The music for this Ascension Day hymn was composed by Michael Praetorius (1571 – 1621); the words written by Arthur Russell (1806-74) are:
- The Lord ascendeth up on high,
- The Lord hath triumphed gloriously,
- In power and might excelling;
- The grave and hell are captive led,
- Lo! He returns, our glorious Head,
- To His eternal dwelling.
- The heavens with joy receive their Lord,
- By saints, by angel hosts adored,
- O day of exultation!
- O earth, adore thy glorious King!
- His rising, His ascension sing
- With grateful adoration!
- Our great High Priest hath gone before,
- Now on His Church His grace to pour,
- And still His love He giveth;
- O may our hearts to Him ascend;
- May all within us upward tend
- To Him Who ever liveth!
The choir sang an Alan Bullard arrangement of this gloriously celebratory hymn at the St George’s Ascension Day service a couple of years ago. I thoroughly enjoyed learning it and singing it, not least because it transported me back to my sixth form days as a member of my school madrigal group. Marked to be sung “lively and joyously” the tune sets off at a cracking pace, fitting well with the words. To my ear, it is very much in the style of the English madrigal, despite Praetorius being distinctly German. The Bullard arrangement is for two voices with piano accompaniment. For St Margaret’s choir as it was at the time, voice 1 was sung by the sopranos (higher pitched female), and voice 2 was sung by the altos (lower pitched female) and men.
This is not a pretentious hymn. It does not try to be anything other than a vigorous celebration of our Lord’s ascension. The simplicity of the musical setting of this hymn, along with the simplicity of the surroundings at St George’s combine powerfully to take me back to the basic message of Christianity: Jesus lives, and he loves us.