Serene. Peaceful. Tranquil. All excellent one word descriptions for our beautiful and peaceful arrangement of Panis Angelicus (Instrumental), the centuries old hymn from the pen of St. Thomas Aquinas. What a perfect choice for your wedding music this lovely number is. Equally appropriate for prelude or a quiet moment during the ceremony, this lyric has been especially well-loved since César Franck set it to music in 1872, though many versions existed before his sprang to life.
One of the reasons Panis Angelicus is so tranquil is the narrow range of the melody. It brings to mind the incredibly simple, profound, and meaningful hymn “When I Survey The Wondrous Cross”, which also has a very narrow range of melody, and is in my opinion one of the greatest hymns ever written.
As a songwriter, I promise you it is much harder to write profound and meaningful simple music than it is to wax eloquent and complex. The simpler the song, the more exposed are the flaws that may exist in the composition thereof. That is to say, when there is no hiding behind the mulberry bush of musical twists, turns, and extravagant ideas, we more easily detect silliness and banality in a song.
There has been much music that has been simple, almost to a fault, that has come to us via the Christian church down through the centuries; we need only think of Gregorian chant and the music of the middle ages to realize this. To that point, the original version of Panis Angelicus is hundeds of years old, though the common musical setting today is Franck’s from 1872.
I wonder 100 or 200 years from now which hymns that are known so well today will survive…since so many are falling into disuse in many faith traditions. It would be a shame indeed for hymns like Panis to be left in the dust of history; and it may require a determined effort from many to ensure this does not happen.
For our part, we sing hymns as a family when we are together! – not as a scheme necessarily to promote them – though that has been a goal in earlier years, but simply because they are so meaningful, and we wish to share the experience of singing them with each other, and with friends.
For a discussion about the theology of Panis Angelicus, an ancient catholic hymn, click here.