Thursday, October 7, 2010

Charles Crozat Converse

Composer Charles Crozat Converse was born today in Warren, Massachusetts, in 1834 (some sources say 1832). After his secondary schooling in upstate New York, he went to Germany to study music, where he became acquainted with composers Franz Liszt and Louis Spohr. He returned to this country and entered law school in Albany, NY, graduating in 1861.

Though he practiced law in Erie, Pennsylvania, he was also composing tunes for Sunday school music and compiling songbooks in association with William B. Bradbury. During these early years he published his music under various pseudonyms, such as "Karl Reden" in this example, perhaps to keep it separate from his law career. Converse composed in other forms besides Sunday school music, including cantatas, oratorios, string quartets, and two symphonies, all unknown today. He also wrote a training manual for the guitar.

This is Converse's only surviving tune but it has been a favorite of many people over the hast hundred and fifty years. Author Joseph Scriven first published it anonymously, and his authorship was only revealed thirty years later, after the song was a great success.

What a Friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer.

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged;
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness;
Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy laden,
Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge,
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In his arms he’ll take and shield thee;
Thou wilt find a solace there.

Joseph H. Scriven, 1855
C.C. Converse, 1868

Apparently one additional stanza to this hymn exists, though I don't ever recall encountering it before.

Bless├Ęd Savior, thou hast promised
Thou wilt all our burdens bear
May we ever, Lord, be bringing
All to thee in earnest prayer.
Soon in glory bright unclouded
There will be no need for prayer
Rapture, praise and endless worship
Will be our sweet portion there.

One additional unusual item about Converse comes from his Wikipedia entry -- he is said to have originated the intermediate, gender-neutral pronoun "thon" (the th pronounced as in they) to mean "his or her." He came to believe in its necessity through his writing for the law, and in fact it was adopted by two major American dictionaries for several years, as late as 1964. Clearly it never caught on with the general public, which is no surprise to me.

Two Years Ago: Henry Alford

One Year Ago: Henry Alford

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