Communion in Light is a setting of three verses from a communion hymn written by Johann Franck in 1645, as translated into English in 1863 by Catherine Winkworth. Two versions exist: the original, in B-flat major, for six voices (SSATBrB) a capella; and a 1999 version, in C major, for female choir (SSAA) and harp. Both versions can sound beautifully light and airy when sung well although the original version is harmonically the richer of the two.
Deck thyself, my soul, with gladness,
leave the gloomy haunts of sadness,
come into the daylight's splendour,
there with joy thy praises render
unto him whose grace unbounded
hath this wondrous banquet founded;
high o'er all the heavens he reigneth,
yet to dwell with thee he deigneth.
Sun, who all my life dost brighten;
Light, who dost my soul enlighten;
Joy, the sweetest man e'er knoweth;
Fount, whence all my being floweth:
at thy feet I cry, my Maker,
let me a fit partaker
of this blessed food from heaven,
for our good, thy glory, given.
Jesus, Bread of life, I pray thee,
let me gladly here obey thee;
never to my hurt invited,
be thy love with love requited;
from this banquet let me measure,
Lord, how vast and deep its treasure;
through the gifts thou here dost give me,
as thy guest in heaven receive me.
in B-flat major, for six voices, with a harp playing the 1999 accompaniment. This video was inspired by a Ukrainian former circus athlete, whom I met in my travels.
in C major, played in an arrangement with variations, for woodwind quartet and harp.
Both versions are in fact easier to sing than they sound.
While being something of a traditionalist when it comes to church hymns, even I would concede that there are some that are crying out for new music. From time to time I would flip through the Baptist or Methodist Hymn Book, looking for something unfamiliar and yet beautiful. I found it in the words you see above: but the tune! It was inoffensive, certainly, but as soon as I saw it I realised why I had never sung the words. 'Boring' was the word that came to mind. So I decided to write a new setting: not a congregational one, but something with zing, for singers who would not be content with sounding ... ordinary!
Coincidentally, two dear church friends, Paul and Rose, would be getting married. So I thought that the new setting would be a fitting wedding present for them.
The melody came from a love song that I'd sketched out the previous year. I had six specific singers in mind. The setting was completed in June 1986 but we had to wait a while for an opportunity sing it. Our chance came on Sunday 5th October 1986. I got together 'the band of six' (Kay Higgs, Ruth Cullen, Anne Brinicombe, Andrew Menzies, Tony Witt and David Pomeroy), who sang it during the evening service in Wycliffe Baptist, Reading, England on Sunday 5th October 1986.
The reaction from people in the congregation was extraordinary. Two comments stood out:
... "I think that's the most joyful hymn setting I've ever heard sung" (Liz Bender)
... "I came in a bit late and couldn't believe what I was hearing, It sounded like a heavenly madrigal by a latter-day Monteverdi!” (Phil Holder)