Thursday, December 12, 2013

1819 Swedish Psalmbook reprint available from in siffernoter ** ADD ** Lutheran Companion review of Augustana Synod's 1901 "English Hymnal"

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Johannes Dillner’s psalmodikon tablature for the Swedish psalmbook of 1819 is now available from for $20 or less. It’s not exactly an easy read, but if you’re trying to document the music of 19th -century Swedish immigrants, it gives you valuable information at a reasonable price.

It’s a reprint of Dillner’s Melodierna till Swenska Kyrkans Psalmer, Noterade med ziffor, för Skolor och Menigheten (melodies of the Swedish church’s psalms, notated with numbers for schools and congregations), published in 1830. I found it by accident, since it isn’t listed on Amazon by title. Instead the publisher, a software company called Nabu Press that specializes in automatic scanning of historical reprints, lists the book as Psalmodikon… (Swedish edition) by Anonymous.

Nabu makes no pretense of editing scholarly editions. According to Wikipedia, they're an imprint of BibiloBazaar, a Charleston, S.C. firm. "BiblioBazaar produced, in printable electronic form, 272,930 titles in 2009, although these were used by means of an automated computerized process, using scanned text and generic stock photography for the covers. They see themselves less as publishers than as a software company." I wouldn't expect their automatic process to sort out the front matter in a 175-year-old Swedish-language book.

"All Hail to Thee, O Blessed Morn" in siffernoter

“This is a reproduction of a book published before 1923,” warns a disclaimer on the Amazon webpage. “This book may have occasional imperfections [but] … We believe this work is culturally important, and despite the imperfections, have elected to bring it back into print as part of our continuing commitment to the preservation of printed works worldwide.”

They’re right about the imperfections, but they’re also right that it’s culturally important.

Ever since I saw a psalmodikon several years ago at the old Swedish colony in Bishop Hill, Illinois. I’ve been researching the music of Swedish-American immigrants. I even have a replica of the Bishop Hill instrument, but I haven't been able to find any living tradition of playing it in Illinois (unlike Minnesota and the upper Midwest, where it didn't quite die out before it was revived by Norwegian-Americans at folk festivals). And now I’ve got a schoolbook that tells me how to play it.

Swedish siffernoter are like the Norwegian sifferskrift, but Dillner numbers his scales from 1 to 8 at the octave, instead of starting over with 1. His tablature for each hymn sets out its key (according to the old church modes), and he retunes the instrument to play in different keys.

For example, Dillner’s tablature for the beloved Christmas chorale “All Hail to Thee, O Blessed Morn,” bears the headnote F+2+3+6+7. That tells us the hymn is in F major, since the combination of plusses and numbers in his tab reflects the steps and half steps of a major scale.

In the introduction, Dillner has tables setting out the sharps (plusses), flats (minuses) and siffernoter numbers for the major (Ionian) and minor (Aeolian) modes, plus others like the Dorian and the Mixolydian still favored by traditional Irish bands.

It all sounds complicated, but the system works.

Like other church music of the day, Dillner’s Melodierna till Swenska Kyrkans Psalmer is designed to be used with a words-only psalmbook. So “All Hail to Thee, O Blessed Morn” is No. 55 in both the melody book and the psalmbook. The words are editor Johan Olof Wallin’s paraphrase of the 1599 German chorale "Wie Schön Leuchtet …" (How brightly shines the morning star) by Philipp Nicolai, and the melody is Nicolai’s. Since Wallin’s psalmbook was only 10 years old in 1830, choir leaders and schoolmasters must have had to juggle the tune from Dillner and the text from Wallin until choir, congregation or students had the new words down.

But, again, the system worked.

“All Hail to Thee, O Blessed Morn,” traditionally sung at Julotta services on Christmas morning, is still part and parcel of a Swedish-American Christmas. And 183 years after Dillner’s Melodierna first came out, the book has been reprinted and (as of today) ranks No. 7,494,115 in Amazon's online best-seller list. Who could have foreseen that in 1830?

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UPDATE: Lutheran Companion review by I.O.N. [staff correspondent I.O. Nathanson (?)] of the "English Hymnal" of 1901 … tells how it derives from the Church of Sweden service and departs from other Lutheran hymnals of the day …

I.O.N. "A Step Toward a Common English Hymnal." March 15, 1913: 6-7.

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