Hymn of the Week: The God of Abraham Praise (LEONI)

 Hymn Title: The God of Abraham Praise

Tune Name: LEONI

Meter: 6 6 8 4 D

Another "any season" hymn, The God of Abraham Praise is supposedly based on the Jewish hymn "Yigdal Elohim Chai," but has been paraphrased almost out of recognition. The story is that Thomas Olivers attended a service in the London Synagogue in the late 1700's, and was so taken with the hymn listing the 13 truths of Maimonides as sung by the cantor Meyer Lyon, that he carried it home in his heart, paraphrased and Christianized each truth into a verse, and adapted the melody into the tune LEONI, which is still used. Most of the original 13 verses have been dropped, mixed up, re-formulated and re-ordered over time, but the result is still a fine, firm, majestic piece of poetry, paired with bold notes. Whenever we sing it at Mass, I find myself humming it all day.

The melody has a funny little skip in the second line where it is not intuitively clear whether one should go up or down, but is otherwise mostly rational step-wise movement, with no intervals harder than fourths. The top note in most settings is E-flat - you could pitch it down a half or whole step if your parishioners regularly complain of high notes, making your lowest pitch a B-flat below middle C. Easy Peasy.

I freely admit that one of the reasons I like to use this hymn (so much that I wonder if my congregation is sick of it) is that it has the phrase "I shall on eagle wings upborne to Heaven ascend," thus giving me my "Eagle's Wings" outlet.


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