Hymn of the Week: My Song Is Love Unknown (LOVE UNKNOWN)

 Hymn Title: My Song Is Love Unknown

Tune Name: LOVE UNKNOWN

Meter: 66 66 88

When a hymn title and its tune name match, you know you're in for a treat. In this case, a 20th century melody is written for a 17th century text, and oh, is it beautiful. The elongated line in the middle connects the lines of poetry, avoiding the dreaded choppiness of so many "short meter" hymn tunes, and the second half of the verse brings out the hidden A-B-B-A rhyme scheme of an 8.8. meter that is secretly a 4.4. 4.4. section.

(Does that make no sense at all? The numbers in a hymn tune's meter indicate how many syllables are in each line. "Short Meter" - or SM - is 6.6.8.6, a common enough meter that it has a shorthand name; "long meter" - or LM - similarly, is 8.8.8.8.)

Take a look at the first verse of this hymn:

My song is love unknown,
My Saviour's love to me;
Love to the the loveless shown 
That they might lovely be
O who am I, that for my sake
My Lord should take frail flesh and die?

Poetry-wise, the third and fourth line want to be one line. The tune strings them together in an arching phrase that takes a big breath. Then a longer note on "I," to tie it in to "die" at the end, bringing out the veiled meter of the ending.

The parts written here are for the organ. There are choral arrangements out there available for purchase, but I would advise against trying to adapt this accompaniment for voices - the notes move too quickly for singers to blend easily. They will feel rushed, unless you slow it down so much that the melody becomes painfully slow, and you lose the momentum of the middle line (which definitely should be sung in one breath). With seven verses, though, you can certainly alternate between the treble and bass voices in your choir! Read the verses over, and think about which register you want singing which verse, and plot it out accordingly.

This song is wonderful for Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion, referencing as it does both the triumphant entry into Jerusalem and the Passion, but if you love it as much as I do, you'll find plenty of opportunities to sing it throughout the year.

Click here to print the music for free!

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