Monday, August 12, 2013

Sir Joseph Barnby

August 12 is a shared birthday between two prominent hymn tune composers of the Victorian age: Joseph Barnby (1838-1896) and Frederick Arthur Gore Ouseley (1825-.1889).  Though I have treated them fairly evenly here on the blog, I admit to a slight preference for Ouseley's tunes, though his reputation faded earlier than Barnby's.  Barnby continues to appear in modern hymnals thanks to LAUDES DOMINI, his tune for When morning gilds the skies.  The brand-new hymnal of the Christian Reformed Church, Lift Up Your Hearts (2013) and the Presbyterian Church (USA)'s upcoming Glory to God (Fall 2013) both include LAUDES DOMINI.

Today's Barnby tune is much less known, but it seems to me to be a sturdy tune in Common Meter which could be sung today without embarrassment.  It's matched here to a text by Isaac Watts based partially on Psalm 119.

God, I have made your Word my choice,
My lasting heritage:
There shall my noblest powers rejoice,
My warmest thoughts engage.
I'll read the histories of your love,
And keep your laws in sight,
While through your promises I rove
With ever-fresh delight.
A broad'ning land of wealth unknown,
Where springs of life arise;
Seeds of immortal bliss are sown,
And hidden glory lies.

Isaac Watts, 1719; alt.
Tune: POWER (C.M.)
Joseph Barnby, 1869

The names of Barnby's tunes were probably not all assigned by the composer.  This happened because many of his tunes first appeared in The Hymnary (1872) where they were identified by numbers rather than by names, even though Barnby was the musical editor (the book is often referred to as Barnby's Hymnary).  Perhaps he didn't think proper names for hymn tunes as significant as many of his contemporaries did, or perhaps he found himself with too many new tunes to name and a fast-approaching deadline.  When those tunes were subsequently used in later hymnals, their names were probably invented by the editors of those books, which is why some of his tunes are known by more than one name.

P.S.: The portrait of Barnby above with his conductors' baton is by the artist John Wallace Knowles, and was retained by Barnby's descendants for nearly a century before being donated to a museum.

Five Years Ago: Joseph Barnby

Four Years Ago: Frederick A. Gore Ouseley

Three Years Ago: Joseph Barnby

One Year Ago: Frederick A. Gore Ouseley

Another Birthday Today: Katharine Lee Bates

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