28 Jul 2009

Song of Hannah

Among the canticles in the Old Testament is the Song of Hannah, which is found in I Samuel 2:1-10. As you may recall, Hannah was one of the two wives of Elkanah and had been unable to bear children. Deeply unhappy, she prayed to God, who granted her a son, Samuel, who would grow up to become one of the greatest of the early Israelite prophets. In gratitude for the gift of a child, Hannah sang this song.

I have now set the Song of Hannah to verse and joined it to the Genevan tune for Psalms 66/98/118. It will be noted that there is more than a passing resemblance between this song and Mary's Magnificat, as recorded in Luke 1:46-55. Indeed Mary's song seems literarily and thematically dependent on Hannah's, which was written possibly as early as a thousand years beforehand.

It might interest some to know how I went about writing this. I had been intending to tackle Hannah's song for some years. I took the opportunity of a family holiday to the shores of Lake Huron last week to make the attempt. I initially wrote a versification in metre, intending to use Orlando Gibbons' lovely SONG 13 as the tune. However, given that there are only four lines in the tune, my versification ended up consisting of 11 stanzas, which is far too many to make it easily sung. The very next day I began writing another versification to the Genevan tune, whose metre is This made for a text that runs through slightly more than four verses, with two additional lines to be sung to the last two lines of music.

I would still like to use Gibbons' tune for some biblical text at some point, but I think the latter will have to be much shorter than Hannah's song.