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It is usually used in English as a setting for William Williams' text Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer (or, in some traditions, Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah), originally Arglwydd, arwain trwy’r anialwch in Welsh. On account of a line in this English translation, the tune (and hymn) is often called Bread of Heaven.
In Welsh the tune is most commonly used as a setting for a hymn by Ann Griffiths, Wele'n sefyll rhwng y myrtwydd.
John Hughes wrote the first version of the tune, which he called "Rhondda", in 1905 for the Cymanfa Ganu (hymn festival) in Pontypridd, when the enthusiasm of the 1904–1905 Welsh Revival still remained. The present form was developed for the inauguration of the organ at Capel Rhondda, in Hopkinstown in the Rhondda valley, in 1907. Hughes himself played the organ at this performance, using the English translation of William Williams's words because of the large number of English-speaking industrial workers who had immigrated to the area. The name was changed from "Rhondda" to "Cwm Rhondda" by Harry Evans, of Dowlais, to avoid confusion with another tune by M O Jones.
The hymn is usually pitched in A-flat major and has the 184.108.40.206.4.7 measure which is common in Welsh hymns. The third line repeats the first and the fourth line develops the second. The fifth line normally involves a repeat of the four-syllable text and the sixth reaches a climax on a dominant seventh chord (bar 12) – emphasised by a rising arpeggio in the alto and bass parts. The final line continues the musical development of the second and fourth (and generally carries a repeat of the text of the sixth). On account of these vigorous characteristics, the tune was resisted for some time in both Welsh and English collections but has now become firmly established.
Hymn text: 'Guide me, O Thou great Redeemer'
The following are the English and Welsh versions of the hymn, as given in the standard collections.
William Williams Pantycelyn (named, in the Welsh style, 'Pantycelyn' after the farm which his wife inherited) is generally acknowledged as the greatest Welsh hymnwriter. The Welsh original of this hymn was first published as Hymn 10 in Mor o Wydr (Sea of Glass) in 1762. It comprised six verses. (References to a five verse version in Pantycelyn's Alleluia of 1745 appear to be incorrect.) It was originally titled Gweddi am Nerth i fyned trwy anialwch y Byd (Prayer for strength for the journey through the world's wilderness).
Peter Williams (1722-1796, no relation of the author but well known for his popular edition of the Welsh Bible, with notes) translated part of the hymn into the English version given above, with the title Prayer for Strength. It was published in Hymns on various subjects, 1771. This translation is the only Welsh hymn to have gained widespread circulation in the English-speaking world. The present-day Welsh version, given above, is essentially a redaction of the original to parallel Peter Williams's English version. A result of the translation process is that the defining phrase Bread of heaven does not actually occur in the original (where the Welsh would be Bara nefoedd; it is a paraphrase of the references to manna.
The Welsh word Arglwydd corresponds more-or-less to the English Lord, in all its senses. It is used in the Old Testament to represent the Divine Name (the tetragrammaton) and in the New as the standard honorific for Jesus Christ. Accordingly, Peter Williams translated it as Jehovah in accord with the practice of his time. Many English-language hymnals today translate it as Redeemer.
The following version of the original is taken from Gwaith Pantycelyn (The Works of Pantycelyn). All but the second verse is given, with minor variations, in the Welsh Hymnbook of the Calvinist and Wesleyan Methodists, published by the assemblies of the two churches.
|Arglwydd, arwain trwy’r anialwch
Fi bererin gwael ei wedd,
Myfi grwydrais hir flynyddau,
Rho’r golofn dannos i’m harwain,
Agor y ffynhonnau melys
Pan bwy’n myned trwy’r Iorddonen,
Mi ymddirieda' yn dy allu,
Lord, guide me through the wilderness,
I wandered for long years,
Give Thou a pillar of fire to lead me in the night,
Open the sweet springs
When I go through Jordan -
I shall trust in Thy power,
The hymn describes the experience of God's people in their travel through the wilderness from the escape from slavery in Egypt, Exodus 12-14, being guided by a cloud by day and a fire by night, Exodus 13:17-22 to their final arrival forty years later in the land of Canaan, Joshua 3. During this time their needs were supplied by God, including the daily supply of manna, Exodus 16.
The hymn text forms an allegory for the journey of a Christian throughout their life on earth requiring the Redeemer's guidance and ending at the gates of Heaven (the verge of Jordan) and end of time (death of death and hell's destruction).
Instances of use
The hymn has been sung on various British state occasions such as the funerals of Diana, Princess of Wales and Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, and the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton.
The hymn is also featured prominently in the soundtrack to the 1941 film How Green Was My Valley, directed by John Ford. The soundtrack, by Alfred Newman, won that year's Academy Award for Original Music Score. It is also featured at the beginning of The African Queen (film), with Katharine Hepburn singing and playing the organ. Only Men Aloud! also sang an arrangement by Tim Rhys-Evans and Jeffrey Howard on the BBC 1 Show Last Choir Standing in 2008. They subsequently released it on their self-titled début album.
Hymn text: 'Wele'n sefyll rhwng y myrtwydd'
Despite the history of the tune and its common English text, the tune-words pairing in Welsh is quite different. Arglwydd, arwain.. is usually sung to the tune Capel y Ddôl and Cwm Rhondda is the setting for this hymn by Ann Griffiths:
Other English hymn texts
Some hymnals use this tune for the hymn God of Grace and God of Glory written by Harry Emerson Fosdick in 1930.
Others for Full salvation! Full salvation! Lo, the fountain opened wide by Francis Bottome (1823–94).
Apart from church use, probably its best known use is as the 'Welsh Rugby Hymn', often sung by the crowd at rugby matches, especially those of the Wales national rugby union team. There it is common for all voices to sing the repeat of the last three syllables of the last-but-one line, e.g. "want no more" or "strength and shield" (which in church use is repeated only in the bass and alto parts, if at all).
In the second half of the 20th century, English and Scottish football fans began to regularly sing a song based on this tune using the words We'll support you evermore which in turn led to many different versions being adapted. Currently, in 2016, the variation "You're Not Singing Anymore" when taunting the fans of opposing teams who were on the losing sides remains extremely popular. The chant, along with many variations, remains popular to this day.
The hymn is sung in the 1959 animated series Ivor the Engine by the Grumbley and District Choral Society, whose singing Ivor hears in the first episode, leading to his desire to sing with the choir, and then heard again at the end of the sixth episode, sung by the choir with Ivor's accompaniment, when Ivor finally achieves his ambition to join the choir.
In the Fireman Sam episode "Chemistry Set", bus driver Trevor Evans sings the tune whilst en route to Newtown with Sarah and James.
- John Richard Watson, An Annotated Anthology of Hymns Published 2002, Oxford University Press p. 228. "Hymns Ancient and Modern and the English Hymnal have always printed Guide me, O thou great redeemer, as the first line."
- "Caniadau'r Diwygiad", Noel Gibbard, 2003, ISBN 978-1850491958
- "Cwm Rhondda chapel's history celebrated", BBC News, 24 January 2003
- H2G2 Hitchhikers’ Guide—Cwm Rhondda
- "Welsh Hymns and their Tunes", Alan Luff, 1990, ISBN 0852497997 pp223-4
- Hymns and Psalms. Methodist Publishing House. 1983. ISBN 0-946550-01-8.
- 'Welsh Hymns and their Tunes', Alan Luff, 1990, ISBN 0852497997 pp102-3
- 'Emynau a'u Hawduriaid', John Thickens, 1927, Llyfrfa'r Methodistiaid Calvinaidd
- "Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary Handbook". Retrieved 2008-06-10.
- 'Emynau a'u Hawduriaid', John Thickens, 1927, Llyfrfa'r Methodistiaid Calvinaidd
- 'Peter Williams - abridged history', J Douglas Davies, Llandyfaelog, published privately
- 'Welsh Hymns and their Tunes', Alan Luff, 1990, ISBN 0852497997 p130
- 'Gwaith Pantycelyn', Gomer M Roberts, 1960, Gwasg Aberystwyth
- "The Funeral Service of Diana, Princess Wales". BBC. Retrieved 2008-06-10.
- "She was strength, dignity and laughter". BBC. 2002-04-09. Retrieved 2008-06-10.
- "Soundtracks for The African Queen". IMDB. Retrieved 2011-08-14.
- 'Caneuon Ffydd', 2001, ISBN 1903754011, Hymn 702, Tune 576
- Wighton, Kate; Spanton, Tim (2010-09-28). "Oldencalls". The Sun. London.