Friday, June 6, 2008

Sir John Stainer

Composer John Stainer was born on this day in 1840. During his life he held many musical positions both in and out of the Church of England, though most of his works (many listed here) are sacred music. Today he is probably best known for his oratorio The Crucifixion, performed by countless church choirs on Good Friday since its first appearance in 1887.

You may not know that he was musical editor of Christmas Carols New and Old in 1871, a very popular collection whose arrangements are still widely used today. He was also the musical editor of The Church Hymnary (1898), a hymnal produced by a collection of denominations in Scotland, and several of his 158 hymn tunes appeared there for the first time.

The following Stainer tune comes from The Crucifixion. If you've ever sung it or attended a performance, you probably remember that the choral and solo parts of the Passion story are interspersed with six hymns which are supposed to be sung by the combined chorus and audience/congregation. Unfortunately, this practice seems to be dying out; last year when I sang the work for the first time, the audience was only invited to sing the final hymn (with possibly the most familiar tune, CROSS OF JESUS), and the conductor directed the chorus in overly-fussy renditions of the other hymns during the performance. But I like this tune also and hardly think it's beyond the capability of any congregation.

Joys are flowing like a river
Since the Comforter has come;
She abides with us forever,
Makes the trusting heart her home.

Like the rain that falls from heaven,
Like the sunlight from the sky,
So the Holy Spirit's given,
Coming to us from on high.

See, a fruitful field is growing,
Blessed fruit of righteousness;
And the streams of life are flowing
In the lonely wilderness.

Bringing life and health and gladness
All around, this heav'nly Guest
Banished unbelief and sadness,
Changed our weariness to rest.

What a wonderful salvation,
Where we'll always see God's face!
What a perfect habitation,
What a quiet resting place!

Manie P. Ferguson, c.1897; alt.
Tune: ALL FOR JESUS ( - sometimes called OXFORD
John Stainer, 1887

A brief digression from Stainer: some may recognize this hymn from somewhere else - it was originally the gospel song Blessed Quietness. I like the words but find the usual tune less than inspiring. Leaving out the refrain, the words fit nicely into this tune. Since the Holy Spirit is sometimes depicted as female in modern theology I also changed a few pronouns. Manie Ferguson, who founded with her husband a mission project in California (later expanded elsewhere) dedicated to ministry to single women, could be another entry in my More Voices Found series (click on the tag below to bring up the previous entries). There's a contemporary hymn of the Spirit that also goes well with this tune and is worth seeking out: Spirit, working in creation (1978) by John Richards.

Back to Stainer: I've been poking around in nineteenth century hymnals and trying to see an many of his tunes as possible but I'm sure I haven't found 158 yet. I'm also curious to know more about the other two oratorios, The Daughter of Jairus and St. Mary Magdalen.

Stainer had five children. A descendant of Sir John has posted several
family photographs online. His daughter-in-law Rosalind Stainer (married to his youngest son Edward) wrote one hymn tune (BETHSAIDA - no sound file online, alas) that appeared in the English Methodist Hymn-Book of 1904 and others. Rosalind was the daughter of Sir Frederick Bridge, another English composer. Another Voice Found.


Leland Bryant Ross said...

I recently acquired a copy of Christmas Carols New and Old (n.d., but inscribed as a gift at Easter, I think, 1884) and have been enjoying it greatly. We will be singing Stainer's setting of LADDER OF MERCY (usually called JACOB'S LADDER, which to me means the Spiritual) soon in morning worship at Fremont Baptist. My current typographical project is the Unicode for an early Modern English "long s", the one that looks like an "f amputée", so we can throw Bell's text authentically on the wall. Here it is with effs standing in for the esses:

1. As Jacob with travel was weary one day,
   At night on a ftone for a pillow he lay,
   He faw in a vifion a ladder fo high,
   That its foot was on Earth, and its top in the fky.

          Hallelujah to Jefus, who died on the tree,
          And hath raifed up a ladder of mercy for me,
          And hath raifed up a ladder of mercy for me.

2. This ladder is long, it is ftrong and well-made,
   Has ftood hundreds of years and is not yet decayed;
   Many millions have climbed it and reached Zion’s hill,
   And thousands by faith are climbing it ftill. Chorus...

3. Come let us afcend; all may climb it who will,
   For the Angels of Jacob are guarding it ftill:
   And remember, each ftep that by faith we pafs o’er,
   Some Prophet or Martyr hath trod it before. Chorus...

4. And when we arrive at the haven of reft
   We fhall hear the glad words: Come up hither, ye bleft,
   Here are regions of light, here are manfions of blifs:
   O who would not climb fuch a ladder as this? Chorus...

Leland aka Haruo

Can Bass 1 said...

Never mind the hymns - consider the anthems. I Saw the Lord is my favourite. We sand it here a week or two ago.

C.W.S. said...

I would like to consider the anthems of Stainer, but I don't think they are much known or used these days here in the US. I remember doing God so loved the world a few times, but that's really a chorus from The Crucifixion. Don't think I have had the opportunity to do any other anthems.

I have heard that Jacob's ladder hymn, maybe on a recording - don't think I have actually sung it.