Ancient of days

My morning name on the 5th, a line from a familiar hymn (“Come Thou Almighty King” / “Come, Thou Almighty King” / “Come Thou, Almighty King”), sung to the tune known as Moscow, Trinity, or Italian Hymn. Surely not by accident, an album of familiar hymns was playing on my iTunes when I woke up — but “Come Thou Almighty King” had not been played. Yet. While I was checking the playlist on my computer the hymn came up. So I seem to have been prescient.

On the hymn, from Wikipedia:

(#1) From the 1982 Hymnbook of the Episcopal Church (US)

“Come Thou Almighty King” is a popular Christian hymn of unknown authorship, which is often attributed to Charles Wesley.

… “Come Thou Almighty King” is usually sung to the tune “Italian Hymn” (also called “Moscow” or “Trinity”), which was written as a musical setting for this hymn by Felice Giardini at the request of Countess Selina Shirley. This hymn tune along with three others of Giardini’s were first published in Martin Madan’s Collection of Psalm and Hymn Tunes, 1769.

The bare tune (as above) is frequently ornamented by passing tones, turns, dotted rhythms, and the like.

Many performances in many styles. Two illustrations from many possibilities… First, a vocally very plain version, but with some ornate organ work:

(#2) Saint Peter’s Catholic Churc, Columbia SC (Mark Husey on the Peragallo pipe organ, with the gallery choir and 10 am congregation)

A more florid performance with (white) Evangelical fervor:

(#3) First Baptist Church of Jacksonville (FL) choir and orchestra

And then a gigantically joyous black Evangelical performance:

(#4) Rev. Timothy Wright and The New York Fellowship Mass Choir (ca. 1994)

The crucial words are at the end of the first verse:

Come and reign over us,
Ancient of days!

But what does ancient of days mean? From Wikipedia:

Ancient of Days is a name for God in the Book of Daniel: in the original Aramaic atik yominעַתִּיק יֹומִין; in the Septuagint palaios hemeron (παλαιὸς ἡμερῶν); and in the Vulgate antiquus dierum.

The title “Ancient of Days” has been used as a source of inspiration in art and music, denoting the creator’s aspects of eternity combined with perfection. William Blake’s watercolour and relief etching entitled The Ancient of Days is one such example.

(#5) The Blake

More hymns. The phrase ancient of days has been worked into numerous hymns, largely celebrating the Trinity. Here, on facing pages in the 1958 Service Book and Hymnal of the Lutheran Church in America:

(#6) 136 Moscow (Italian Hymn) + “Come thou almighty King”

(#7) 137 Ancient of Days + “Ancient of Days, who sittest throned in glory”

Quite a contrast in texts as well as tunes.

One Response to “Ancient of days”

  1. Bob Richmond Says:

    Recalling learning to sing that in public school in a ‘burb of Atlanta in 1947. How times have changed!

    When I read your title I hoped you’d reproduce that William Blake engraving! Urizen with forked lightning that evokes the medieval image of a compass, with the Creator measuring out the world.

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