English composer and church musician John Goss was born today in 1800, in Hampshire. His father was an organist and John would have a long career in the same profession. As a child, he went to live with an uncle in London who was "an alto singer of distinction" and he became a chorister in the Chapel Royal, where he sang under John Stafford Smith (best known as the composer of The Anacreontic Song, the tune of which would later cross the ocean to be matched with The Star Spangled Banner). After his voice changed, he began to study composition with Thomas Attwood, organist at St. Paul's Cathedral. He also sang tenor briefly with the opera chorus at Covent Garden.
His first organist position began in 1821 at the Stockwell Chapel. In December 1824 he was appointed to be the first organist at St. Luke's in Chelsea after winning a competition. While there he published Parochial Psalmody (1826), a four-volume collection of tunes for the psalm paraphrases and hymns used in most Anglican churches of the day.
His mentor Thomas Attwood died in 1838, and Goss became organist at St. Paul's, where he would stay until retiring in 1872. He also had a long tenure (47 years) as Professor of Harmony at the Royal Academy of Music. In 1841 he published Chants Ancient and Modern, which contained 257 chant settings for the Psalms (and makes you wonder if the title inspired the committee which brought out a certain hymnal in the next decade). He collaborated with James Turle, organist at Westminster Abbey, on the three-volume Cathedral Services Ancient and Modern (1846), and was the musical editor for the Church Psalter and Hymn Book (1856). All of these books were influential in the development of church music in England in the middle of the nineteeth century.
Goss's own compositions were primarily for the church, encompassing chants, anthems, services, and, of course, hymn tunes. In 1856 he was appointed composer at the Chapel Royal where his musical career had started. He was knighted in 1872 following his composition of a Te Deum and the anthem The Lord is my strength for the occasion of a service of thanksgiving at St. Paul's for the restored health of the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII).
As we are in the middle of another Twelve Days of Christmas here, we have today a tune usually credited to Goss and a text by William Walsham How (which strays a bit beyond Christmas, admittedly). ARTHUR'S SEAT by Goss seems to have first appeared in the American collection Hymns and Songs of Praise for Public Worship (1874). The musical editors of this book were John Knowles Paine and Uzziah C. Burnap, and in a later hymnal, the tune is credited to Goss and to Burnap as arranger. Where this melody appears in the works of Goss has not yet been identified, though the tune appears in many hymnals, up to the present, with Goss listed as composer.
Behold a little child, laid in a manger bed;
The wintry blasts blow wild around his infant head;
But who is this so lowly laid?
’Tis Christ by whom the worlds were made.
Alas! in what poor state the Child of God is seen;
Why did our God so great choose out a home so mean?
That we may learn from pride to flee,
And follow Christ's humility.
Where Joseph plies his trade, there Jesus labors, too;
The hands that all things made an earthly craft pursue,
That weary souls in him may rest,
And faithful toil through Christ be blessed.
Christ, once thyself a boy, our lifelong guard and guide;
Be thou its light and joy, and still with us abide,
That thy dear love, so great and free,
May draw us evermore to thee.
William Walsham How, 1872; alt.
Tune: ARTHUR'S SEAT (126.96.36.199.8.10.)
John Goss, 19th cent;
arr. Uzziah C. Burnap, 1874
Arthur's Seat is actually a mountain in Edinburgh, but no one knows why this tune was named for it.
John Goss died on May 10, 1880 and was buried at St. Paul's. Most of his compositions, like those of his Victorian contemporaries, have not survived well, except for a few anthems, chants, and hymn tunes. He is described in the (Episcopal) Hymnal 1940 Companion as "no exceptional genius, but a sincere and skillful craftsman, writing solidly and well for the voice." Trevor Beeson's book In Tuneful Accord (2008), a study of Anglican church musicians and composers, admits that "It is possible, however, that some good parish church choirs view his work more favourably."
Eight Years Ago: John Goss
(Also) Eight Years Ago: Saint John the Evangelist
Seven Years Ago: Saint John the Evangelist
(Also) Seven Years Ago: Shepherds rejoice! life up your eyes
Four Years Ago: Saint John the Evangelist (and a tune by Goss)
One Year Ago: Above all the roar of the cities
(Also) One Year Ago: Saint John the Evangelist