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Updated 05/29/2013

 

Come, Let Us Join Our Friends Above


Charles Wesley

“Come, Let Us Join Our Friends Above” is a funeral hymn first published in 1759.  The words are by Charles Wesley (see Blow Ye, the Trumpet Blow for a biography of Charles Weslsey) and the tune is based on the traditional English melody, Forest Green, arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Ralph Vaughan Williams (12 October 1872 – 26 August 1958) was an English composer of symphonies, chamber music, opera, choral music, and film scores. He was also a collector of English folk music and song; this also influenced his editorial approach to the English Hymnal, which began in 1904, many folk song arrangements being set as hymn tunes, in addition to several original compositions.

Ralph Vaughan Williams was born on 12 October 1872 in Down Ampney, Gloucestershire, where his father, the Rev. Arthur Vaughan Williams, was vicar. Following his father's death in 1875 he was taken by his mother, Margaret Susan Wedgwood (1843–1937), the great-granddaughter of the potter Josiah Wedgwood, to live with her family at Leith Hill Place, the Wedgwood family home in the North Downs.


Ralph Vaughan Williams

He was also related to the Darwins, Charles Darwin being a great-uncle. Though born into the privileged intellectual upper middle class, Vaughan Williams never took it for granted and worked all his life for the democratic and egalitarian ideals in which he believed.

As a student he had studied piano, "which I never could play, and the violin, which was my musical salvation." After Charterhouse School he attended the Royal College of Music (RCM) under Charles Villiers Stanford. He read history and music at Trinity College, Cambridge,where his friends and contemporaries included the philosophers G. E. Moore and Bertrand Russell. He then returned to the RCM and studied composition with Hubert Parry, who became a friend. One of his fellow pupils at the RCM was Leopold Stokowski and during 1896 they both studied organ under Sir Walter Parratt. Stokowski later went on to perform six of Vaughan Williams's symphonies for American audiences, making the first recording of the Sixth Symphony in 1949 with the New York Philharmonic, and giving the U.S. premiere of the Ninth Symphony in Carnegie Hall in 1958.

Another friendship made at the RCM, crucial to Vaughan Williams's development as a composer, was with fellow-student Gustav Holst whom he first met in 1895. From that time onwards they spent several 'field days' reading through and offering constructive criticism on each other's works in progress.

Vaughan Williams's composition developed slowly and it was not until he was 30 that the song "Linden Lea" became his first publication. He mixed composition with conducting, lecturing and editing other music, notably that of Henry Purcell and the English Hymnal. He had further lessons with Max Bruch in Berlin in 1897 and later took a big step forward in his orchestral style when he studied in Paris with Maurice Ravel.

In 1904, Vaughan Williams discovered English folk songs, which were fast becoming extinct owing to the oral tradition through which they existed being undermined by the increase of literacy and printed music in rural areas. He travelled the countryside, transcribing and preserving many himself. Later he incorporated some songs and melodies into his own music, being fascinated by the beauty of the music and its anonymous history in the working lives of ordinary people. His efforts did much to raise appreciation of traditional English folk song and melody. Later in his life he served as president of the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS), which, in recognition of his early and important work in this field, named its Vaughan Williams Memorial Library after him. It was during this time that he strengthened his links to prominent writers on folk music, including the Reverend George B. Chambers.

In the 1950s, the composer supervised recordings of all but his Ninth Symphony by Sir Adrian Boult and the London Philharmonic Orchestra for Decca. At the end of the sessions for the mysterious Sixth Symphony, Vaughan Williams gave a short speech, thanking Boult and the orchestra for their performance, "most heartily," and Decca later included this on the LP.He was to supervise the first recording of the Ninth Symphony (for Everest Records) with Boult; his death on 26 August 1958 the night before the recording sessions were to begin provoked Boult to announce to the musicians that their performance would be a memorial to the composer.These recordings, including the speeches by the composer and Boult, have all been reissued by Decca on CD.

He is buried in Westminster Abbey.


Lyrics by Charles Wesley

 

Come, let us join our friends above, who have obtained the prize,
And on the eagle wings of love to joys celestial rise.
Let saints on earth unite to sing with those to glory gone,
For all the servants of our King in earth and heaven are one.

One family we dwell in Him, one church above, beneath,
Though now divided by the stream, the narrow stream of death;
One army of the living God, to His command we bow;
Part of His host have crossed the flood, and part are crossing now.

Ten thousand to their endless home this solemn moment fly,
And we are to the margin come, and we expect to die.
His militant embodied host, with wishful looks we stand,
And long to see that happy coast, and reach the heavenly land.

Our old companions in distress we haste again to see,
And eager long for our release, and full felicity:
Even now by faith we join our hands with those that went before;
And greet the blood besprinkled bands on the eternal shore.

Our spirits too shall quickly join, like theirs with glory crowned,
And shout to see our Captain’s sign, to hear His trumpet sound.
O that we now might grasp our Guide! O that the word were given!
Come, Lord of Hosts, the waves divide, and land us all in Heaven.