Wilt Thou Forgive That Sin?

“Wilt Thou Forgive That Sin?” are the opening words to the poem, “A Hymn to God the Father,” written by the English poet, priest, and scholar John Donne (1572-1631). A theologically rich and poetically masterful text, it presents an appeal to God, in which Donne asks “Wilt thou forgive?” the original sin into which man is born (stanza 1) and the personal sins of the individual (stanza 2), and in which he acknowledges his own fear of death and his hope of salvation through God’s Son, Jesus Christ (stanza 3). Throughout, Donne engages in wordplay such as “done” for Donne and “more” (for his wife, Anne More) and creates thought-provoking turns of phrase such as “sin of fear” for, perhaps, “fear of sin.” Read the poem here (PDF, opens in new window).

Donne commissioned a tune to accompany the hymn from the English early baroque composer John Hilton (1599-1657), of which Donne’s friend and biographer Izaak Walton said, “he caused it to be set to a most grave and solemn tune, and to be often sung to the organ by the Choristers of St. Paul’s Church, in his own hearing; especially at the Evening Service; and at his return from his customary devotions in that place, did occasionally say to a friend, ‘the words of this Hymn have restored to me the same thoughts of joy that possessed my soul in my sickness, when I composed it. And, O the power of church-music! that harmony added to this Hymn has raised the affections of my heart, and quickened my graces of zeal and gratitude; and I observe that I always return from paying this public duty of prayer and praise to God, with an unexpressible tranquility of mind, and a willingness to leave the world.’”

Donne’s hymn is especially fitting for penitential seasons and occasions, and this arrangement for brass quintet of Hilton’s tune makes an effective meditative selection for offertory or communion at any time.

Score, parts (Bb tpt. 1, Bb tpt. 2, F horn, tbn, tuba) — $12.99