Thursday, July 9, 2009

Henry J. Gauntlett

I don't think that I have very much more to say about composer Henry John Gauntlett than I said last year. After another year of digging through nineteenth-century hymnals, I am now more convinced that he did not write ten thousand hymn tunes, a number often ascribed to him. It appears to be one of those situations where a remarkable fact is stated in one source, and other sources repeat it without any independent verification.

It could have even been a typographical error -- maybe one thousand somehow became ten. Even one thousand would probably be more than anyone else has written, but if you count the many older tunes that Gauntlett arranged and harmonized over his long hymnic career it seems barely possible that he reached that smaller number. If there were truly ten thousand, practically every hymnal published in England during his lifetime (and perhaps beyond) would have had to include dozens of tunes not seen in any of the other hymnals, and this does not appear to be the case.

Here is another of his tunes, not much used today but still worthwhile, I think.

O for a closer walk with God,
A calm and heavenly frame,
A light to shine upon the road
That leads me to the Lamb!

Return, O holy Dove, return,
Sweet messenger of rest!
I hate the sins that made thee mourn
And drove thee from my breast.

The dearest idol I have known,
Whate’er that idol be
Help me to tear it from thy throne,
And worship only thee.

So shall my walk be close with God,
Calm and serene my frame;
So purer light shall mark the road
That leads me to the Lamb.

William Cowper, 1772
Tune: ST. FULBERT (C.M.)
Henry J. Gauntlett, 1849

Saint Fulbert of Chartres wrote the Latin hymn Chorus novae Jerusalem, translated as Ye choirs of new Jerusalem, for which this tune was written, but it has been used for several others over the years.

For some unfathomable reason, it seems that I have not presented any of the numerous hymns of William Cowper in the last year and a half. I do remember having him on my calendar last November, but not what came up to prevent my writing about him. He was a close friend of John Newton; the two of them collaborated on Olney Hymns (1779), named for the parish where they both lived for a time, and where Newton was the curate. Cowper suffered from mental illness for much of his life, so this hymn was perhaps a prayer for the "calm and serene."

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