HYMN 34 Stay with Us, Lord Jesus
Bli hos oss Luke 24:28-35 Stay with us, Lord Jesus. It soon is evening and night is falling. (For reasons of copyright, this cannot be fully printed here.) Tr. Gracia Grindal 1997 MEDITATION I was in Fredrikstad, Norway, staying with Egil Hovland (1926-1913) and his wife Synnøve, finishing the translation of his opera, Fange og Fri, (Captive and Free). Egil was in the living room playing a new tune to a text Eyvind Skeie had just written for the millennium shift. Synnøve and I were sitting at the kitchen table talking. “The best, the absolute best,” she said, taking a drag on her ever present cigarette, was “Bli Hos Oss. Sååå vakkert!” It had been in another of Egil’s compositions, but it seemed appropriate for the opera, a seven-scene depiction of the life of Hans Nielsen Hauge. In the opera, it is sung by a group of Hauge’s friends standing outside his prison window in old Christiania. A vesper hymn, the words came from the Emmaus couple, “Abide with us, for it is evening.” Hauge had been imprisoned by the state and religious authorities because he had been holding religious meetings without a state approved pastor, breaking the Conventicle Law of 1741. The lore about Hauge focused on this moment. When Hauge, weak from his cruel incarceration, both physically and spiritually, heard them outside his window, it is said, he went to the window with his candle and waved it. This, for them, signaled that Hauge had heard them and was still able to respond. For Hauge it was a moment that brought him back from near insanity. A Norwegian American, Wilhelm Pettersen, wrote a book on Hauge entitled Light in the Prison Window. It was in our home library and I read it through several times as a kid. I could not believe that such a fine man could be so mistreated by both church and state. Egil, who had grown up near Hauge’s birthplace, and raised in the bedehus (prayer house) tradition, said that if Norway had been a Catholic country, Hauge would have been canonized as a saint for his good works and his martyrdom. That is what drove him to write the opera. I had not yet heard the music. When I got home with the completed manuscript, The Masterworks Chorale at Augsburg started rehearsing it. They got to “Stay with Us.” It was a moment. Synnøve was right. Ravishing. It stopped us. Egil and I worked together more during the rest of his life. I spent a couple of weeks with him and Synnøve. As one who grew up in the bedehus, he knew the tradition of spiritual songs and American gospel songs, which he loved. The tape playing in his huge 1979 Buick, big enough for his long legs, was a collection of gospel hymns Arnt Haugens Reviderte by Arnt Haugen’s Quartet and Henning Sommerro played on an accordion with a saxophone (see Hymn 1), but he also knew the high liturgical traditions of the church and composed for them. Egil studied with Aaron Copland, among others, and wrote many choral anthems. There are a number of instrumental compositions among his works, a piano concerto that Eva Knardahl (1927-2006) premiered. Egil’s hymns are his best known works. There are over 60 in the latest Norwegian hymnal. He played the organ at the Fredrikstad church for most of his adult life. He and his friend and colleague Brit G. Hallqvist (1914-1997) from Lund wrote many works together, many for children. She wrote the libretto for the opera. Egil was a bit of a mystic. One afternoon he drove me to a hill above Fredrikstad and showed me where he would go and sit for a while every Easter in the pre-dawn light, waiting for the sunrise. When the light broke over the hills, he would cry, “We won! We won!” This is not a hymn, but it fits our post Easter contemplations. “Jesus Christ, the world's true light, shines where the darkness cannot overcome it. Let your light pierce the darkness and fill the Church with its glory! Stay with us! Amen.” HYMN INFO The opera was performed as a church opera to remember the two-hundredth anniversary of Hauge’s experience. (See Hymn Blog 20) For the 100th anniversary of the Lutheran Free Church in 1997, the Masterworks Chorale under the direction of Peter Hendrickson performed it in this country. It was a challenge. As producer I had to raise a lot of money—a choir of over one hundred, and orchestra of over 60, but it was one of the greatest privileges of my life. Egil came over for the rehearsals and the performances. One in Willmar, Minnesota, at Calvary Lutheran church, which was packed, and another at a sold out Ted Mann Theater in Minneapolis. We had a ball. People wanted to hear the opera and learn more about Hauge. We should have performed it many more times. What a time! LINKS National Lutheran Choir You can hear the anthem from the opera with The Norwegian Opera Choir and National Radio Orchestra. It continues through the entire scene. If time is hanging heavy on your hands, you can listen to the entire opera here—I have the libretto in English should anyone want it via email.