AskDefine | Define hymns

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  1. Plural of hymn

Extensive Definition

A hymn is a type of song, usually religious, specifically written for the purpose of praise, adoration or prayer, and typically addressed to a deity/deities, a prominent figure or an epic tale. The word hymn derives from Greek hymnos "a song of praise".
Hymenaios (also Hymenaeus, Hymenaues, or Hymen; Ancient Greek: Ὑμέναιος) was a Greek god of marriage ceremonies, inspiring feasts and song. He was celebrated in the ancient marriage song of unknown origin Hymen o Hymenae, Hymen delivered by G. Valerius Catullus, which both the terms hymn and hymen are derived from..
Ancient hymns include the Great Hymn to the Aten, composed by Pharaoh Akhenaten, and the Vedas, a collection of hymns in the tradition of Hinduism. The Western tradition of hymnody begins with the Homeric Hymns, a collection of ancient Greek hymns, the oldest of which were written in the 7th century BC, in praise of the gods of Greek mythology.

Christian Hymnody

Originally modeled on the Psalms and other poetic passages (commonly referred to as "canticles") in the Scriptures, it is generally directed as praise and worship to God. Many refer to Jesus Christ either directly or indirectly.
Since the earliest times, Christianity has sung, "psalms and hymns and spiritual songs," both in private devotions and in corporate worship (Bible verse |Matthew|26:30|nrsv; Bible verse 1|Cor|14:26|nrsv; Bible verse |Ephesians|5:19|nrsv; Bible verse |Colossians|3:16|nrsv; Bible verse |James|5:13|nrsv; cf. Bible verse |Revelation|5:8-10|nrsv; Bible verse |Revelation|14:1-5|nrsv).
Christian hymns are often written with special or seasonal themes and these are used on holy days such as Christmas, Easter and the Feast of All Saints, or during particular seasons such as Advent and Lent. Others are used to instill reverence to the Holy Bible or to celebrate Christian practices such as the eucharist or baptism. Some hymns praise or address individual saints, particularly the Blessed Virgin Mary; such hymns are particularly prevalent in Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and to some extent "High Church" Anglicanism.
A writer of hymns is known as a hymnist or hymnodist, and the practice of singing hymns is called, hymnody; the same word is used for the collectivity of hymns belonging to a particular denomination or period (e.g. "nineteenth century Methodist hymnody" would mean the body of hymns written and/or used by Methodists in the nineteenth century). A collection of hymns is called a hymnal. These may or may not include music. A student of hymnody is called a hymnologist, and the scholarly study of hymns, hymnists and hymnody is hymnology. The music to which a hymn may be sung is a hymn tune.
In many Evangelical churches, traditional songs are classified as hymns while more contemporary worship songs are not considered hymns. The reason for this distinction is unclear, but according to some it is due to the radical shift of style and devotional thinking that began with the Jesus movement and Jesus music.

Music and accompaniment

In ancient and medieval times, stringed instruments such as the harp, lyre and lute were used with psalms and hymns.
Since there is a lack of musical notation in early writings, the actual musical forms in the early church can only be surmised. During the Middle Ages a rich hymnody developed in the form of Gregorian chant or plainsong. This type was sung in unison, in one of eight Church modes, and most often by monastic choirs. While they were written originally in Latin, many have been translated; a familiar example is the 4th century Of the Father's Heart Begotten sung to the 11th century plainsong Divinum Mysterium.
Later hymnody in the Western church introduced four-part vocal harmony as the norm, adopting major and minor keys, and became led by organ and choir. It shares many elements with classical music.
Today, except for choirs, more musically inclined congregations and a cappella congregations, hymns are typically sung in unison. In some cases complementary full settings for organ are also published, in others organists and other accompanists are expected to mentally transcribe the four-part vocal score for their instrument of choice.
Contemporary Christian worship, as often found in Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism may include the use of contemporary worship music played with electric guitars and the drum kit, sharing many elements with rock music.
Other groups of Christians, notably assemblies of Christians sometimes known as 'Brethren' (often both 'Open' and 'Exclusive'), the Church of Christ (non-instrumental), Primitive Baptists, and certain Reformed churches such as the Free Church of Scotland (Presbyterian), cite the absence of instruments in worship by the church for the first several centuries of its existence and adhere to an unaccompanied a cappella congregational singing of hymns.
Accompaniment is generally absent in worship by Eastern Orthodox congregations.

The development of Christian hymnody

Thomas Aquinas, in the introduction to his commentary on the Psalms, defined the Christian hymn thus: "Hymnus est laus Dei cum cantico; canticum autem exultatio mentis de aeternis habita, prorumpens in vocem." ("A hymn is the praise of God with song; a song is the exultation of the mind dwelling on eternal things, bursting forth in the voice.")
The Protestant Reformation resulted in two conflicting attitudes to hymns. One approach, the regulative principle of worship, favoured by many Zwinglians, Calvinists and other radical reformers, considered anything that was not directly authorised by the Bible to be a novel and Catholic introduction to worship, which was to be rejected. All hymns that were not direct quotations from the bible fell into this category. Such hymns were banned, along with any form of instrumental musical accompaniment, and organs were ripped out of churches. Instead of hymns, biblical psalms were chanted, most often without accompaniment, to very basic melodies. This was known as exclusive psalmody. Examples of this may still be found in various places, including the "free churches" of western Scotland.
The other Reformation approach, the normative principle of worship produced a burst of hymn writing and congregational singing. Martin Luther is notable not only as a reformer, but as the author of many hymns including Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott (A Mighty Fortress Is Our God) which is sung today even in Roman Catholicism. Luther and his followers often used their hymns, or chorales, to teach tenets of the faith to worshipers. The earlier English writers tended to paraphrase biblical text, particularly Psalms; Isaac Watts followed this tradition, but is also credited as having written the first English hymn which was not a direct paraphrase of Scripture. Later writers took even more freedom, some even including allegory and metaphor in their texts.
Charles Wesley's hymns spread Methodist theology, not only within Methodism, but in most Protestant churches. He developed a new focus: expressing one's personal feelings in the relationship with God as well as the simple worship seen in older hymns. Wesley wrote:
Where shall my wondering soul begin?
How shall I all to heaven aspire?
A slave redeemed from death and sin,
A brand plucked from eternal fire,
How shall I equal triumphs raise,
Or sing my great deliverer's praise.
Wesley's contribution, along with the Second Great Awakening in America led to a new style called gospel, and a new explosion of sacred music writing with Fanny Crosby, Lina Sandell, Philip Bliss, Ira D. Sankey, and others who produced testimonial music for revivals, camp meetings, and evangelistic crusades. The tune style or form is technically designated "gospel songs" as distinct from hymns. Gospel songs generally include a refrain (or chorus) and usually (though not always) a faster tempo than the hymns. As examples of the distinction, "Amazing Grace" is a hymn (no refrain), but "How Great Thou Art" is a gospel song. During the 19th century the gospel-song genre spread rapidly in Protestantism and, to a lesser but still definite extent, in Roman Catholicism; the gospel-song genre is unknown in the worship per se by Eastern Orthodox churches, which rely exclusively on traditional chants (a type of hymn) in the worship.
African-Americans developed a rich hymnody from spirituals during times of slavery to the modern, lively black gospel style.
The Methodist Revival of the eighteenth century created an explosion of hymn writing in Welsh, which continued into the first half of the nineteenth century. The most prominent names among Welsh hymn-writers are William Williams Pantycelyn and Ann Griffiths. The second half of the nineteenth century witnessed an explosion of hymntune composition and choir singing in Wales.
Along with the more classical sacred music of composers ranging from Mozart to Monteverdi, The Roman Catholic Church continued to produce many popular hymns such as Lead Kindly Light, Silent Night, O Sacrament Divine and Faith of our Fathers.
Many churches today use contemporary worship music which includes a range of styles often influenced by popular music. This often leads to some conflict between older and younger congregants (see contemporary worship). This is not new; the Christian pop music style began in the late 1960s and became very popular during the 1970s, as young hymnists sought ways in which to make the music of their religion relevant for their generation.
This long tradition has resulted in a wide variety of hymns. Some modern churches include within hymnody, the traditional hymn (usually describing God), contemporary worship music (often directed to God) and gospel music (expressions of one's personal experience of God). This distinction is not perfectly clear; and purists remove the second two types from the classification as hymns. It is a matter of debate, even sometimes within a single congregation, often between revivalist and traditionalist movements.

Hymn meters

In the English language poetic meters and hymn meters have different starting points but there is nevertheless much overlap. Take the following text:
Imagine now you say this line aloud;
in fact, you really ought to do just that.
Approaching this, a poet would see the classic iambic pentameter, each line having five (the 'pent-') weak-strong iamb units:
I-mag-ine now you say this line a-loud
in fact, you real-ly ought to do just that.
But someone involved with hymns, particularly on the musical side, would primarily see each line as being ten syllables, and only secondarily see its poetic foot of five.
So poetically a verse of the hymn 'Amazing Grace' is two couplets (line pairs) each of iambic tetrameter (four feet) and iambic trimeter (three feet), but hymnologically is (or 86.86):
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
was blind, but now I see.
Conventionally most hymns in this 86.86 pattern are iambic (weak-strong syllable pairs). By contrast most hymns in an 87.87 pattern are trochaic, with strong-weak syllable pairs:
Love divine, all loves excelling,
joy of heaven to earth come down,...
In practice most hymns fall into a relatively small number of meters (syllable patterns), and within the most commonly used ones there is general convention on whether its stress pattern is iambic or trochaic (or perhaps dactylic).
All meters can be represented numerically. In addition, some of those most frequently encountered are named:
  • C.M. - Common Meter,; a quatrain (four-line stanza) with alternating lines of iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter, which rhymes in the second and fourth lines and sometimes in the first and third.
  • L.M. - Long Meter,; a quatrain in iambic tetrameter, which rhymes in the second and fourth lines and often in the first and third.
  • S.M. - Short Meter,; iambic lines in the first, second, and fourth are in trimeter, and the third in tetrameter, which rhymes in the second and fourth lines and sometimes in the first and third.
Often a longer verse will, in effect, be two short verses joined together or doubled. So:
  • D.C.M. (also C.M.D.) - Doubled CM,
  • - equivalent to two verses of Many of the strongest hymns are in this meter, such as Love Divine, All Loves Excelling, Glorious things of thee are spoken.
Much rarer these days are the following names:
  • H.M. - Hallelujah Meter; a six-line stanza of which the first four lines are trimeter and the last two are tetrameter, which rhymes most often in the second and fourth lines and the fifth and sixth lines (6/6/6/6/8/8).
  • L.P.M. - Long Particular Meter; a six-line stanza of iambic tetrameter (8/8/8/8/8/8).
  • M.T. (or 12s.) - Meter Twelves; a quatrain in anapestic hexameter (12/12/12/12).
  • C.P.M. - Common Particular Meter; a six-line stanza of which the first, second, fourth and fifth lines are iambic tetrameter, and the third and sixth lines are iambic trimeter (8/8/6/8/8/6).
  • P.M. - may stand for Psalm Meter (more commonly known as 8s.7s), Particular Meter, or Peculiar Meter (each indicating poetry with its own peculiar, non-standard, meter).
  • S.P.M. - Short Particular Meter; a six-line stanza of which the first, second, fourth and fifth lines are iambic trimeter, and the third and sixth lines are iambic tertameter (6/6/8/6/6/8).
  • 8s. - Eights; used to distinguish an eight syllable quatrain that does not contain the iambic stress pattern characteristic of Long Meter (8/8/8/8).
  • 8s.7s. - Eights and sevens; a trochaic quatrain with alternating lines of four feet and three and one-half feet, which rhymes in the second and fourth lines and sometimes in the first and third (8/7/8/7); also called Psalm Meter.
  • 7s.6s. - Sevens and sixes; a quatrain with alternating lines of three and one-half feet and three feet, which rhymes in the second and fourth lines and sometimes in the first and third (7/6/7/6).

External links

hymns in Min Nan: Sèng-si
hymns in Bosnian: Himna
hymns in Welsh: Emyn
hymns in Danish: Hymne
hymns in German: Hymne
hymns in Spanish: Himno
hymns in Estonian: Hümn
hymns in Esperanto: Himno
hymns in Persian: سرود ملی
hymns in French: Hymne
hymns in Galician: Himno
hymns in Croatian: Himan
hymns in Indonesian: Himne
hymns in Italian: Inno
hymns in Latin: Hymnus
hymns in Hungarian: Himnusz
hymns in Dutch: Hymne
hymns in Japanese: 賛美歌
hymns in Norwegian: Hymne
hymns in Polish: Hymn
hymns in Portuguese: Hino (canção)
hymns in Russian: Гимн
hymns in Simple English: Hymn
hymns in Finnish: Virsi
hymns in Swedish: Hymn
hymns in Turkish: İlahi
hymns in Ukrainian: Гімн
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