Ancient hymn blest by Bach’s interpretation
The evolution of this hymn on the Holy Spirit, came in threes, just as the Holy Trinity meant the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It appeared in history first in the 9th century as a chant. Take note that its history is entwined with the history of music notation. Chants were the product of the early eight centuries of notation when the norm was creating music of many individual voices (polyphonic). Chants were mysterious and many-voiced, with “Veni Creator Spiritus” as an example. This was German Archbishop of Mainz and father of the German modern system of education Rabanus Maurus’ work. Maurus was the director of the Benedictine Abbey school in Fulda. The chant turned into a chorale in the 16th century for Lutheran purposes. The melody was simplified to fit the German original, harmonies added to it, but the tune was still recognizable.
Then J.S. Bach came along (17th century) and the melody transformed in its third reincarnation in the Baroque period! By this time, music, whether classical or sacred, was completely shaped already as sheet music notations. It was already a time when people liked their music with running notes and harmonies. Thus, it could be said that in Bach’s restyling, “Come Holy Ghost, Creator Blest”, published in J.S. Bach’s Little Organ Book, had a change in mood. From ethereal, it almost turned into a dance for joy. The ingenuity of Bach is evident because even though the pacing is slow and the melody’s in soprano, the pedal line has a note every third beat, Bach’s incorporation of the musical expression of the Holy Spirit.
The English translation of “Veni Creator Spiritus” was by Englishman Edward Caswall who was known for his Latin translations for the Roman Breviary in the 18th century. As a translator of hymns, Caswall was faithful to the originals, making the verses highly adaptable to music for congregational utility. He was at par with another famous translator, Dr. Neale.