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Harmonic Moments: The “AURELIA Chord”

In music history there’s a famous collection of notes known as the “Tristan chord,” found in the opening of the opera Tristan und Isolde by Richard Wagner. Properly the Tristan chord contains the notes F, B, D# and G#, shown in red below.

Opening to Tristan und Isolde (Wagner)

These notes simply form a half-diminished seventh chord in third inversion, but Wagner’s novel use of it has led to extensive musical analysis. The chord is usually associated with a sense of dread and is parodied in other classical music.

For me, there is a particular chord in hymnody that I jokingly call the “AURELIA chord”. Near the end of “The Church is One Foundation” there is a IVmaj9 chord on the word “bought” at the end of the first verse. It resolves to a ii6 chord, beginning an extended pre-dominant section.

The ending of “The Church is One Foundation”, showing the “AURELIA chord”

The name of the tune commonly “The Church is One Foundation” is AURELIA, written by Samuel Wesley, grandson of the great Methodist hymn writer Charles Wesley. (The name AURELIA comes from the Latin “aurum” for “gold” in reference to “Jerusalem the Golden,” the original text for the tune.) While the standard harmonization of AURELIA contains its share of seventh chords, this is the only ninth chord in the tune. Major ninth chord are rare in 19th century hymnody. In particular, difficult to express a ninth chord since the chord in 4-part harmony because it must contain first, third, seventh and ninth scale degrees (only the fifth may be omitted to retain the chord quality).

Unlike the “Tristan chord”, the “AURELIA chord” does not instill dread, but a sense of anticipation. In particular, the voicing of the chord gives the melody line the seventh of the chord, creating a dissonance with bass note two octaves below. This feeling is not fully resolved until beat 4, with a IV chord, which leads to a ii7 chord, further delaying the inevitable V chord.

This chord is one my favorite harmonic surprises in hymnody. The subtle nature of major ninth chord offers a gentle moment of contemplation in an otherwise stately hymn.

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Here are all 14 verses to “When Morning Gilds the Skies”

From “The Parochial Hymn Book” (1881)

The German hymn “Beim frühen Morgenlicht” (Katholisches Gesanglruch, 1828) appears in English translation as early as 1843 in a children’s hymnal published by the still-extant Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. While the original text contains 14 stanzas, Edward Caswell’s translation contains just six, which form the basis for renderings of “When Morning Gilds the Skies” in the modern hymnals.

However, all 14 verses of the hymn have been translated into English, perhaps by Caswell. Following the ordering of The Crown Hymn Book (1862), the complete text of “When Morning Gilds the Skies” (“May Jesus Christ Be Praised”) is given below. Common textual variants found in recent hymnals are given in brackets.

When morning gilds the skies my heart awaking cries:
      May Jesus Christ be praised!
Alike at work and prayer, to Jesus I repair:
      May Jesus Christ be praised!

The sacred minster bell, it peals o’er hill and dell,
[Whene’er the sweet church bell peals over hill and dell]
      May Jesus Christ be praised!
O hark to what it sings, as joyously it rings,
      May Jesus Christ be praised!
 
To Thee, my God above, I cry with glowing love;
      May Jesus Christ be praised
The fairest [a] graces spring, in hearts that ever sing,
      May Jesus Christ be praised
 
My tongue shall never tire of chanting with the choir,
      May Jesus Christ be praised!
This song of sacred joy, it never seems to cloy,
      May Jesus Christ be praised!
 
When sleep her balm denies, my silent spirit sighs,
      May Jesus Christ be praised!
When evil thoughts molest, with this I shield my breast,
      May Jesus Christ be praised!
 
Does sadness fill my mind? A solace here I find,
      May Jesus Christ be praised!
Or fades my earthly bliss? My comfort still is this,
      May Jesus Christ be praised!
 
Though burst my heart in twain, still this shall be my strain;
      May Jesus Christ be praised!
When you begin the day, O never fail to say,
      May Jesus Christ be praised!
 
And at your work rejoice, to sing with heart and voice,
      May Jesus Christ be praised!
Be this at meals your grace, in every time and place;
      May Jesus Christ be praised!
 
Be this, when day is past, of all your [our] thoughts the last
      May Jesus Christ be praised!
In want and bitter pain, none ever said in vain:
      May Jesus Christ be praised!
 
Should guild your spirit wring, remember Christ, your King
      May Jesus Christ be praised!
The night becomes as day when from the heart we say:
      May Jesus Christ be praised!
 
In heaven’s eternal bliss the loveliest strain is this,
      May Jesus Christ be praised!
The powers of darkness fear when this sweet chant they hear:
      May Jesus Christ be praised!
 
To God, the Word, on high, the host of angels cry,
      May Jesus Christ be praised!
Let mortals [b] too, upraise their voice in hymns of praise,
      May Jesus Christ be praised!
 
Let all the earth around ring joyous with the sound:
      May Jesus Christ be praised!
[Let earth’s wide circle round, in joyful notes resound]
In heaven’s eternal bliss the loveliest strain is this:
     May Jesus Christ be praised! [c]
 
Be this, while life is mine, my canticle divine:
      May Jesus Christ be praised!
Sing this eternal song through all the ages long:
[Be this the eternal song through all the ages long]
      May Jesus Christ be praised!

[a] early sources sometimes use “purest”
[b] early sources use “children”
[c] in many modern hymnals the line “Let air [earth] and sea and sky from depth to height reply” is used somewhere in the second-to-last stanza