Posted by our religious correspondent, Richard Rawlinson
I’ve just spent a bit of time searching youtube for fine funeral hymns. I’ve sampled classics from The King of Love My Shepherd Is to Guide Me O My Great Redeemer. Some renditions were plonkety plonk solos, some belted out by enthusiastic congregations, some performed by the best Cathedral choirs. Whichever way, I have to conclude I’m not a great fan of many hymns. Their words are often too sentimental, and their tunes too basic, predictable, clumsy even.
Abide With Me, written by the Revd. Henry Lyte in 1847 while he was dying of tuberculosis, stands out as an exception. Its music, by William Henry Monk, combines with Lyte’s words to stir gentle melancholy.
Feeling like a bit of a killjoy by and large, though, I turned my search towards familiar Latin pieces. They instantly focussed the mind on a higher plane, stirring not just melancholy but contemplation of life beyond death. Music and words both have the power to move, and it’s usually words from our Mother tongue that have this ability. But if we already know by heart the words of Our Father or the Creed, their meaning is somehow enhanced when their Latin version is put to beautiful, solemn music.
See if you agree by listening to the Credo
and Pater Noster here:
Then there’s Dies irae, a medieval hymn forming a prayer for salvation from Hell on Judgement Day:
And last but not least there’s the incomparable Ave Maria, which asks Our Lady, who experienced such sorrow and offers such comfort to the afflicted, to pray for us ‘now and at the hour of our death’: