Author: Joseph Swain (1791)
Composer: Freeman Lewis (1813)
Portuguese Version: Eugênio Gall, 2021
Organ Variations: Eugênio Gall, 2021
During many years I subscribed to three musical journals published by the Lorenz Corporation: The Organist, The Organ Portfolio, and The Organ Journal. I consider these publications to be very helpful to church organists, offering us a variety of preludes, interludes, meditations, variations and/or postludes inspired by hymns from our Protestant tradition and appropriate for the observance of the liturgical year.
In 2020, when the world shut down because of the COVID19 pandemic, I decided to embark on a new project which I titled “Hymns from the Protestant Tradition.” I began to organize, perform, record, and publish the playlist in my YouTube channel. The repertoire consisted of pieces published by Lorenz and by other sources I own. In each post, I identified the hymn by providing its original title, its title in Portuguese (my native language), and its location in at least one of the hymnals published in Brazil.
In the search for a new arrangement to record, I came across a beautiful prelude on “O Thou, in whose presence,” a setting by Freeman Lewis (1780-1859) of a hymn written by Joseph Swain (1761-1796). I could not remember ever seeing this tune in any of our traditional Brazilian hymnals and further research did not uncover a Portuguese translation of the hymn either. I continued to meditate on this beautiful English poem and eventually decided to work on a Portuguese version of its five stanzas. I then proceeded to compose a set of five variations, each one inspired by the poetic mood and images of the individual stanzas of the hymn.
Here is a brief description of each variation: the first one presents the melody in the soprano register over a modal-like harmonic structure and evokes the state of peace and comfort of the soul who is in the presence of God. The second variation has the melody partially mixed with a dominant figuration in eighth notes that symbolizes the journey, the search of the afflicted soul in this valley of pain for the Shepherd’s place where he feeds his sheep in pastures of love. In the third variation the melody, now in a minor key, appears in the bass line, symbolizing the valley of pain and suffering of the soul far from God, hungry, in the wilderness, subject to the scorn of the wicked. The author’s ecstasy is expressed in the fourth stanza of the hymn, with its marvelous vision of heaven and the myriads of angels in expectation of the thunderous voice of the Lord, God of the Universe, and the manifestation of His will. This scene is portrayed in the fourth variation in a trio form with the melody in the tenor played with a trumpet stop and framed by a cheerful line of triplets. In the last stanza, the tiny (and unworthy) soul hears this voice, which is all-powerful and capable of filling and shaking the whole universe, and, at the same time, for the “sheep” that returns, it is the “sweet voice of the dear Shepherd” who guides and protects the soul. In the final variation, this imaginary picture takes the form of a pastorale, with the melody gradually descending, phrase by phrase, from soprano to bass.
 For more information on this hymn see https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-o-thou-in-whose-presence.
Eugênio Gall is a Brazilian composer, arranger, and organist. He was born in Nova Iguaçú, Rio de Janeiro and has served Baptist and Lutheran churches in Brazil (Rio de Janeiro and Curitiba), and the USA (San Antonio). Eugênio began his organ studies at the South Brazil Baptist Theological Seminary in the 1970s and in 1981 he graduated from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro with a degree in organ performance. Through his work as a church musician, Eugênio seeks to highlight the importance of the organ in supporting the liturgy, both by welcoming new musical developments and by celebrating the rich cultural heritage and history of Christian worship.