Music for Pentecost — Sunday, May 31, 2020

Come, Holy Ghost, Our Souls Inspire – Text: Latin (9thcent.); tr. John Cosin (1594-1672). Music: Mechlin plainsong, Mode 8

Click for video:

This great hymn, which “has taken deeper hold of the Western Church than any other hymn, the Te Deum excepted” (Dr. Gibson, in Julian Dictionary of Hymnology), appears in manuscript as early as the 10thcentury. Pentecost has been the occasion for the liturgical use of this hymn since that time; it is also sung at ordination services, the consecration of bishops, and the dedication of churches. It appears in our blue hymn book (Common Praise) at 637, with a translation from the Latin by the 17th-century English bishop John Cosin.


Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire

and lighten with celestial fire;

thou the anointing Spirit art,

who dost thy seven-fold gifts impart.


Thy blessed unction from above is comfort,

life, and fire of love;

enable with perpetual light

the dullness of our mortal sight.


Anoint and cheer our soiled face

with the abundance of thy grace.

Keep far from foes, give peace at home:

where thou art guide, no ill can come.


Teach us to know the Father, Son,

and thee, of both, to be but one,

that through the ages all along

this may be our endless song:


Praise to thine eternal merit,

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.




Come Down, O Love Divine– Text: Bianco da Siena (1350?-1434?); tr. Richard Frederick Littledale (1833-1890). Music: Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)

Click for video:

Little is known about the Italian author of this hymn, except that he appears to have entered an order of unordained men, known as the Jesuates, who followed the Augustinian rule, that he lived in Venice for a time, and died there in about 1434. In his hymns he captured the language of the people rather than that of priests and monks. “Come Down, O Love Divine” is Richard Frederick Littledale’s translation of one of those hymns. Richard Littledale, born in Dublin in 1833 was a priest and scholar who devoted himself to literature and hymnology, a leading authority in liturgics, and an enthusiastic high-churchman.

DOWN AMPNEY has become the tune of choice for these words. It was composed for them by Ralph Vaughan Williams when they were chosen for The English Hymnal 1906, and named for his birthplace in Gloucestershire where his father was vicar of Christ Church. It is a reflective tune, and captures the mood of the text magnificently.

Come down, O Love divine,
Seek thou this soul of mine,
And visit it with thine own ardour glowing;
O Comforter, draw near,
Within my heart appear,
And kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing.

O let it freely burn,
Till earthly passions turn
To dust and ashes in its heat consuming;
And let thy glorious light
Shine ever on my sight,
And clothe me round, the while my path illuming.

Let holy charity
Mine outward vesture be,
And lowliness become mine inner clothing;
True lowliness of heart,
Which takes the humbler part,
And o’er its own shortcomings weeps with loathing.

And so the yearning strong,
With which the soul will long,
Shall far outpass the power of human telling;
For none can guess its grace,
Till it become the place
Wherein the Holy Spirit makes his dwelling.



Fantasia super: Komm, Heiliger Geist (BWV 651) – Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

Click for video:

From the program notes for this performance:


In all the commotion, the bass is a beacon of tranquillity.

The overwhelming opening of this grand chorale fantasia refers almost literally to the opening lines of Acts 2 from the Bible, which say about Pentecost: ‘And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance’.

The underlying melody, which Bach used for various Pentecost cantatas, is heard in the pedal, but only after the drone of a sustained note (a ‘pedal point’) has resounded in our ears. Then – with short interruptions – we are presented with the whole chorale melody, which remains a beacon of tranquillity in the midst of the notes tumbling over one another in the upper parts. As in the much shorter original version of this chorale, which most probably originated in Weimar, Bach imaginatively draws on many different compositions. He does so, for instance, in his fervent illustration of the commotion of ‘speaking in tongues’, to which the words of the chorale also refer. Finally, all the turbulence ends in a short but powerful hallelujah.”

This is a brilliant performance of this work by the Dutch organist Leo van Doeselaar in St. Catharine’s Church, Hamburg, on an organ of which parts date from the 15thcentury. From the video it is obvious that this is an all-engaging effort: intense mental and emotional concentration coupled with the enormous physicality of playing a very full registration on this large mechanical-action organ.

This piece always conjures a lovely personal memory for me, as it was the last piece I heard played magnificently by my late teacher Hugh McLean, at St. James’ on the Day of Pentecost, as a postlude on the occasion of the baptism of one of his grandchildren.

Gerald Harder