Though the Tufts campus is mostly closed and most of us have been told to do our work from home, life goes on at Goddard Chapel. In what is undoubtedly a difficult time for people all over the world, and I have been listening to a lot of hymns that I find comforting: “Abide with me” (which I wrote about last January; the notes may be found here along with links for listening), “Take my hand, precious Lord,” and “Be still, my soul.” It is this third hymn that I am offering this month with the hope that some of you out there will be able to listen to it and reflect upon it and be comforted as well.
Jean Sibelius (1865–1957) was a Finnish composer, and one of the few composers who gained the status of a national hero. His portrait appeared on the 100 mark note until Finland adopted the Euro, and a holiday is celebrated on his birthday, December 8th. Though his symphonies and orchestral music have been a part of the repertoire of major and minor orchestras since they were written, much of his reputation rests upon the tone poem Finlandia, written in 1899 and first performed in July of 1900. Because Finland was still a principality of Russia, any nationalistic music had to be disguised to avoid censorship, and it was listed in programs as A Scandinavian Choral March and Happy Feelings at the Awakening of Finnish Spring among other deliberately misleading titles. Still, Finnish audiences got the message and since its early performances the work has had strong associations with patriotism.
First performed in 1941, the hymn-like middle section was reworked by Sibelius with a hopeful and patriotic Finnish text by Veikko Antero Koskenniemi. Sometimes a choir is incorporated into a performance of Finlandia itself, though it is not known if Sibelius himself ever endorsed this practice. The so-called “Finlandia Hymn” is in two stanzas; the translation follows.
Oh Finland, behold, thy daylight is dawning,
the threat of night has now been driven away.
The skylark sings across the light of morning,
like the firmament itself was chiming,
and now the day the powers of night is scorning:
thy daylight dawns, oh motherland!
Oh Finland arise, and raise towards the highest
thy head now crowned with mighty memories.
Oh Finland arise, for to the world thou criest
that thou hast thrown off thy slavery,
beneath oppression's yoke thou never liest.
Thy morning's come, motherland!
The “Finlandia Hymn” was first used in an English-language Christian hymnal in 1927, when it appeared in the Scottish Church Hymnary; in 1933 it was used in the American Presbyterian Hymnal. The first pairing of the melody with the text “Be still, my soul” appears to be from sometime in the late 1930s. “Be still, my soul” is an English translation of a German hymn text by Katharina von Schlegel (1697–1768) who was a Lutheran nun. Her hymn was translated by Jane Laurie Borthwick (1813–1897), a Scottish writer and translator, and first published in English in 1855. The hymn has been sung to a few tunes since the 1850s but is almost always paired with Finlandia in modern hymnals.
Be still, my soul: the Lord is on your side;
bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
leave to your God to order and provide;
in ev’ry change he faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: your best, your heav’nly Friend
through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
Be still, my soul: your God will undertake
to guide the future as he has the past.
Your hope, your confidence let nothing shake;
all now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
his voice who ruled them while he dwelt below.
Be still, my soul: when dearest friends depart,
and all is darkened in the vale of tears,
then shall you better know his love, his heart,
who comes to soothe your sorrow and your fears.
Be still, my soul: your Jesus can repay
from his own fullness all he takes away.
Be still, my soul: the hour is hast’ning on
when we shall be forever with the Lord,
when disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
sorrow forgot, love's purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past,
all safe and blessed we shall meet at last.
I hope that this hymn gives you a few moments’ comfort in this difficult and uncertain time. Remember that you are never alone; there are many people here at the Tufts University Chaplaincy who would be happy to take time to meet with you, including me.
on the carillon of Clemson University, a 48-bell instrument with a traditional mechanical mechanism.
http://youtu.be/fE0RbPsC9uE Performance of Finlandia by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Chorus, and BBC Singers under the direction of Sakari Oramo at the BBC Proms celebrating the 100th anniversary of Finnish independence in 2017. The “Finlandia Hymn” is sung by the choir in the middle and at the end of the piece.
http://youtu.be/RvWQEqKLxXI Performance of “Be Still, my Soul” by the Choir of Paisley Abbey, led by George McPhee, who has been organist there since 1963.