My personal experience with Saint Francis was rather minimal until the early 80’s. My home parish didn’t sing the hymn setting “All Creature of Our God and King” when I was a boy. The Newman Community certainly didn’t. Nor were my friends in Newman music ministry inclined to the musicians popularizing some of St Francis’ texts. It wasn’t until 1982 that I was introduced to John Michael Talbot and his various settings of texts attributed to Francis of Assisi.
I suspect Marty Haugen’s setting “Canticle of the Sun” is the most-sung contemporary version. Along with the William Draper adaptation set to the tune LASST UNS ERFREUEN, these two versions pretty much have the market cornered on this text for English speaking Catholics, at least in the US. Is this a good thing? Let’s chat about it.
The Haugen setting came up in the music plan the other weekend here. My Kansas City parish didn’t know it so it’s been only the second or third time since 2000 I’ve played the song. And in a new parish, it’s always interesting. The choir didn’t have the duplet on “glory of” right. Most places do botch that unless they learn it correctly from the start. One choir member (!) complained about all six verses–this, from people who usually like to sing a lot.
There are things I like about this piece. It plays well for guitar or piano or dulcimer–all my favorites to play. The “equal voice” arrangement is good; I’ve always liked it better than the SATB. People do sing it enthusiastically, even on that high note on the refrain. For guitarists, the key-of-G version is a perfect opportunity to master the playing of the Eb chord without using a barre.
On the other hand, my choir member is right. I like the song, and I like to use it, but for some reason, the singing of it, even just a few verses, always seems to tire my voice. And I program this fairly often for entrance instead of closing, and I still feel exhausted. Maybe some musicologist out there will have some reason why this isn’t just my excuse to shut up and play my instrument–which I’d rather do anyway.
I’m not completely sold on the German tune either. It just seems too … well … German for an Italian sentiment of rejoicing in sun, moon, earth, fire, snow, water, and all. The alleluias help, but they don’t save it, in my opinion.
Do you have a favorite setting of the “Brother Sun” text of Saint Francis? A favorite translation/interpretation? If so, tell us the good stuff about it.