“Bread of Heaven” is a song from Wales. The lyric is by a great 18th century Welsh writer named William Williams, also known as Williams Pantycelyn (there being so many “Williamses” in Wales that it is necessary to give them nicknames in order to be sure that everyone receives the appropriate royalties). The song became what it is today, however, sometime around 1904/05, when the English version of the lyric was wedded to a recently-composed melody by yet another great Welshman named John Hughes; i.e. the tune titled “Cwm Rhondda,” after the Welsh valley of the same name. This was during what is known as a Great Awakening or religious revival in Wales, and one that spread (not unlike the tune) to many other quarters.
It’s funny: I was talking about this song a few days ago to a few friends, merely sharing my enthusiasm for something I’d only really discovered relatively recently, and I turned on the CD player and played for them the version that I’m embedding at the bottom of this post; then, this morning, it turned out to be the closing hymn sung at my church here in New York City. This caught me quite by surprise, and made me chuckle, and also made me think that I must be supposed to write something about it today. I had planned to write something about it anyway, but at some undetermined later juncture. Well, why put off till tomorrow, etc.? Why, indeed.
The thing is, I have very little to say about it. If ever there was a song that spoke for itself, it is this one. But there are details, and context—those things that can sharpen the appreciation for even a song that stands so squarely and strongly on its own.
The marriage of William Pantycelyn’s words and John Hughes’ music was apparently one made in heaven as after its emergence around 1905 the song became very quickly and deeply beloved of the Welsh. It has ultimately come to be known as the unofficial national anthem of Wales, and can be heard sung ceremonially at important sporting events (i.e. rugby matches).
In Wales itself, it is generally known either as “Bread of Heaven” (a line from the first verse) or as “Cwm Rhondda,” the name of the melody. Globally, it is usually referred to by the first line of the lyric, which is alternately presented as “Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah,” or “Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer,” or “Guide Me Ever, Great Redeemer.” Continue reading Cwm Rhondda – Bread of Heaven – Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer