See the Conqu’ring Hero Comes

… aka Thine Be / Is the Glory (Risen Conquering Son). But, either way, joyous and triumphant. (Also with a tune that’s an industrial-strength earworm. I warned you.)

The background is that in these plague times, when people cannot physically be with one another, they’re mobilizing existing non-local communities — in my case, the big ones are linguists, queerfolk, and shapenote singers — and creating new ones on-line, and sharing enthusiasms within these communities. Especially music, of every conceivable kind, and food, which can’t literally be shared on-line, though we can share the details of what we’re eating and cooking, how it’s prepared, how it looks and tastes, memories of meals past and imagined and (especially) what they mean to us, and so on. In both cases, we celebrate an amalgam of appetites, of intellectual and sheer physical pleasure.

(Linguists are famously food-music people, and Jim McCawley is our saint.)

But the specific matter at hand is a tune by Handel that came to us later as a cello and piano piece by Beethoven and also as a Christian hymn for Easter. And for me, the recollection of hearing the Beethoven, for the first time, with Ann Daingerfield (Zwicky), in a moment of great pleasure, in Urbana IL in 1968, when our lives were about to shift unimaginably.

It started with Isaac. From Jeff Shaumeyer on Facebook on 4/14, a report on his husband Isaac Borocz’s evening devotional for Easter Monday (4/13), about UMH [United Methodist Hymnal] #308, “Thine Be the Glory”. Jeff: “You can find the music and text at https://hymnary.org/hymn/UMH/308“.

And in the 1958 hymnal of the Lutheran Church in America, it’s #566 Judas Maccabaeus:

(#1)

Jeff went on: “If you’d like to hear more variations on this lovely tune, here is a nice performance of twelve that Beethoven wrote for ‘Cello and Piano”:

(#2) Beethoven: 12 Variations on ‘See the Conqu’ring hero comes’, WoO 45 for cello and piano — performed by Eli Weinberger, cello Amy Zanrosso, piano (recorded live in Tanna Schulich Hall, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec. February 2013)

(Zanrosso is a model of placid composure, Weinberger a study in intensely physical involvement in the music. Mimicking, to some extent, the role of the two lines of the music: passionate cello, solidly grounding piano.)

The tune. From Wikipedia:

Thine Be the Glory, Risen Conquering Son (French: À toi la gloire O Ressuscité), also titled Thine Is the Glory, is a Christian hymn for Easter, written by the Swiss writer Edmond Budry (1854–1932) and set to the tune of the chorus “See, the Conqu’ring hero comes” from the third section of Handel’s oratorio Judas Maccabaeus. The hymn is sometimes sung at weddings or funerals, and in Ireland is associated with Christmas as well as Easter. An English translation was written in 1923 by Richard Hoyle (1875–1939). The German Advent hymn Tochter Zion, freue dich uses the same tune.

The tune of “Thine Be the Glory” was written by Handel in 1747, intended for use in Handel’s Joshua oratorio; however, when it was played, it was popular enough that Handel added it to Judas Maccabaeus. In 1796, Ludwig Van Beethoven composed twelve variations on it for both piano and cello.

In 1884, Edmond L. Budry used Handel’s tune and wrote words for them, which he titled “A Toi la Gloire.” It is reported that he was inspired to write it after the death of his first wife, Marie de Vayenborg in Lausanne, Switzerland. It was later published in French hymn book Chants Evangéliques. The hymn was first translated from French into English by Richard B. Hoyle in 1923.

The Beethoven. Cello and piano is not a natural pairing; the instruments tend to war with one another and cancel one another out. It was Beethoven’s genius to see that the pairing could be made to work, by careful balancing, and he made this combination of voices his own, exploring it throughout his career, with five sonatas (stretched across his lifetime), plus three sets of cello variations:

“Twelve Variations on a Theme from Händel’s Oratorio ‘Judas Maccabeus’” (WoO 45)

“Twelve Variations on the theme ‘Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen’” (op.66) from Mozart’s opera “Die Zauberflöte”

“Seven Variations on the duet ‘Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen’” (WoO 46), also from “Die Zauberflöte”.

Still, it takes a pair of musicians who are extraordinarily well attuned to one another to make this music fly. In the world of recorded music, the leading edge was Mstislav Rostropovich (cello) and Sviatoslav Richter (piano), whose 1963 Phillips recording of the sonatas was revelatory. They were made to do this stuff. After them, many wonderful performances.

Autumn 1968. I began teaching at UIUC in the fall of 1966. Partway through the year the department head, Bob (Robert B.) Lees asked me to take over the (quite new) department for 1967-68 while he went on sabbatical in Jerusalem. I found this a scarifying experience (a story to be told another time), but I came out of it wounded and still alive, and with two astonishing benefits: the regard of Ilse Lehiste, the department chair at Ohio State, who ended up becoming my supporter and (in a number of ways I only appreciated later) the engineer of my success in linguistics; and a sizable inheritance from a cousin of Ann Daingerfield (Zwicky)’s, which dropped unexpectedly from the sky and enabled me to take a year’s leave to pursue a program of research, unencumbered (and, in the end, supplied the down payment on a house in Columbus OH, where Ilse hired me on as an associate, very quickly to be full, professor).

Life was complex: we had a small child, born in 1965; Ann was in graduate school, in French linguistics, and had a research assistantship; we had just been through an LSA Linguistic Institute, the summer of 1968, and were into planning another for the summer of 1969; and I was slowly, very painfully, coming out as a gay man. (And if you go back and look at the events of 1968, you’ll see that it was a time of extraordinary turmoil, with more on the way.)

But mostly it was suddenly a period of steady, satisfying days. After dinner we set aside a time to sit together and talk and listen to music, mostly LPs I bought at a local record store (building up our Mozart collection, especially; I had regrettable completist tendencies, it’s a guy thing). And that’s where we found Rostropovich & Richter, and Beethoven music we hadn’t known about. (Have I mentioned that variation pieces appeal to me very strongly?)

The first four notes of “See the Conqu’ring Hero Comes” instantly evoke those happy moments, enough to make me weep with remembered happiness. Then the whole thing rolls on. A great gift from Jeff and Isaac in these terrible times.

4 Responses to “See the Conqu’ring Hero Comes”

  1. Margaret Says:

    I miss Jim to this day – we could get him to visit us in southern Illinois by promising French and Italian food which he didn’t cook!

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Every week there’s something I want to talk to him about. Meanwhile, back when Champaign-Urbana was a foodie desert, he would come down from Chicago on the train every few months with a suitcase of extraordinary foodstuffs for us.

  2. Bill Stewart Says:

    I also have fond memories of this as a reformed Anglican, so thanks for sharing. Somewhere I have a CD by Kimberly Marshall [“Recital in Handel’s Church”, Loft Records] playing her own improvisation of this tune, which comes forth so nicely under Beethoven– falls off the war horse, I suppose. Now– and I do like this performance here, but the combination of a classical cello and fortepiano is a revelation; they are perfectly matched.

  3. Robert Coren Says:

    Cello and piano is not a natural pairing; the instruments tend to war with one another and cancel one another out.

    Interesting observation; it’s never seemed that way to me, but then I’ve known the Beethoven sonatas (the A major in particular) most of my life. By the way, there are two fairly wonderful cello and piano sonatas by Brahms

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