German: Lobe den Herren, den mächtigen König der Ehren
Norwegian: Lovsyng vår Herre, den mektige konge med ære
Psalm 103:1; Psalm 150;
Text: Joachim Neander (1650-1680) Tune: Anonymous. First published in Praxis Pietatis Melica 1668.
1. Praise to the Lord! the Almighty, the King of creation! O my soul, praise Him, for He is thy health and salvation! All ye who hear, Now to His temple draw near, Join me in glad adoration!
2. Praise to the Lord! who o'er all things so wondrously reigneth, Shelters thee under His wings, yea so gently sustaineth; Hast thou not seen How thy desires have been Granted in what He ordaineth?
3. Praise to the Lord! who has fearfully, wonderfully, made thee,
Health has vouchsafed, and when heedlessly falling hath stayed thee;
Fainting and weak
When not a word thou couldst speak,
Wings of his mercy didst shade thee.
4. Praise to the Lord! who doth prosper thy work and defend thee, Surely His goodness and mercy here daily attend thee; Ponder anew What the Almighty can do, If with His love He befriend thee! 5. Praise to the Lord! Oh let all that is in me adore Him! All that hath life and breath, come now with praises before Him! Let the Amen Sound from His people again, Gladly for aye we adore Him!
Tr. Catherine Winkworth (1829-1878)
“Let the Amen!” Hold that, he would shout at the young people before him at the youth convention choir he was directing. My father had studied choral directing at Augsburg and loved leading singspirations. I cannot sing this hymn without seeing him joyfully directing the group to linger on the A-men.
He had clearly sung the F. Melius Christiansen's anthem on the hymn. Christy's stress on the Amen, the second time around, makes an impression on anyone who has sung it. It is the high point of the performance. Rightly so. During his years studying composition and violin at Leipzig, Germany, just at the turn of the 19th century, he had heard the chorale in German many times. He well knew that the German text of four or five stanzas (the third stanza is often omitted) ended with an Amen! "Soul, do not forget/those praising you always end with an Amen! (Seele vergiß es ja nicht/Lobende schliesse mit Amen!)
This great chorale by Joachim Neander, a Calvinist, is so beloved and famous, it has escaped its origin and belongs to everybody. One could not think of compiling a Christian hymnal of any kind in any land without including it.
Then the question: which translation? There are a number. Catherine Winkworth's is the most durable. The hymn text committee of the Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW) spent valuable time trying to update Winkworth’s translation of this text. Her Victorian context and old declensions made us think we needed to change them, and we did. It always bothered me.
Winkworth’s translations were crucial for Lutherans in the United States. Up until her time there were really no worthy translations of the German Lutheran chorales of the Reformation and Orthodox period 1550-1750. When her two volumes of translations Lyra Gemanica (1855, 1858) came out, finally Lutherans in America had respectable English versions of hymns by Luther, Gerhardt and many others such as Neander.
Winkworth grew up in Manchester, England. When she was sixteen, she lived for a year in Dresden with her mother’s relatives. There she learned German, coming to love the German treasury of hymns, the Kernleider. She was uniquely gifted in both English and poetry. Translators know well the old saw—to translate is to betray. When one translates hymns, one has not only to get the meanings right, but also fit them into a poetic form. Always difficult. The language of the original and its tune may resist the meters of English. At the end, translators sort of give up and release their work for use.
Critics today dislike the Victorian sensibilities of Winkworth which come through in this translation. “Our health and salvation," not in the original, reflect Winkworth’s interest in the reform of society. While in Germany she had learned about the Deaconess movement and later translated the life of Theodor Fliedner, (1800-1864), the founder of the deaconess Mother House in Kaiserwerth, Germany. Winkworth as a feminist worked to better the lives of women especially in regard to their education. Her fine command of both languages and her deep piety, made her especially suited to translate the hymns. They are in themselves well-wrought English poems.
All writing is to some extent autobiographical. We can tell a lot about the writer and her time from the language used. Editing a Victorian poem so it is more in sync with our times will create a strange hybrid.
The older I get the less certain I am that all our work to update classic translations to make them fit with our age was well advised. We met our match in this translation when we tried to make the eagle a mother bird, saying something Neander did not. Better to leave Catherine alone, and let new hymns reflect our age.
The service celebrating the Commonwealth in Westminster Abbey with the Queen just three months ago, before the virus hit, uses Winkworth's original. While Winkworth could not get the Amen to be the last word of the hymn, it resounds loudly in the anthem. Neander got it right. So did Christiansen and my dad and all the thousands who have sung the anthem. The high point of prayer, how all our prayers of petition, praise and thanksgiving are to end: Amen! Yes, yes. Let it be so.
Neander was a young theological student born just after the end of the Thirty Years War. He scoffed at the faith until he heard a sermon by one of the great preachers of his time and became a devout follower of Christ. Although he died at age thirty of tuberculosis, he left behind a significant collection of hymns, none as popular or fine as this one. The Neanderthal Valley where they found the Neanderthal man was named for his family! Bach set the entire hymn, all five stanzas, in his Cantata BWV 137, and well worth a listen.
The Commonwealth Service with the royals, led by Queen Elizabeth
Trinity College/Melbourne University Choir
F. Melius' arrangement
St.Olaf Choir with Kenneth Jennings
Concordia College choir with René Clausen
Bach Cantata 137 Lobe den Herren/Bachstiftung
Pastor Vang, Norwegian jazz pianist, who has played at Mindekirken, has a version