Thursday, March 10, 2011

John Bacchus Dykes

John Bacchus Dykes, born today in 1823, was for many years the most popular of the English Victorian hymn tune composers, and still today most hymnals include his tunes.

His musical career began first, at the age of ten when he began playing the organ at the church where his grandfather was the vicar, but following his graduation from Cambridge University (where he co-founded the Cambridge University Musical Society) he was ordained in the Church of England in 1847. He was precentor at Durham Cathedral for several years before leading the parish of St. Oswald's in Durham.

Though he was influenced by the Oxford Movement, he was blocked by his bishop from instituting any practices in his own parishes that might be seen as "high church." His requests for assisting clergy were denied until he promised three things: that incense would not be used during worship, that no clergy would wear colored stoles, and that the celebrant of the Eucharist would not face away from the people. He appealed his case to the Queen's Bench, but was not successful.

Several of his hymn tunes appeared in the first edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861) and after that were in great demand in the big business of Victorian hymnal publishing. He supplied tunes for nearly every editor who requested them, regardless of denomination. In response to one American hymnal editor, J. Ireland Tucker (whose work was very influential in spreading Dykes's music to this country), regarding terms, he wrote:

I have never been accustomed to write for money, although I have frequently had an honorarium sent to me for work done. (...) Bur when a man has a large parish, and a family growing up, and is not overburdened with the world's goods, and finds considerable difficulty in making both ends meet, I suppose there is nothing objectionable in resorting to any legitimate means which God's good Providence may throw in his way for enabling him to pay his just and lawful debts. and obtain a little help for those who are dependent on him.

You will recognize many of his tunes, and most of his familiar tunes have already been seen here. This one is less familiar, but suits this German text by Wolfgang Dessler (translated by John Wesley).

Into thy gracious hands I fall,
And with the arms of faith embrace;
Loving Redeemer, hear my call,
O raise me, heal me, by thy grace!

Still let thy wisdom be my guide,
Nor take thy light from me away,
Still with me let thy grace abide,
That I from thee may never stray:

Let thy word richly in me dwell;
Thy peace and love my portion be;
My joy to endure and do thy will,
Till perfect I am found in thee.

From faith to faith, from grace to grace,
So in thy strength shall I go on,
Till heaven and earth flee from thy face,
And glory end what grace begun.

Wolfgang C. Dessler, 1692;
tr. John Wesley, 1739; alt.
Tune: CALM (L.M.)
John Bacchus Dykes, 19th cent.

Two Years Ago: John Bacchus Dykes

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