    Linger then as now.

Notes for Laudis Corona © 2004 Rachel Barham and Maurice Saylor.

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