A number of hymns have been extracted from John Mason Neale’s translation of part of the long poem ‘De Contemptu Mundi’ (‘On the contempt of the world’) by Bernard of Cluny (12th century). As the title suggests, much of it is deeply satirical of the evils of the world of his time, but he contrasts this with the glory and beauty of heaven. This is the most famous selection of lines from it. The tune was written for a different selection, but was joined with this in the first edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861). Ewing was an army man but had studied both law in Scotland and music in Germany. This is his one and only tune. It was originally written as three-in-a-bar, which we today might find attractive. In mid-nineteenth-century England, however, that would not do, and W H Monk as music editor changed it to its present form. The composer complained that ‘it now seems to me a good deal like a polka’. The wide range of the tune means that it needs a congregation in good heart and voice to sing it, but it does climb the heights in a good cause.
from notes by Alan Luff © 2001