Thomas Kingo by Erik Norman Svendsen
Thomas Hansen Kingo (1634-1703) is one of Denmark’s greatest hymnodists, and his hymns are still sung to this day. 234 of them have been preserved for posterity, 82 of them in the standard hymnal Den Danske Salmebog (2002) and 10 in the Folk High School collection Højskolesangbogen (2009). In the Faroe Islands, in Norway and in Sweden hymns by Kingo are also included in the national hymnals.
He was born in the old northern Zealand borough of Slangerup, where his father, Hans Thomesen Kingo, a second-generation immigrant from Scotland, had married a Danish girl and made a living as a weaver. As a pupil at the Slangerup grammar school Thomas earned a little by singing at weddings and funerals, and on Sundays he accompanied his parents to divine service in the large, stately borough church. From his earliest childhood he had thus been familiar with the liturgy and hymnody of the church.
At the age of 15 he left Slangerup and was admitted to the Frederiksborg Grammar School in Hillerød, which had a reputation as one of the country’s best schools, and which over and above the usual grammar school subjects taught singing and music. This was to be of crucial importance to the thoroughly musical Kingo, as evidenced by among other things the choice of melodies for the hymns in his two sets of ‘Sjungekor’ (Spiritual Chorus).
After taking his school leaving exam in 1654 Kingo wanted to begin studying theology at Copenhagen University, but in that very year the plague ravaged the city, and the University was closed for a year. When it re-opened in 1655 a quarter of the city’s population of 30,000 was dead. Kingo was admitted as a student at the University hall of residence Regensen and finished his studies in 1658, the same year as the Treaty of Roskilde, with the subsequent ceding of Scania, Halland and Blekinge to Sweden. The following year Copenhagen was besieged and unsuccessfully stormed.
This was an extremely unsettled and dangerous period in the history of Denmark. The recurring wars with the arch-enemy Sweden in the seventeenth century left Denmark amputated and impoverished. The territories west of the Øresund had been lost, and many parishes were almost deserted. In reality the Swedes held sway in large parts of the kingdom, where they ravaged and plundered on the large scale. National despondency and moral decline left their depressing marks on everyday life.
To counteract the mood of defeat, an Assembly of the Estates was called in Copenhagen; the old nobility was deposed from power and Royal Absolutism was introduced instead. Both the kingdom and the Danish national church were re-established, and a new rise in the fortunes of the nation began. Like other ambitious sons of the citizenry, Kingo welcomed the new Absolutism and wrote up to 50 poems to the monarchy in subsequent years, including the magnificent Hosianna for the anointing of Christian V in 1671, as well as a number of poems of homage to the leading men of the age.
At the age of 25 Kingo was engaged as a tutor, first by the steward of Frederiksborg Castle in northern Zealand and then by Lene Rud, Mistress of Vedbygård in western Zealand. From a number of poems of his youth we know that the unmarried Kingo toured from manor to manor arousing the admiration of the ladies in particular. But he almost lost his life one day when he fell foul of a Swedish dragoon who tried to make off with one of Vedbygård’s horses. The Swede was chased off by the rapier-armed Kingo, but later returned and shot Kingo from the back. The shot went trough his cheek and caused him only cosmetic injuries.
In 1661 Kingo became the personal curate of the rural dean Peder Jakobsen Worm at Kirke-Helsinge in western Zealand. He fell head over heels in love with the dean’s second wife, the Norwegian-born minister’s daughter Sille Balchenborg, and for her he wrote the graceful love song Chrysillis du, mit verdens guld (“Chrysillis, thou, gold of my world”). When Peder Jakobsen Worm died in 1668, Sille was free to marry Kingo, and they were wed the next year in Slangerup Church, where Kingo had just been granted the coveted post of incumbent. However “the course of bliss” was of short duration, as Sille died less than a year after the wedding.
It was as the pastor at Slangerup that Kingo, just under 40 years old in 1674, published his first collection of “hymns and songs for daily devotions” with the title Aandelige Siunge-Koors Første Part (Part one of the Spiritual Chorus) with seven morning and seven evening hymns, as well as seven hymns of penance, a total of 21 texts with related contemporary song melodies – a melodious renewal of the domestic devotions that Martin Luther had enjoined heads of families to preside over each day in his Small Catechism – in fact a poetic-theological masterpiece which was both to demonstrate the applicability of the Danish language at a time when the elite spoke German or French and would at the same time awaken a living, active faith in the name of Jesus. This was a matter of doing personal penance and self-improvement which would have consequences for life in terms of one’s calling and rank. A number of days of penance and prayer were introduced over the years. In 1686, however, the minister of state Griffenfeld lumped them into one “General Day of Penance and Prayer”, which is still a Danish Christian holiday.
In 1677 Kingo was promoted by King Christian V to Bishop of the Funen Diocese – a new and busy time with many administrative duties and pastoral visitations. But the writing of hymns did not cease. In 1681 he published Aandelige Siunge-Koors Anden Part (Part Two of the Spiritual Chorus) with 20 songs and 13 meditative “sighs of the heart” for “the awakening of the soul to all manner of devotion in all manner of cases”. This time they were not for the everyday domestic devotions within the family circle, but for personal devotions as preparation for Confession and Communion, for mealtimes or journeys, but first and last for a holy life. Kingo himself was now at the peak of his career, and shortly before the publication he was elevated to the nobility, and the next year was rewarded with a doctorate in theology.
The Church Hymnal
On 27 March 1683 Kingo was given the task by Christian V of drawing up and publishing a new official church hymnal, common to the kingdoms of Denmark and Norway. The hymnal was to be arranged according to the ecclesiastical year and was to contain “the usual and best church songs and hymns”, including Luther’s hymns, but also new hymns with texts for the ecclesiastical year by Kingo, who was himself to be responsible for the editing, printing and sale of the work. After six years, in 1689, Kingo published half a church hymnal called ‘The Winter Part’ because its hymns are for the part of the church year that runs from Advent up to and including Easter. Of the 267 hymns in the hymnal, no fewer than 136 had been newly written by Kingo, including his ‘Passion Hymns’. The book was introduced in all churches, but after just a couple of months it was withdrawn by Christian V. The reason appears to have been a court intrigue staged by Kingo’s opponents, who were dissatisfied with his poetic modernism and dominant position. A ‘summer part’ of the hymnal was therefore out of the question.
In 1696, at the urging of Kingo, Christian V set up a commission of 11 leading ecclesiastics with a view to drawing up a new church hymnal with special consideration for “the hymnal that our beloved Doctor Thomas Kingo has published” (the “Winter Part”, 1689). The publication was half a victory for Kingo, who wrote 86 of the book’s 297 hymns, 55 of these from the Winter Part. “The Prescribed New Church Hymnal” appeared in 1699 from Kingo’s printing press in the Bishop’s palace, and since then has simply been called Kingos Salmebog (Kingo’s Hymnal) in popular parlance.
© Erik Norman Svendsen, Royal Confessor and Bishop of Diocese of Copenhagen 1992 to 2009.
Radiance and contrition by Erik A. Nielsen
The first part of Thomas Kingo’s Aandelige Siunge-Koor (Spiritual Chorus) (1674) is attuned to two spiritual tones: the radiant zest of morning and the subdued melancholy of evening. The thoroughly musical Thomas Kingo strikes both these tones cleanly. The ‘Sjungekor’, which is his poetic ‘debut publication’, appears to have been the first real book success in the history of Danish poetry. It appeared in several editions over the subsequent years, and it was a contributory factor to his rapid ascent through the hierarchy of early Absolutism. As the market- and money-conscious writer that Kingo also was, he made sure he added more texts to the later editions, so that they could not be used directly alongside the first. And since a success should be followed up, in 1681 he published the second part of Aandelige Siunge-Koor, which is perhaps the most beautifully through-composed book in his oeuvre, but in its approach and construction differs from the first part.
The first part is built up with Baroque precision over the sacred number seven, whose Biblical roots lie in the seven days of Creation, but which has several other meanings. In our calendar it determins the division of the week into seven days which are repeated in an unending cycle. The first part is written in this seven-day cycle, but also maintains another cycle of the changes in the day from daylight to the darkness of night – seven morning and seven evening songs, that is, grouped around another sacred seven, the number of Penitential Psalms from the Psalms of David. For each day there are three hymns on the same melody, and in the later editions there were in time also seven versified morning prayers and seven corresponding evening prayers. This means that the life of the faithful family is framed in a pattern of worship and penance, of the radiance of the morning and the oppression of the evening. The singer sings himself or herself into place in the created order of the day and the week. This is the most important function of the song here.
It is difficult to imagine a greater lyrical gusto than the one sung out here by the ‘morning man’ Kingo at the beginning of the hymns as a greeting to the morning light. There is a boundless resonance to these morning texts, a vocal tone meant to ascend through space and reach the ear of God. Sight and sound, eye and ear, are united. But he who sings himself into place in the world-order also knows that the morning light is God’s all-seeing eye and in the light there is no concealment. With a Kingo concept, one must “present oneself” to God and bear His illumination of one’s dark corners. Saluting the morning is a confession of faith. With the associated penitentiary hymns it becomes clear how much a human being has to repent and implore forgiveness. It is the grace of the Creator that with the sun He sends his blessing out over the Earth. And in the end – at the end of the cycle of the world – He will reveal Himself in the beyond as the bright sun that will never again go down, and into whose radiance the saved human being will at last be able to look.
Today’s Danish Christians will probably know these hymns from the standard Hymnal, but the fact is that Kingo did not intend them as texts for divine service. They only appeared in the Hymnal far later. They belong in domestic devotions and it was the duty of the master of the house to gather family and servants morning and evening for such devotions, which marked the dramatic alternation of the day between light and darkness.
Corresponding to the rising sun of the morning hymns, the evening hymns begin with very beautiful sunset moods; but if the morning texts point upward to God as the radiant centre, the locus of greatest energy, the evening hymns point inward to the oppressed centre of the soul. The evening closes what the morning opens. And this panic gaze into the vaults of the soul, this confession of all the transgressions and inadequacies of the day, fills the singer with exhaustion and helplessness. In order to sleep, even just to fall asleep, the singer must implore God to keep watch when we ourselves, in the darkness of night, must give up. In the darkness Satan sets his traps, spreads stumbling-blocks on our nocturnal paths, haunts our dreams. Only the Creator’s protection keeps the Devil at a distance. In the evening hymn one sings one’s way into God’s embrace.
If this collection evoked such a strong response, and if many of its texts are still very much alive today, this is due to several factors. In the first place, Kingo aimed determinedly at creating a pure, Danish Christian language, and it is not too much to say that with these early texts he set a standard for Danish hymn-writing that has later been binding for other hymn-writers, not least Brorson, Grundtvig and Ingemann.
In the second place, Thomas Kingo was a courageous man with a knowledge of the melodic resources of the Baroque. He took several of his melodies from a wide European musical world and could thus have his texts borne by melodies that had stood the test of the international market. He permitted himself to disregard the tyrannical distinction between sacred and secular music. The melody for Rind nu op i Jesu Navn (“Break now forth in Jesus’ name”), for example, comes from an erotic opera ballet by the court composer of the Sun King, Jean-Baptiste Lully. Catholic music, ballet, the erotic – how provocative could it get? This would correspond to the ‘modern hymns’ of today being set to well loved melodies from The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel or Bob Dylan. But Kingo was convinced that if a melody had demonstrated its bearing power, it could also bear the word of God into the hearts of the faithful.
The Second Part of Aandelige Siunge-Koor, which appeared in 1681, was not conceived either as hymns for the church services, although at least two of its songs are now very popular with Danish congregations: Far, Verden, farvel (“Vain world, fare thee well”) and Sorrig og Glæde (“Sorrow and gladness”). They had their original place in the masterly Baroque symmetry with which Kingo composed that work. The governing number is now ten, such that there are ten hymns before the axis of symmetry in the work and ten after it. The place for the work is the home, where the family prepares for Communion (1-10), and after the Sacrament (11-20) comes an interpretation of the transformed reality of a human being who has visited the mysterious chamber of the Eucharist.
The first hymns in the work are intensely aggressive and insistent in their will to expose all the terrible abysses of the soul. All must be mirrored in the Christian Law, and everything demonstrates the powerlessness and betrayal of mankind. This is a Christian third-degree and the case of the accused does not look good. At the central axis comes the Communion, and then the work replaces the clamorous self-recriminations with the most wonderful calm seas of gratitude for the forgiveness and indulgence of God. The tenth song (Tak, Jesu, Siælens Hyrde good “I thank Thee, shepherd of my soul”) is profoundly moving in its quietude. In connection with this hymn of thanksgiving Kingo has interpolated a major poem in which his brilliant understanding of the nature of the Eucharist is formulated. It cannot be sung, but as perhaps the finest example of Lutheran theology of the Baroque it is consummately worth reading.
When the faithful, now forgiven penitent returns to his everyday life, it is as a liberated human being – although the liberation must be understood in its own special way. Saved, he has become more or less immune to worldly torments, or has learned to endure them, because this transitory earthly life is now nothing but a time of waiting to be got through before one is admitted to the eternal life of Heaven. This solace is most beautifully formulated in Sorrig og Glæde de vandre tilhobe (“Sorrow and gladness”). On the other hand Kingo expresses it with unsurpassed Baroque super-rhetoric in the almost conceited-sounding fanfare piece Far, Verden, farvel (“Vain world, fare thee well”). Everything on this earth is nothing, and nothing in Heaven is lacking in glory. Surely no one has ever taken leave of life’s misery with such gusto?
And once more it is thoroughly musical, with fervent or trumpeting qualities. An extremely worldly glory channelled into an ecstatic renunciation of all things earthly. The whole tension of the Baroque between magnificent self-assertion and energetic self-recrimination creates the great contrasts in this work; but Kingo’s mastery holds it all together with his supreme control of form and the incredible musicality of his language.
A tough customer, this Kingo – but who would be without him?
© Erik A. Nielsen, D.Phil. and D.Theol., former Professor of Danish literature at the University of Copenhagen
A Musical Patchwork by Jakob Bloch Jespersen and Allan Rasmussen
The main idea behind this CD release has been to consider Kingo’s Aandelige Siunge-Koor from a musical point of view. Aandelige Siunge-Koor appeared in two parts-the first in 1674 and the second in 1681. At the back of the two publications one finds the music for the melodies to which Kingo intended his texts to be sung, with the related figured-base parts. In the preface to the first part Kingo defends his choice of “melodies which are otherwise sung by many with vain words”: sung to Kingo’s texts “the harmonious and pleasant melodies are all the more heavenly” inasmuch as rather than “listening to a song of Sodom” one prefers “to hear a song of Zion”. The origins of a few of the melodies are not known today, and there we cannot preclude the possibility that Kingo himself was the composer. But there are also melodies in the collection that were written by prominent composers, such as Johann Schop (1590-1667), Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687) and Adam Krieger (1634-1666). From this came the idea of basing a programme on the songs from Aandelige Siunge-Koor and the composers who – unknowingly – supplied the melodies for Kingo’s poetry, in order to place the Kingo hymns in the musical context in which they arose.
Kingo’s notation of the melodies is on the whole good. However, here and there one finds small errors in the material, and in certain places the figured bass leaves a slightly helpless impression. For the same reason we have not been able to resist the temptation to use a source outside the melody collection for one of Kingo’s finest efforts, the “Far Verden, far vel” from the second part of Aandelige Siunge-Koor. As a substitute for Kingo’s version we use Gregers Hanssøn Windekilde’s (1659-1688) alternative version of the same melody. It comes from the publication Tolff Gudelige Maanetz-Stemmer (1682), where it occurs with a better figured-bass accompaniment than Kingo’s under the title “Guds mægtige Sejr”(“God’s mighty victory”). Apart from this we have faithfully followed Kingo’s musical and textual material, although we have felt obliged in the case of some hymns to make considerable cuts in the number of verses.
Johann Schop is represented by a whole three melodies in the first part. Schop’s Danish connection goes back to the years 1615-19, when he was employed at the court of King Christian IV. Again in 1634 he visited Copenhagen in connection with the wedding of Crown Prince Christian, and this time he was accompanied by none other than Heinrich Schütz. We have let Schop play a central role in the programme with a selection of five-part dance movements from Erster Theil newer Paduanen, Galliarden, Allemanden, Balletten, Couranten, Canzonen (1633) that may well have been heard at the Danish court in the first half of the seventeenth century.
However, Kingo’s knowledge of Schop’s melodies comes through the hymn and song writer Johann Rist (1607-1667). Rist worked as a pastor in various places in the northwestern part of Germany, for example around the Elbe in Holstein, which at that time belonged to the Danish kingdom. Schop was responsible for the selection of the melodic material for Rist’s hymnal Himlische Lieder (1642) and also for the secular pastoral poems in Des Daphnis aus Cimbrien Galathee (1642), and himself composed several melodies for these two publications. Himlische Lieder won wide recognition in ecclesiastical circles, and from this collection comes the melody for Dend anden Sang (“The second song”) sung here as the morning song “Siæl og Hierte, Sind og Sandser” (“Soul and heart, mind and senses”). Dend fjerde Sang (“The fourth song”) and Dend sjette Sang (“The sixth song”), here sung as the evening songs “Til hvile Solen gaar” (“The sun now goes to rest”) and “Dend klare Sool gaar ned” (“The bright sun now goes down”) come from Des Daphnis aus Cimbrien Galathee. We must assume that these melodies were known to Kingo from Søren Terkelsen’s Astree Siunge-Choer, which appeared in three volumes between 1648 and 1654 with the related musical material. Back in 1633 Søren Terkelsen was entrusted with the post of customs officer in Christian IV’s great prestige project, the port of Glückstadt at the mouth of the Elbe. For political reasons, though, Christian IV had to abolish the Elbe duties as early as 1645, and as a result of disorder in the accounts and accusations of bribery Terkelsen was suddenly left without a job, and therefore – without any particular aptitude – embarked on the translation of German pastoral songs into Danish, including some by his close acquaintance Johann Rist. In 1648 Terkelsen published Astree Siunge-Choers første Snees (first score). It was a huge sales success, which he followed up with a further two score of songs in the subsequent years. Despite the dubious quality of Terkelsen’s translations his publications played an important role in the spread of European Baroque poetry in Denmark and were direct precursors of among other things Thomas Kingo’s songwriting, just as it was from Terkelsen that Kingo took the designation Siunge-Koor.
Adam Krieger is considered one of the fathers of the German Lied tradition. Den syvende Sang (The seventh song) in the first part of Aandelige Siunge-Koor, sung here as the morning song “Vaag op og slae paa dine Strenge” (“Wake up and strike upon thy strings”), comes from Adam Krieger’s publication Arien (1657). From Krieger’s second collection of songs, Neue Arien, which was published posthumously (1667), we have taken the ritornelles (small musical interludes) which seemed suitable for transferring to Kingo’s songs, thus creating the musical “lustre” around them that we know from the early Baroque art songs of among others Adam Krieger, Philipp Heinrich Erlebach (1657-1714) and Diderik Buxtehude (1637-1707).
Besides Krieger’s outstanding ritornelles, for this musical patchwork we have also appropriated a group of ritornelles from Buxtehude’s strophic cantata Jesu, komm, mein Trost und Lachen (BuxWV 58) and put them together with Den tredje Aftensang “Dend prægtig Sool” (The third evening song, ”Magnificent Sun”). Diderik Buxtehude and Thomas Kingo are remarkably closely connected in that they were both born and died at intervals of just a few years, and both grew up in northeastern Zealand, with a distance between them of about 40 km, in Helsingør and Slangerup respectively. To be true, there is nothing to suggest that the two ever met, but it is thus no accident that Buxtehude and Kingo made use of the same melodic material. Not much of Buxtehude’s music from the years before he moved to Lübeck at the age of 31 is known today, but the two sets for keyboard variations Rofilis and Courant zimble, which were found in 1938 in a family history in Nykøbing Falster, must be assumed to belong to this early part of Buxtehude’s production. Both sets are based on melodies that Kingo printed in Aandelige Siunge-Koor – Den femte Sang (“The fifth song”) sung here as the evening song “Det mulmer mod den mørke Nat” (“It fades towards the dark of night”) and Den første Sang (“The first song”), sung here as the morning song Rind nu op i Jesu Naun (Break now forth in Jesus’ name).
The latter song originally comes from Jean-Baptiste Lully’s Ballet Royal de l’Impatience (1661), with the text “Sommes-nous pas trop heureux, Belle Iris, que vous en semble?” and as a postlude to this we have chosen a short chaconne movement from the same ballet. Lully was the most prominent composer of his time and had a monopoly-like status at the court of the Sun King Louis XIV at Versailles. There he created a unique French musical style that set a pattern for the next 100 years – also far beyond the borders of France. As with so much of Lully’s music, this song too quickly spread over large parts of Europe, and thus found its way to Thomas Kingo’s Aandelige Siunge-Koor just a decade later.
© Allan Rasmussen and Jakob Bloch Jespersen, 2015