Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sir Joseph Barnby

Composer and conductor Joseph Barnby (pictured here at work, on a Victorian postcard) was born today in 1838. His father was an organist, which led to his early training on that instrument. Young Joseph also sang in the cathedral choir at York Minster beginning at age seven.

in 1854 he went to study at the Royal College of Music, and two years later was one of nineteen applicants for the first Mendelssohn Scholarship in England. Unfortunately, he came in second to Arthur Sullivan. After graduation, he held organist and music director positions as well as teaching positions at Eton College and the Guildhall School of Music.

In 1867 he began as the conductor of a group that became known as "Barnby's Choir." In 1872 that group combined with another choir started by Charles Gounod and became the Royal Albert Hall Choral Society, which still sings today. Barnby conducted the first English performances of several important works, including the Stabat Mater of Dvorak (1883) and Wagner's last opera Parsifal (1884), and earlier, the first English church performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion at Westminster Abbey in 1871.

As noted here before, Barnby wrote several anthems and other sacred choral works (his oratorio Rebekah is now downloadable at the Sibley Music Library site) and 246 hymn tunes. collected in one volume after his death in 1896 (and mostly unknown today). The 1978 Lutheran Book of Worship is perhaps the most recent hymnal to contain as many as six of his tunes (someone on that committee must have liked Barnby!); these days, if a hymnal has any of his tunes at all, this is the most likely one.

When morning gilds the skies
My heart awaking cries:
May Jesus Christ be praised!
When evening shadows fall,
Then rings my curfew call,
May Jesus Christ be praised!

When mirth for music longs,
This is my song of songs:
May Jesus Christ be praised!
God's holy house of prayer
Has none that can compare
With: Jesus Christ be praised!

No lovelier antiphon
In all high heav’n is known
Than, Jesus Christ be praised!
There to the eternal Word
The eternal psalm is heard:
May Jesus Christ be praised!

All ye of humankind,
In this your concord find,
May Jesus Christ be praised!
Let all the earth around
Ring joyous with the sound,
May Jesus Christ be praised!

Sing, suns and stars of space,
Sing, ye that see God's face,
Sing, Jesus Christ be praised!
God’s whole creation o’er,
For aye and evermore
Shall Jesus Christ be praised!

Katholisches Gesangbuch, 1828;
tr. Robert Bridges, 1899; alt.
Joseph Barnby, 1868

This quintessential "summer hymn" is sung in many different churches across denominations, though they may be singing different translations. The text, published in German in fourteen stanzas (by one account) is now thought to be older than 1828, though I'm not sure it has been specifically traced to any earlier hymnbook. Edward Caswall translated it for his collection The Masque of Mary (1858) and this version later made its way into Hymns Ancient and Modern, where Barnby's tune, written specifically for Caswall's text, appeared in the first Supplement of 1868.

Caswall's last stanza may be the most familiar to many:

Be this, while life is mine,
My canticle divine:
May Jesus Christ be praised!
Sing this th'eternal song
Through all the ages long:
May Jesus Christ be praised!

Today's version, however, is a translation by Robert Bridges (later the poet laureate of England)which appeared in his Yattendon Hymnal (1899), and in several other hymnals since. Some hymnals even combine stanzas from both translations, which works of course because both are written in the same meter and thus can be sung to the same tune. Unfortunately, none of the major online hymn sites have sufficiently separated the two versions so that you can easily see Caswall's whole translation and Bridges' whole translation.

Two Years Ago: Sir Joseph Barnby

One Year Ago: Sir Frederick A. Gore Ouseley

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