A Catholic Flourish

On the penultimate line of each verse of Holy God, We Praise Thy Name, Catholics around the US habitually ornament the melody in a way that is not customary in many Protestant churches, and which is not found in most hymnals.

Holy God, We Praise Thy Name is a vernacular version of the Te Deum, and as such is important to the devotional life of the English-speaking church. It had occurred to me that the ornamentation was possibly simply a sung tradition rather than a printed tradition.

However, I recently discovered that there is a printed tradition, going back at least to the late 19th century.


26 Replies to “A Catholic Flourish”

  1. In addition to this famous ornamentation, do you know if the repeat of the last line is original? Protestant hymnals (e.g., Episcopal, UCC) don't observe it.

  2. What I wonder is whether this print notates a practice that was already in place, or if that practice came from this print. The chicken or the egg…

  3. They used to sing a lot higher in those days….a top F, I mean ! I think we're in F major now (or even lower)

  4. Every parish I have ever worked at has sang Holy God in the very way that it is written in that hymnal. I don't think I have ever worked at a parish or attended one that has ever done it written as they do in most modern hymnals.

    Thanks for very enlightening article. I have always wondered about that ornamentation.

  5. Maybe I've never heard this sung by Protestants, but by flourish, are you referring to the repeated last line?

  6. Catholiccanuck, I think she mean the escape tone eighth note of the "-fi"- in "infinite.

    (Save the Liturgy, Save the World)

  7. p.s.
    Someone, anyone who's taken counterpoint more recently than I?
    Am I remembering correctly, is that an escape tone?

  8. G…It's an upper neighbor to the next down beat. It would be an escape tone if it was approached and left by leap.

  9. I have played the hymn as printed (go figure), and the congregation (and cantor, much to my chagrin) would add the notes. Within the last year, my pastor asked me to ADD the notes to my playing. Some traditions die hard, I suppose.

  10. I remember when there was a concerted effort to bring congregations into line with no additional notes and no repeat – and God love 'em, they refused to yield. And 98% of music directors surrendered.

    If only folks had refused some other bright ideas….

  11. I remember my first choir director. It was about 1957. He refused to play or have us sing the popular version, because "the congregation would put extra notes in it".

    We always sang the TTBB setting by C. Alexander Peloquin.

  12. One former choir director told me that in 1940s-50s Catholic Pittsburgh, they didn't use the ornamentation. Slightly later, in southern Virginia, we did use it. We concluded it was a north vs south difference, but now I'm not so sure. Meanwhile, I plan to stick with the way I learned it for the duration.

    In my experience, we almost always add the ornamentation, even on the rare occasions when the organist doesn't.

  13. I don't understand the desire to be a slave to the printed music when the tradition of ornamentation, when present, is incredibly consistent and quite aesthetically pleasing.

  14. It's not like even the German tune is so fixed, either, e.g., from 1901:

    FWIW, I never encountered the unornamented version until the past decade. I bow to the congregations that kept on singing the ornamentation in defiance of those who thought they knew better. The same congregations that don't sing Be Not Afraid double-dotted….

  15. Okay, pet peeve time. There ought to be a melisma on the first syllable of heav'ns, not one note for each syllable.

  16. Except that a lot of congregations ignore that strict metrical approach because it's a lot easier to sing both syllables than to elide.

  17. I've just checked the Oratory hymnal, and the first three bars of the penultimate line have a minim and a crotchet in each. Most people here sing it with three crotchets in the second bar, and I've heard it sung that way in Germany, too.

    The worst example is in the last line of Hail, Queen of Heaven (Stella) , where congregations sing "Pra-ay FOR the wanderer", instead of the printed "PRAY for the wanderer". RR Terry was complaining about this practice over a century ago in the introduction to the Westminster Hymnal, but it still persists.

  18. Most Catholic Churches I've been to repeat the last line but end on a deceptive cadence before the repeat. Is that how others do it as well?

  19. I've never heard a parish here in the UK sing that ornamentation. We must be hymnal literalists…

  20. Would the Pittsburgh practice have been under the administration of Fr Rossini?

    (Save the Liturgy, Save the World)

  21. It actually is the two eighth-notes on the syllables of inFINite and DOmain…the other notation is a passing quarter note. I grew up singing it with the flourish (without seeing it in a book).

  22. That's the way we do it, slave to the printed page that I am…OTOH, that final line's bass part begins on a middle C (our version is in F) and decends. I almost always play the repeat down an octave for that low C on the penultimate cadence.

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