|Pope Francis leading Vespers service at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York|
I have to confess that I'm not a big fan of the early twentieth century English composer Gustav Holst. It's not that he wasn't a gifted composer; it's just that his music, for the most part, is a little too angular for my tastes (as is the case with other composers of his era as well). His most famous work, for instance, The Planets, has some very moving passages, and some that can even be called brilliant, but little I would consider really beautiful . . . except for one soaring, melodic passage that shines out from the “Jupiter” movement. Holst later set this tune to the words of a patriotic poem called “I Vow To Thee My Country”; the hymnist Ralph Vaughn Williams (a friend of the composer) shortly thereafter included his setting of the melody in a volume of church music. It has since provided the musical background for a large number of Christian hymns.
One of the better known of these, “O God Beyond All Praising” with words by Michael Perry, has become one of my favorite hymns. Here it is the closing song of a Vespers service with Pope Francis last weekend in New York. I have had a hard time finding a good Catholic performance of this hymn on YouTube, and the sound quality on this one isn’t the best, but it certainly seems to be Catholic.One of the ironies of this tune, by the way, is that Holst’s inspiration for The Planets was not astronomy, but astrology: this tune was supposed to represent the “joviality” to be found under the Sign of Jupiter. How wonderful that when people hear it today, it is instead almost always as a song of praise to the True God and Creator of the Universe.