Two Pentatonic Hymns (1988) (Caroline S. Arnold)
- Editor: Richard DeMattia (submitted 2014-07-07). Score information: Letter, 10 pages, 604 kB Copyright: CPDL
- Edition notes:
Description: An adaptation and arrangement of two 19th-century American hymns (Expostulation, and Western Melody) for SATB, a cappella, with soprano solo. First performance on June 2, 1988 by the Congressional Chorus, Washington DC.
Program notes by the composer
A number of American hymn-tunes from the early 19th century are constructed on five tone, or pentatonic scales. The most well-known of these tunes is the one best known as "Amazing Grace"; another is the old Sunday School favorite, "Jesus Loves Me."
The pentatonic scale is easily visualized as the black keys in one octave on the piano keyboard (from F# to F#), or played as a C major scale leaving out the F and the B. Various reasons have been put forth for the use of this scale -- that it is simpler and hence easier; that it represents a more primitive "modal" scale; that it is based on the limitations of fold-music instruments. However, the evidence of a number of "through-composed" (entirely invented by a composer; not based on a folk-tune or existing melody) pentatonic hymns from the 1800s suggests rather that it was a popular style among people who attended church and prayer meetings. Whatever the reason, these tunes enjoyed considerable popularity, and were printed and reprinted in collections for well over a hundred years.
It is from one such collection -- Gospel Hymns Consolidated, John Church: Cincinnati, and Bigelow & Main: Chicago, 1883 -- that these two hymns were taken. The first, "Expostulation" was through-composed, melody and words, by the Rev. Josiah Hopkins in 1830. It was invariably printed unharmonized, for solo or unison singing. The second hymn, "Western Melody" is apparently a folk-tune collected by Dr. Lowell Mason and first published in 1826, with the text used here, a poem by William Cowper (1731-1800). This hymn always appears with a conventional I-IV-V harmonization and is unambiguously major in mode.
This adaptation is a secular piece on the musical and textual resources of these two hymns. While respecting the religious fervor of the originals, I have intended only to give performers and listeners a glimpse into 19th century hymns and their ambience, not to advance the sectarian beliefs of that time. Caroline Arnold, January 1988, Washington, D.C.
Original text and translations
O turn ye, O turn ye, for why will ye die,
When God, in great mercy, is coming so nigh?
Now Jesus invites you, the Spirit says “Come!”
And angels are waiting to carry you home.
How vain the delusion, that while you delay
Your hearts may grow better, your chains melt away.
Come guilty, come wretched, come just as you are;
All helpless and dying, to Jesus repair.
The contrite in heart he will freely receive,
O why will you not the glad message believe?
If sin be your burden, why will you not come?
‘Tis you He makes welcome, He bids you come home.
Original text and translations may be found at There is a fountain filled with blood.