Thursday, October 30, 2008

Christopher Wordsworth

Hymnwriter Christopher Wordsworth (October 30, 1807 - March 20, 1885) was a priest and bishop in the Church of England, well known for the depth of his scholarship, and better known for his other writings than for his numerous hymns. He was a nephew of the Romantic poet William Wordsworth.

Christopher Wordsworth was for eighteen years the vicar of the parish of Stanford-in-the-Vale-cum-Goosey, while also serving as a Canon and later Archdeacon of Westminster Abbey. In 1869 he was appointed Bishop of Lincoln.

His early works were classical history, but he also published a major history of the church and his own editions of the New and Old Testaments. He was his uncle's literary executor, and wrote a biography of him.

In 1862 he published The Holy Year, a collection of 127 of his hymns appropriate for the various Sundays and feast days of the church year. The hymns are strongly based in the scriptures and in complex theological concepts. Many of them are ten or more verses long. It may be for these reasons that only a few of them are still sung today. We saw one of those a few weeks ago. This one also appears in some hymnals, but I have restored two verses (the third and fourth) that are usually omitted.

O day of rest and gladness,
O day of joy and light,
O balm of care and sadness,
Most beautiful, most bright:
On thee, the high and lowly,
Through ages joined in tune,
Sing holy, holy, holy,
To the great God Triune.

On thee, at the creation,
The light first had its birth;
On thee, for our salvation,
Christ rose from depths of earth;
And then, on thee, victorious,
The Spirit sent from heaven,
And thus on thee, most glorious,
A triple light was given.

Thou art a port, protected
From storms that round us rise;
A garden, intersected
With streams of paradise;
Thou art a cooling fountain
In life’s dry, dreary sand;
From thee, like Pisgah’s mountain,
We view our promised land.

Thou art a holy ladder,
Where angels go and come;
Each Sunday finds us gladder,
Nearer to heaven, our home;
A day of sweet reflection,
Thou art a day of love,
A day of resurrection
From earth to things above.

Today on every nation
The heavenly manna falls;
To holy convocation
The silver trumpet calls,
Where God's great light is glowing
With pure and radiant beams,
And living water flowing
In soul refreshing streams.

New graces ever gaining
From this our day of rest,
We reach the rest remaining
To spirits of the blessed.
And still we bring our praises,
Our promised respite won;
The church its voice upraises
To God, blessed Three in One.

Christopher Wordsworth, 1862; alt.
Tune: SUNDAY (7.6.7.6.D.)
William H. Monk, 1862

The prolific hymn tune composer William H. Monk was the musical editor for The Holy Year and also wrote this tune for this hymn. Apparently it is called WORDSWORTH in some later hymnals, but I have given back its original name.

The composers of most of the tunes in The Holy Year are named, but three are only identified by initials. Two of the tunes are credited to "S.H.W." and I don't think it's just a coincidence that those are the initials of Wordsworth's wife, Susanna Hartley Wordsworth. This suggests that the other two composers identified by initials, "A.F." and "E.F." may also have been women, and I'm going to do some further research to see what can be determined (I already have a suspicion as to the identity of "E.F.").

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Saint Simon and Saint Jude

October 28 is marked in some traditions as the Feast of Saints Simon and Jude. These two apostles were tenth and eleventh in lists of the Twelve, but not much more is known about them than about St. Bartholomew. Some authorities believe that Jude was related to Jesus, but though there was another brother in the family named Simon, he was never identified as today's St. Simon. These two may have traveled togather to Mesopotamia and Persia, where they were martyred, which is why they are celebrated together.

Simon is also known as the Zealot, perhaps to differentiate him from Simon Peter. Jude (also called Thaddeus) has also been confused with Judas Iscariot, and apparently for some years in earlier times prayer to him was discouraged for that reason.

The Epistle of Jude (shortest book in the New Testament) talks about perseverence in the face of opposition, which may be why Jude is also considered the patron of lost causes.

Today's hymn is once again by John Ellerton, author of several other saint's day hymns.

Thou who sentest thine apostles
Two and two before thy face,
Partners in the night of toiling,
Heirs together of thy grace,
Throned at length, their labors ended,
Now in heaven's exalted place.

Praise to thee for those thy champions
Whom our hymns today proclaim;
One, whose zeal by thee enlightened
Burned anew with nobler flame;
One, the brother of thy childhood,
Brought at last to know thy Name.

Praise to thee! Thy fire within them
Spake in love, and wrought in power;
Seen in mighty signs and wonders
In thy church’s morning hour;
Heard in tones of sternest warning
When the storms began to lower.

Thus with holy Jude and Simon
And the thousand faithful more,
We, the good confession witnessed,
And our lifelong conflict o’er,
On the sea of fire and crystal
Stand, and wonder, and adore.

God our Maker, great and wondrous
In thy works, to thee be praise;
Jesus Christ, to thee be glory,
Just and true in all thy ways;
Praise to thee, from both proceeding,
Spirit blest, through endless days.

John Ellerton, 1874; alt.
Tune: NUKAPU (8.7.8.7.8.7.)
Edward J. Hopkins, 1875

The unusual name of Edward Hopkins's tune probably refers to the Nukapu which is one of the Solomon Islands. While I haven't found a direct link, Nukapu might have been considered a place of martyrdom, thus linked to the death of saints. The island was in the news in England in the early 1870s because a bishop of the Church of England, John Coleridge Patteson, was killed there.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Henry Smart

Composer Henry Thomas Smart (October 26, 1813 - July 6, 1879) was primarily employed as an organist at several churches in London, though he had originally studied law and practiced it for a few years. He also designed pipe organs for two concert halls in Leeds and Glasgow, and was a music critic for The Atlas, a weekly journal.

His compositions included many anthems (two can be seen at the Choral Public Domain Library) and other church music (I believe my choir will be singing one of his settings of the evening canticles at a festival in February). There was also an opera (Bertha), an oratorio (Jacob) and a cantata (The Bride of Dunkerron). All were acclaimed in their day but are no longer known. He also wrote many hymn tunes and was editorially involved in a number of hymnals.

Two of his tunes are still very well known today. LANCASHIRE, named for the location of the first church he served as organist, has been used for many different hymn texts, including one here. The other, REGENT SQUARE, is perhaps most often used with Angels from the realms of glory, but since I am not at all ready for Christmas hymns, we shall have this text instead, usually used as a closing hymn.

Lord, dismiss us with thy blessing;
Fill our hearts with joy and peace;
Let us each thy love possessing,
Triumph in redeeming grace.
O refresh us, O refresh us,
Traveling through this wilderness.

Thanks we give and adoration
For thy Gospel’s joyful sound;
May the fruits of thy salvation
In our hearts and lives abound.
Ever faithful, ever faithful,
To the truth may we be found.

So, whene'er the signal's given
Us from earth to call away,
Borne on angel's wings to heaven,
Glad thy summons to obey,
May we ever, may we ever
Reign with thee in endless day

John Fawcett, 1773; alt.
Tune: REGENT SQUARE (8.7.8.7.8.7.)
Henry T. Smart, 1867

Regent Square was the location of a prominent Presbyterian church in London, where the editor of Psalms and Hymns for Public Worship (where Smart's tune was first published in 1867) was the pastor.

Smart's eyesight had been weak since his young adulthood, and eventually he became blind. One of his daughters then transcribed his works for him as he composed them. The Cyber Hymnal site lists more of his tunes, though by no means all. If you want to read more about his tunes, another blogwriter has a rundown at this site.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Saint James of Jerusalem

October 23 is the feast day of Saint James of Jerusalem, also called James the Just, a different James from the one we marked on July 25. This James (though accounts vary) was apparently the brother of Jesus and eventually made bishop of Jerusalem.

On this day many Orthodox churches celebrate the Liturgy of St. James, which is considered to be the oldest liturgy still in regular use. There is some dispute over just how old it is; some say it dates back to 60 A.D., others say that it comes from the late fourth or early fifth century. Some branches of the Orthodox church celebrate this liturgy regularly, not just in commemoration of today's St. James.

If you follow the text of the liturgy online, about a third of the way down the page you may encounter some familiar language that reminds you of the following hymn.

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in thy hand,
Thou, our God, to earth descendest,
Our full homage to demand.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish
As the angels clear the way.

At thy feet the six-wing├Ęd seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to thy presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Alleluia,
Alleluia, Lord Most High!

Liturgy of St. James; adapt. Gerard Moultrie, 1864; alt.
Tune: PICARDY (8.7.8.7.8.7.)
Traditional French melody, 17th c;
adapt R. Vaughan Williams and others

The Cherubic Hymn of the Liturgy of St. James, spoken or sung as the presider brings the gifts to the altar, was adapted into a metrical hymn text by Gerard Moultrie in 1864. It was first matched to the French tune PICARDY by Ralph Vaughan Williams in The English Hymnal of 1906, and has been harmonized by a number of different people since then.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

More Voices Found: Emily Swan Perkins

Composer and hymnwriter Emily Swan Perkins was born today in 1866. Though she was musically gifted from an early age, she did not start writing hymns until later in life.

During World War I she served with the Red Cross, and wrote text and tune for a hymn of thanks for that organization (possibly one of her first). The first verse:


A blessed ministry of love
Goes forth to all the world,
For every nation, every tribe
The Red Cross flies unfurled.
Oh! come, ye people everywhere,
Its love and power and worth declare.

In 1921 she published Stonehurst Hymn Tunes, a book of 38 of her tunes and four of her texts. She writes in the introduction:

Old tunes are being used with a fair measure of success, but the new wine cannot always be contained in the old bottles. A really great hymn must have its own tune and any hymn of worth should have proper setting if its message is to gain full interpretation.

Many of the tunes in her collection are written for familiar texts, and some to more obscure ones that she hoped would gain more exposure. Yesterday's tune by Perkins, LAUFER, was written for the hymn The light of God is falling, by Louis F. Benson. Benson was pleased with the tune, and used it in a published collection of his hymns, but he admitted in a letter to Perkins that it would be difficult to supplant GREENLAND, the tune that his hymn had originally, and usually, been matched with. LAUFER was named for another friend of Perkins, Presbyterian hymnist Calvin Laufer.

Here is another tune from her first collection.

Years are coming, speed them onward
When the sword shall gather rust,
And the helmet, lance, and arrow
Sleep at last in silent dust.

Earth has heard too long of battle,
Heard the trumpet's voice too long.
But another age advances,
Seers foretold in ancient song.

Years are coming when forever
War's dread banner shall be furled,
And the angel Peace be welcomed,
Regent of a happy world.

Hail with song that glorious era,
When the sword shall gather rust,
And the helmet, lance and arrow
Sleep at last in silent dust.

Adin Ballou, 1849; alt.
Tune: PETERSON (8.7.8.7.)
Emily S. Perkins, 1921

Emily Perkins published another collection, Riverdale Hymn Tunes, in 1938, three years before her death, presumably containing a similar number of new tunes. Unfortunately, not many of her tunes were published in other hymnals (there are only three available to be heard at the Cyber Hymnal site), but I think they should be reevaluated. Surely out of possibly 60+ tunes there are more than three worth using. Has anyone out there heard any of the others?

In 1922, Perkins was one of the instrumental founders of the Hymn Society of America, (later renamed the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada), an organization that would help her share her love of hymnody with thousands of people throughout the world. She served as Corresponding Secretary of the group for nearly two decades.

P.S. We will hear more about Adin Ballou on his birthday a few months from now. His hymn has been used many times in recent years, as evidenced by several worship services for peace than can be found online.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Saint Luke

Today is the feast day of Saint Luke the Evangelist. Though not one of the twelve disciples, Luke is believed to be the author of two books of the New Testament: his own Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. He was a follower of Paul; he uses the word "we" in those parts of Acts that describe Paul's journeys.

Luke's writings are respected for their accuracy by many. As archaeologists and historians have discovered more about New Testament geography and custom, Luke's books have been proven correct, providing many details that would only have been noticed and recounted by someone genuinely living at that time.

Luke was a physician himself, and thus made the patron saint of physicians in some traditions. Many towns and cities across the country have a hospital or other medical facility named for St. Luke. The Order of Saint Luke the Physician, established in 1932, is an international, nondenominational Christian healing ministry.

Hymns about Luke generally describe him as a physician, and evoke a healing theme. This year we are continuing with Come sing, ye choirs exultant as we have previously used for St. Mark and St. Matthew, with a new tune.

Come sing, ye choirs exultant,
Those messengers of God,
Through whom the living Gospels
Came sounding all abroad!
In one harmonious witness
The chosen four combine,
While each his own commission
Fulfills in ev'ry line.

As, in the prophet's vision,
From out the amber flame
In form of visage diverse
Four living creatures came;
Lo, these the fourfold river
Of paradise above,
Whence flow for all earth's people
New mysteries of love.

For Luke, beloved physician,
All praise, whose Gospel shows
The healer of the nations,
And sharer of our woes.
Thy wine and oil, O Savior,
On bruised hearts come to pour,
And with thy Spirit's unction
Anoint us evermore.

Adam of St. Victor, c.1170;
tr. Jackson Mason, 1889; alt. (v 1 & 2)
Horatio Bolton Nelson, 1864; alt. (v.3)
Tune: LAUFER (7.6.7.6.D.)
Emily S. Perkins, 1924


For more about composer Emily Perkins, tune in tomorrow (which happens to be her birthday).

Friday, October 17, 2008

Sir John Bowring

On October 17, 1792, John Bowring was born in Exeter, England, into a Unitarian family (this seems to be a week for Unitarian hymnwriters). He wanted to enter the clergy, but his family persuaded him to go into trade -- his father was a cloth merchant. Due to a natural ability with languages that he had exhibited quite early, (he was eventually fluent in at least eight, and conversant with several more, though perhaps not the two hundred he claimed at one time) he began his own merchant business and often traveled internationally. However, his business ventures were not successful, either at this time or later in life.

He turned to politics, becoming editor of the Westminster Review, a "radical journal." He was elected to Parliament, and went on some international trade missions. He was knighted in 1854, and also was made Governor of Hong Kong in that year.

Bowring wrote and translated much poetry as a sideline to his trade and political occupations. His hymns mostly appeared in two collections of his work: Matins and Vespers, and Hymns, as a Sequel to the Matins. He also wrote books from some of his Asian travels, as well as The Decimal System in Numbers, Coins and Accounts (exciting, I'm sure).

His most popular hymn is surely In the cross of Christ I glory but I have always liked this one:

God is Love, with mercy bright'ning
All the paths in which we rove,
Waking bliss and sorrow light'ning,
God is Wisdom, God is Love.

Chance and change are busy ever,
Randomly the ages move;
But God's justice waneth never,
God is Wisdom, God is Love.

E'en the hour that bleakest seemeth
Will God's changeless goodness prove;
O'er the world God's mercy streameth
God is Wisdom, God is Love.

Always with our cares entwining
Hope and comfort from above,
Everywhere in glory shining,
God is Wisdom, God is Love.

John Bowring, c.1825; alt.
Tune: SUSSEX (8.7.8.7.)
English folk melody; arr. Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1906

(Musically we're back to Vaughan Williams; this is one of the English folk songs that he arranged into a nice little hymn tune in The English Hymnal.)

For all Bowring's success and accomplishments in many areas, he was not always well-liked personally, and his finances were apparently a mess. Though he had remained a practicing Unitarian all his life and was active in Unitarian causes, his Autobiographical Recollections, edited by one of his sons in 1877, five years after his death, makes no reference to his faith. Regardless of all that, many of his hymns lived on in many hymnals, and we still know a few today.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Frederick Lucian Hosmer

Frederick Lucian Hosmer (October 16, 1840 - June 7, 1929) was another Unitarian clergyperson and hymnwriter whose hymns are still sung today across many denominations.

He graduated first from Harvard University, then from Harvard Divinity School in 1869 and pastored churches in Massachusetts, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri and California. He was involved with two important hymnbooks: Unity Hymns and Chorals, which he co-edited with William Channing Gannett, first appeared in 1880 and was followed by The Thought of God in Hymns and Poems in 1885. Both of these books were updated in a number of subsequent editions, so that his later hymns (as well as other more recent texts by others) could be included.

In the early years of the twentieth century, noted hymnographer John Julian wrote "Amongst Unitarian hymn writers of the last twenty years Mr. Hosmer is the most powerful and original known to us." Hosmer was also an authority on hymnody, and was asked to present a series of lectures on the subject at Harvard in 1903.

The following hymn was written for the fiftieth anniversary of the Second Congregational Church in Quincy, IL (where Hosmer had been pastor from 1872 - 77).

O Light, from age to age the same,
Forever living Word,
Here have we felt thy kindling flame,
Thy voice within have heard.
Here holy thought and hymn and prayer
Have winged the Spirit’s powers,
And made these walls divinely fair,
Thy temple, God, and ours.

What visions rise above the years,
What tender memories throng
To fill the eye with happy tears,
The heart with grateful song!
Then vanish mists of time and sense,
They come, the loved of yore,
And one encircling Providence
Holds all forevermore.

O not in vain their toil who wrought
To build faith’s freer shrine;
Nor theirs whose steadfast love and thought
Have watched the fire divine.
Burn, holy Fire, and shine more wide!
While systems rise and fall,
Faith, hope, and charity abide,
The heart and soul of all.

Frederick Lucian Hosmer, 1890; alt.
Tune: ST. MATTHEW (C.M.D.)
William Croft, 1708

Burn, Holy Fire! (from the last verse) is the title of a book by Jeremy Goring (2003). Goring writes:

"...Hosmer was referring to the Pentecostal fire of the Spirit. He believed that throughout history the upholders of religious "systems" had often sought to quench this fire. Standing as he did in the tradition of the New England Transcendentalists -- Emerson, Thoreau, Longfellow -- he was convinced that in due course all such systems, having outlived their usefulness, would disappear."

Many of Hosmer's other hymns were written on similar themes, foretelling the coming of the promised reign of God, beyond doctrine and denomination.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Hymnological Traffic Jam

Another first at Conjubilant With Song -- three commemorations on the same day! It was impossible to choose between the three as each is quite significant in hymnic history and all three are favorites of mine in one way or another. So why choose? Today you can find out more about:

Cecil Frances Alexander


Ralph Vaughan Williams

Healey Willan

Come back later if you need to -- this may take a while.

Cecil Frances Alexander

The exact birthdate of hymnwriter Cecil Frances Alexander in April, 1818, is unknown, but she died on October 12, 1895. She was the wife of William Alexander who was later named Archbishop of all Ireland.

She began writing verse as a child, and by the 1840s her hymns were already being published in Church of Ireland hymnals, and they soon spread to other denominations. Her most popular book was Hymns for Little Children, first published in 1848 and continuing through many editions. The profits from that book went to support a school for the hearing-impaired that she and her sister had helped to found.

Though many of her hymns were first written for children, they were used in standard hymnals as well and you will recognize several of them as still popular today. We no longer think of them as restricted to Sunday school use.

Refrain
All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
The Lord God made them all.

Each little flower that opens,
Each little bird that sings,
God made their glowing colors,
God made their tiny wings.
Refrain

The purple headed mountains,
The river running by,
The sunset and the morning
That brightens up the sky.
Refrain

The cold wind in the winter,
The pleasant summer sun,
The ripe fruits in the garden,
God made them every one.
Refrain

God gave us eyes to see them,
And lips that we might tell
How great is God Almighty,
Who has made all things well.
Refrain

Cecil Frances Alexander, c.1848; alt.
Tune: ROYAL OAK (C.M. with refrain)
English melody, 17th c.; arr. Martin Shaw, 1915

All right, that one is a bit more child-like than some of the others, but it is frequently sung in "regular" church as well. Alexander intended her hymns to be instructional, and there's one verse, about English class structure, which is not generally used anymore:

The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them, high or lowly,
And ordered their estate.

There have been several tunes sung with this hymn before Martin Shaw's ROYAL OAK appeared and became the standard, most of them written specifically for it. William Monk's ALL THINGS BRIGHT was popular in the nineteenth century, and was used again in Voices Found along with ROYAL OAK. Someday I would also like to hear two other tunes that were written by women: Emma T. Mitchell's BRIGHT AND BEAUTIFUL from The Life Hymnal (1904) and Mary Shaw Attwood's GREAT AND SMALL from The Sunday School Hymnal (1912).

Ralph Vaughan Williams

Composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (October 12, 1872 - August 26, 1958) worked in many forms, composing a wide variety of pieces like others we've seen. In addition to church music and hymn tunes, symphonies, operas, chamber works, songs, etc., he also composed scores for British films in the 1940s, something we've not seen yet from other hymnists.

His father was a vicar in the Church of England and Charles Darwin was his great-uncle. He attended the Royal College of Music, where he studied with Charles Villiers Stanford and C.H.H. Parry. He cultivated an interest in English folk songs, and many of his hymn tunes were adaptations of that music. In later years he was elected president of the English Folk Dance and Song Society.

He was musical editor of The English Hymnal (1906), where many of his early hymn tunes and folk song adaptations appeared. He did not like the tunes of the Victorian composers of the generation before him, and only used those which it was felt could not be left out due to extreme popularity, but they were relegated to the back of the book, nicknamed the "chamber of horrors" by some. More of his tunes appeared in a later hymnal, Songs of Praise (1925).

This familiar tune, DOWN AMPNEY, was named for his birthplace.

Come down, O Love divine,
Seek thou this soul of mine,
And visit it with thine own ardor glowing.
O Comforter, draw near,
Within my heart appear,
And kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing.

O let it freely burn,
'Til earthly passions turn
To dust and ashes in its heat consuming;
And let thy glorious light
Shine ever on my sight,
And clothe me round, the while my path illuming.

And so the yearning strong,
With which the soul will long,
Shall far outpass the power of human telling;
For none can guess its grace,
'Til we become the place
Wherein the Holy Spirit makes a dwelling.

Bianco di Siena, 15th c.; tr. Richard F. Littledale, 1867; alt.
Tune: DOWN AMPNEY (6.6.11.D.)
Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1906

We will certainly be hearing more of the tunes of Vaughan Williams.

Healey Willan

The "dean of Canadian composers," Healey Willan (October 12, 1880 - February 16, 1968) was born in England and moved to Canada in 1913 to become head of the theory departent at the Toronto Conservatory of Music. In 1922 he started a long career as director of music at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene. Though he wrote two symphonies, an opera, a piano concerto, solo piano works and at least a hundred songs, more than half of his 800 compositions were sacred choral works, most written for the choir at the church.

His anthems and service music were extremely popular and influenced many later composers in Canada, England, and the US. His conducting and leadership of the choirs at St. Mary Magdalene was no less influential. His high standards helped to revitalize church music throughtout North America, as many people came to hear his choirs and went back to their churches with ideas. He was the recipient of many honors, and one of his anthems (O Lord, our Governor) was written for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.

Willan's copyrights are closely guarded by his heirs, so none of his several hymn tunes are available for us to hear here. (My own favorite is ST. OSMUND, written for Lord, enthroned in heavenly splendor, which appears on two CD complilations of Willan's church music.) There are a few performances of Willan's works posted at YouTube, including the anthem How they so softly rest.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Samuel Johnson

The Samuel Johnson we are talking about today (October 10, 1822 - February 19, 1882) was a New England clergyman and hymnist who collaborated with Samuel Longfellow on two hymnals in the nineteenth century that were influential beyond their actual use in churches of the day. I say this because most internet searches you might make will turn up a more famous Samuel Johnson, the prolific English writer (in fact, Wikipedia erroneously links this Johnson to our Longfellow).

Our Johnson was a student at Harvard Divinity School when he met Longfellow. As told by Longfellow, one of their fellow students, who had graduated and was pastoring a nearby congregation, complained to the two that his new church used "...a very antiquated and unsatisfactory hymn-book. So we told him one day that we would make a new one for his use." This was A Book of Hymns for Pub­lic and Pri­vate De­vo­tion, published in 1846.

Johnson graduated from HDS in July of that year and began preaching in various Boston and Cambridge churches. For over a year he was associated with a Unitarian congregation at Harrison Square, but some thought that he tended to bring political ideas into the pulpit. In a letter from Johnson to the Church Committee, he writes:

Gentlemen, I have received your note of January 8, in which you request me not to introduce any political subject into my discourses next Sunday. [...] It was not my intention to preach on the application of Christianity to any special political subject, but I reserve the right to do so, on all occasions. I do not wish, while preaching at the invitation of your committee, to interfere with your express request, and you will therefore not be surprised that I request you to make some other arrangement for the supply of your pulpit next Sunday.

Eventually, Johnson settled at a Free Church (determinedly outside any denomination) in Lynn, a town north of Boston, and pastored there for nearly twenty years. In a memoir published after Johnson's death, Longfellow writes of his theology:

The inward call to preach, and the outward call of those who wished to hear, were to him sufficient seal of the ministry of religion to which he had devoted himself. Nor did he ever "administer the sacraments." The religion that he preached was natural religion {...}. It was simply another name for truth, freedom, piety, righteousness, love, as it might be given to him to see their various aspects and their applications to present needs.

While on a year-long trip to Europe in 1860, during a particularly rainy stretch in Nice, Johnson and Longfellow began work on their second hymnal, Hymns of the Spirit, which was published in 1864. This hymnal was considered more radical as it was less inclined toward hymns specifically related to Jesus. It was not widely used by congregations, but it was respected, and many of the hymns by Johnson, Longfellow, and the authors they published migrated to later hymnals and are still sung today.

In the following hymn, written for the dedication of a new chapel for the Lynn Free Church, Johnson expresses both his wariness of sacraments and his desire that the church be relevant to the present time.

To Light, that shines in stars and souls;
To Law, that rounds the world with calm;
To Love, whose equal triumph rolls
Through martyr's prayer and angel's psalm --

May purer sacrament be here
Than ever dwelt in rite or creed,
Hallowed the hour with vow sincere
To serve the time's all-pressing need.

Here be the wanderer homeward led,
Here living streams in fulness flow,
And every hungering soul be fed,
That yearns the eternal will to know.

Speak, Living God, your full command
Through prayer of faith and word of power
That we with earnest hearts may stand
To do your work and wait your hour.


Samuel Johnson, 1864; alt.
Tune: ANTWERP (L.M.)
William Smallwood, 19th c.

The two men were often criticized for altering the words in the hymn texts of other writers when they included them in their hymnals. They believed that the theology expressed in hymns should be specifically tailored for the congregations that would be singing them, but they did not want to reject the great wrters of the past. They were doing what hymnal editors had always done and still always do, but they may have been a bit more industrious at it.

Toward the end of his life, Johnson found that his hymn Father, in thy mysterious presence kneeling had been published in a new hymnal, and the first word had been changed to Savior (thus substituting Christ for God). He wrote to Longfellow, seemingly unaware of the irony, "I have written calmly to the reverend Dr. who compiles the Presbyterian Hymn-book for putting a radical of thirty years into the ranks of pronounced Orthodoxy."

P.S. We have already seen another hymn of Johnson's a few weeks ago.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Henry Alford

Today we mark the birthday of Henry Alford, born in London in 1810 and described by Wikipedia as an "English churchman, theologian, scholar, poet, hymnodist, and writer," which probably covers most of the bases. Demonstrating his scholarly talents quite early, he wrote his first book at age six, The Travels of St. Paul, from his Conversion to his Death, and also provided the illustrations (though I assume it was not published). He went on to compile his first hymnal at age eleven.

Following his ordination in the Church of England (as four generations of Alfords before him had done) , he served congregations in Leicestershire and London before being named dean of Canterbury Cathedral in 1857.

In 1844, he published a hymnbook called Psalms and Hymns Adapted to the Sundays and Holydays Throughout the Year, To Which Are Added Some Occasional Hymns. He arranged this book according to the church year, giving two hymns for each Sunday begining with the first week of Advent, one hymn for various saints' days and other commemorations, and "some occasional hymns" on various themes. His next hymnal, The Year of Praise (1867), compiled specifically for use at the cathedral, followed the same arrangement, but now with four hymns for each Sunday. He contributed several of his own hymn texts to each of these hymnals, and this is one of my favorites.

Ten thousand times ten thousand,
In sparkling raiment bright,
The armies of the ransomed saints
Throng up the steeps of light;
'Tis finished, all is finished,
Their fight with death and sin;
Fling open wide the golden gates,
And let the victors in.

What rush of alleluias
Fills all the earth and sky!
What ringing of a thousand harps
Bespeaks the triumph nigh!
O day, for which creation
And all its tribes were made;
O joy, for all its former woes
A thousandfold repaid!

O then what raptured greetings
On Canaan's happy shore;
What knitting severed friendships up
Where partings are no more!
Then eyes with joy shall sparkle,
That brimmed with tears of late;
Orphans no longer parentless,
Nor widows desolate.

Bring near thy great salvation,
Thou Lamb for sinners slain;
Show forth the glory prophets told,
Then take thy power, and reign;
Appear, Desire of nations,
Thine exiles long for home;
Show in the heavens thy promised sign;
Thou Source and Savior, come!

Henry Alford, 1867; alt.
Tune: ALFORD (7.6.7.6.D.)
John Bacchus Dykes, 1875

The reference to "ten thousand times ten thousand" comes from Revelation 5:11, referring to a very great number of angels. It actually totals one hundred million, which was fairly unimaginable in the days when Revelation was written, and even in Alford's time, though I suppose we are more used to hearing of such numbers today.

This hymn was sung at his graveside in 1871, probably with the tune that accompanied it in The Year of Praise: EASTHAM by Frederick A. Gore Ouseley. I assume that Dykes later composed ALFORD in memory of Henry, and ALFORD has been used ever since.

Alford also wrote a number of hymn tunes, eleven of which were published in The Year of Praise, harmonized by Thomas Evance Jones, the organist at Canterbury for more than forty years. (As we've seen before, one of the easiest ways to get your tunes published is to edit a hymnal yourself.) Some of them had rather unique names such as STARCROSS, QUINQUAGESIMA, and TENEBRAE, and of course, there were two named for saints, ST. THOMAS and ST. MILDRED. I've not seen any of these tunes used in other hymnals, and I'd guess that most people who have even heard of Alford don't realize that he wrote tunes as well as texts.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Joined With All the Glad and Good


O thou whose gracious presence shone,
A light to bless all humankind,
To thee we fondly turn again
As to a friend that we have known.

Thy grace and truth, thy life that shed
Undying radiance through all time,
Thy tender love, thy faith steadfast,
Remembering these, we break the bread.

And lo! again we seem to hear
Thy blessing on the loaf and cup,
The presence that was given then
Again to loving hearts brought near.

Our humble lives, thus touching thine,
Are joined with all the glad and good,
In truer, nobler unity
That lifts the world to realms divine.

Marion Franklin Ham, 1912; alt.
Tune: BROMLEY (L.M.)
Jeremiah Clarke, 1700

Marion Franklin Ham (1867 - 1956) was a Unitarian minister who served churches from Texas to Massachusetts. He shares a February 18 birthday with a more prominent hymnwriter, Martin Luther.

It may seem unusual for a communion hymn to come from a Unitarian origin, but most Unitarian and Universalist hymnals of the past did contain a section of such hymns. Even today the rite is
still practiced in some UU churches, though it's controversial in many others.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Harriet Auber

On October 4, 1773, hymnwriter Harriet Auber was born in Middlesex, England, the daughter of an Anglican priest. She grew up in the Church of England, and eventually published a collection of poetry titled The Spirit of the Psalms, or, A Compressed Version of the Psalms (1829) which included original poems of her own, as well as selections by other authors. Many of her poems were later used as hymns. Even today, a number of modern Anglican hymnals include at least one of her hymns.

O God, our strength, to thee our song
With grateful hearts we raise;
To God, and God alone, belong
All worship, love and praise.

In trouble’s bleak and stormy hour
Thine ear has heard our prayer;
And graciously thine arm of power
Has saved us from despair.

Led by the light thy grace imparts,
Ne’er may we bow the knee
To idols, which our wayward hearts
Set up instead of thee.

So shall the bounties of thy Word
Thy faithful people bless;
For them shall earth its stores afford,
And heav’n its happiness.

Harriet Auber, c. 1829; alt.
Tune: ST. STEPHEN (C.M.)
William Jones, 1789

For many years, Auber lived in the town of Hoddesdon with another "spinster lady," Mary Jane Mackenzie, another writer of religious works. One of Auber's widely-known hymns written during this time has a unique story behind it, as told in Popular Hymns and Their Writers (1944) by Norman Mable.

"There is a story that Harriet Auber was sitting alone in her bedroom, thinking over the sermon she had heard that morning, when the words of Our blest Redeemer, ere he breathed came to her mind. As it happened, she was unable to find either pencil or paper to hand, and being anxious to set down the words while fresh in her memory, she took from her finger a diamond ring, and scratched the verses on a window pane.

After her death, a dealer in curios tried to purchase this interesting and peculiar manuscript from the owner of the house, but without success. It were better had he bought it, for not long afterwards the glass was cut out and stolen, and its whereabouts has never been discovered."

There are other stories of hymns and tunes being written on unusual media (remember the asylum wall?) but none quite like this one.