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Beautiful Savior


For such a well-beloved old hymn, there is remarkably little agreement about any part of this song.  The title, lyrics, composer(s), lyricist(s), English translator(s), even the authenticity of the score are all hotly disputed.  Legend has it The Crusaders’ Hymn was sung by German Crusaders on their way to the Holy Land.  But no one has established which of the nine Crusades (spanning three centuries) is meant, much less documented the legend.  Others attribute the original German lyrics to 17th Century German Jesuits, three or four centuries later. 

Most Protestants call it Fairest Lord Jesus, and most Catholics call it The Crusaders’ Hymn, but Lutherans and Mormons call it Beautiful Savior, and use different lyrics.  All versions refer to the Son of God and Son of Man, whose beauty and purity exceed those of all natural phenomena. But there is little or no agreement on specifics.  Due to the multiplicity of “original German sources,” it is perfectly possible that all those claiming to be the “original” translator are correct! 

The music itself is cited as an old, Silesian folksong, in a German text published in 1842, while the  Crusades lasted from 1095 to 1291.  Eight centuries is plenty of time for a hymn to give rise to a folksong, or vice-versa.  No one truly knows which came first.  To further muddy the water, the first English translation was published in 1677, almost two centuries before the “original” German text that it was translated from!  Nevertheless, we know that the English version is not the original, as it is listed as a translation in its earliest extant version.  That may be the only fact about this beautiful, old hymn that can be stated without dispute.


I arranged this song at the request of my daughter Thora.  It will stretch your hands.  If you are not up to that, you can dumb it down and sing the melody.  To facilitate this, I’ve left it in the key of D, as published in The Children’s Songbook.  If you are accompanying vocalists, substitute D, A, and G for the relevant barre chords, and it becomes a very easy song to play. You can strum the chords, or use a pattern pick.  Play all the chords listed, including those in brackets.

To include the melody and all the cool harmonies in your solo, play it as written.  Played this way, it is not a song for beginners, but it’s not as hard as it looks. True, there are seventeen chords, and some of them look rather strange, but five are common chords you already know, or very slight variations. For example, D/A is just a regular D chord, but you play the open A string, too.  Read it as, “D, A bass.”

Of the rest, nine are slight variations of barred E, barred A, and barred Am, chord shapes you probably already know if you are used to playing barre chords.  A#dim and  A7II are less common, but are simple, two-finger chords. There is really only one difficult chord, called  DII, but also called D/F#II. Read these as D (barred at the second fret), and D, F# bass (barred at the second fret).  They are really the same chord; the only difference being whether or not you play the #6 string.  This chord is a barred C shape, which is a tough chord shape for many people to master. It is not by any means impossible, though, and its full, rich sound makes it very important in nearly all music genres.


To minimize finger dancing, I begin the Intro by barring at the tenth fret, but you don’t have to if it’s not comfortable.  Steel-string guitars have two “extra” frets on the neck, which makes this much easier. If you have large hands and a classical guitar, it may be easier to play the notes as written, or invent an intro of your own.  There is nothing “official” about introductions; you can use whatever you like. You may even wish to use the coda (the underlined measures on the last page) as an introduction. If you do, the actual coda at the end becomes a reprise of the intro, which is a cool way to end a song.

At the end of the second line, after playing A7II, lift the whole hand off the strings when you play the open E string.  This gives you time to move up the neck for the upcoming DX.  This chord makes the fingering way easy: all changes can be made by flattening and un-flattening the pinky.  There are other ways to play these notes, but this way minimizes chord changes. The last measure of the third line includes an [A] in lightface type.  If you are playing the tab, just ignore it, as the necessary notes are in the tab.  But if you are strumming accompaniment, you should play the [A],  and the following [A7], or it will sound wrong.

At the end of the line, lift the whole left hand from the strings while playing the open E string.  This gives you more time to move to the fifth fret, easing the chord change to AV.  The mordant (--5_7_5--) in the next measure sets up the transition to the following DV.  There’s no slick way to make the change to EmVII in the middle of the next measure, but the change from a barred A shape to a barred Am shape is not a difficult one.  The only tricky part is doing so while moving up the neck two frets.  Remember to lift the fingers from the fretboard slightly while changing, or the slide will be audible.

In the first line of page two, make the same changes in reverse, ending the line with a regular D.  I tried  using DV, to minimize the change from AV, but it just doesn’t sound the same.  D also eases the chord changes at the beginning of the next line.  The D probably will not sustain for the full measure, unless you are playing an electric guitar.  Use the [rest] at the end of the measure to start the change to D/F#II.  This chord is a barred C shape, played at the second fret, allowing the #6 string to sound.  Read it as, “D, F# bass”.  You can substitute a D/AV (DV, allowing the open A string to sound), which  many find easier, and sounds almost as good.  Try it both ways, and decide for yourself.  The barred C shape is a difficult one to master, but worth the effort.  This song is all about gorgeous harmonies; if you dumb it down, you cheat yourself and your audience.

At the beginning of the fourth line, hold the AV as long as possible, while fretting the G note on the 2nd string with the pinky.  That converts the chord into an A7, an interesting resolve to the preceding phrase.  Starting in the next measure, there's another one of those barred C shapes.  This time, it actually makes the transition to the following BmII easier.  I have added arpeggios between the next, strummed chords.  Playing the arpeggios with the thumb gives a soft sound.  Slow down  a bit for emphasis.

The  coda (the underlined measures) will sound faster, because you are playing eight notes to the bar, but the tempo doesn’t really change at all.  Play the chord and the first two notes at the beginning of each measure with the thumb, then pluck the treble strings with the fingers.  The slides, hammer-ons, and pull-offs add even more variety.  You could play all the D chords in the coda the same way, as a regular D, but starting at the fifth fret and working down to the regular D lends a sense of closure that would otherwise be lacking.  In the next-to-last measure, you will have to release the A chord to do the hammer-ons.  Slow down for emphasis, and hold the final D chord as long as you can.  Stunning!

1 comment:

Jill said...

Could you please wrie the chords in one paragraph? It will make it easier to follow! Thanks great work!