Be Thou My Vision was commissioned by Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, and premiered at their fifth annual Desiring God National Conference back in September.
As with all of my hymn arrangements for orchestra, I try to stay true to the tone of the text when choosing harmonies and orchestral textures. This approach presented a unique challenge in that the three stanzas of Be Thou My Vision are fairly straight-forward. There isn’t a section that creates any sort of conflict or doubt… so the usual musical devices I employ to create contrast (minor modalism, mild dissonance, etc.) were of little use in this arrangement. Instead, I utilize a steady increase in dynamics and orchestral scope to achieve a sense of form and balance.
The Be Thou My Vision hymn tune (Slane) is complemented by a sweeping countermelody. This countermelody is first stated in the opening bars of the arrangement, then reappears in interludes and a coda at the end of the arrangement. Following the introduction, the opening statement of the hymn tune (played by a solo clarinet) is a quietly-reverent reflection of the prayer-like sentiment of the first stanza of the text.
Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.
The second statement of the hymn tune is in the low register of the horns and clarinets. This rich, majestic color is accompanied by warm strings and a gently-flowing eighth note pattern in the piano.
Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.
Following the second stanza setting, a solo trumpet reintroduces the countermelody. The music changes key and crescendos into a regal statement of the last stanza.
High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.
Following this majestic treatment, the arrangement concludes with a final statement of the countermelody in the horn and violins. I hope that my arrangement of this beautiful hymn will encourage you to seek out the wisdom of our Lord.