Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Its Onward Course Has Run

Another year is coming to an end; as usual, too soon for some, not soon enough for others. I'm currently indulging in my annual New Year's Eve ritual of listening to the Mozart Requiem as I write this -- must be close to thirty years that I've done this.

The New Year is not marked in the liturgical calendar of all churches. For those that do observe it, there are of course hymns for the occasion. When preparing for this entry I realized that I had already presented my favorite hymn for the new year back on June 26, the birthday of its author, Philip Doddridge. Not good planning.

In looking for another one, I learned that a recurring theme in many of them could be summed up as "Well, you made it through another year, but you might just die in the coming one, so you better be ready." I did want something that looked forward, but maybe was a bit more cheerful and positive.

As is often the case, Fanny Crosby had the answer. Not that she didn't write some scoldy and negative lyrics in her time, but out of the supposedly 8000+ gospel songs and hymns she wrote, there are quite a number of good ones. I didn't know this one before (her twentieth-century songs seem to be less known than her nineteenth-century ones), but it fulfills the desired specifications.

A year of precious blessings
And glorious victories won,
Of earnest work progressing,
Its onward course has run;
To thee, O God, our Refuge,
Whose goodness crowns our days,
Within thine earthly temple,
We lift our souls in praise;
Within thine earthly temple,
We lift our souls in praise.

O God of our assemblies,
In mighty power descend,
Behold our new endeavors,
Conduct them to the end;
Inspire our hearts with courage
And deeper love for thee,
That all, thy Name may honor,
Where’er our field may be,
That all, thy Name may honor,
Where’er our field may be.

May we, as thine anointed,
March through the world in love,
Lead forth its ranks by millions
To join thy ranks above,
Till at thy throne in glory,
Where angels prostrate fall,
One hallelujah chorus

Acclaims thee God of all,
One hallelujah chorus
Acclaims thee God of all.

Fanny Crosby, 1907; alt.
Tune: NEW YEAR (
Ira Allan Sankey, 1907

Ira Allan Sankey was the son of the famous evangelist Ira David Sankey. Both father and son wrote tunes for Crosby's texts over her long career.

A Happy New Year to all -- looking forward to another year of hymns and hymnists.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

William Croft

Composer William Croft was baptized on this date in 1678 (his birthdate went unrecorded) in Warwickshire. Like John Goss of a few days ago, he was a boy chorister at the Chapel Royal and continued on after his voice broke, studying composition with John Blow and later assuming Blow's organist position at Westminster Abbey in 1708, as Goss did from Thomas Attwood.

Many of Croft's choral compositions were published in a collection called Musica Sacra (1724), including a Burial Service that is still used at state funerals in Great Britain, most recently for Princess Diana in 1997 and the Queen Mother in 2002.

Croft's hymn tunes were used widely and have appeared in most hymnals up to the present day. His most popular remains ST. ANNE, particularly after it became inextricably linked with Isaac Watts' text O God our help in ages past. Here on the blog we have also heard his ST. MATTHEW. Modern scholarship now doubts whether Croft wrote all of the tunes attributed to him, including this familiar one, but I think his name will remain linked with them.

O worship our God, all glorious above,
And publish abroad God's power and God's love;
Our Shield and Defender, the Ancient of Days,
Pavilioned in splendor, and girded with praise.

O tell of God's might, O sing of God's grace,
Whose robe is the light, whose canopy space,
Whose chariots of wrath the deep thunderclouds form,
And dark is whose path on the wings of the storm.

The earth with its store of wonders untold,
Almighty, thy power hath founded of old;
Hath 'stablished it fast by a changeless decree,
And round it hath cast, like a mantle, the sea.

Thy bountiful care, what tongue can recite?
It breathes in the air, it shines in the light;
It streams from the hills, it descends to the plain,
And sweetly distills in the dew and the rain.

Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,
In thee do we trust, nor find thee to fail;
Thy mercies how tender, how firm to the end,
Our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend.

Robert Grant, 1833; alt.
William Croft, 1708

Unlike many English hymnwriters, who either come from the clergy or from clerical families, Sir Robert Grant was a lawyer and politician who was for a time the governor of Bombay. After his death, twelve of his verses were collected by his brother, published as Sacred Poems, and including this, his most familiar hymn, a paraphrase of Psalm 104. There is a sixth verse, often left out of modern hymnals (and generally altered even when printed).

O measureless might! Ineffable love!
While angels delight to hymn thee above,
Thy humbler creation, though feeble their lays,
With true adoration shall lisp to thy praise.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Holy Innocents

December 28 is set aside to honor the Holy Innocents, those infants in and around Bethlehem slain on orders of King Herod, as told in the second chapter of Matthew.

The Coventry Carol dates from the sixteenth century, coming from a mystery play, or pageant, telling the Christmas story from Matthew's gospel. It does still appear in some modern hymnals.

Lully, lullay, thou little tiny child,
Bye, bye, lully lullay.

O sisters too, how may we do,
For to preserve this day,
This poor youngling for whom we sing,
Bye, bye lully lullay.

Herod the king in his raging,
Charged he hath this day,
Soldiers of might, in his own sight,
All young children to slay.

Then woe is me, poor child, for thee!
And every morn and day,
For thy parting not say nor sing
Bye, bye, lully lullay.

Lully, lullay, thou little tiny child,
Bye, bye, lully lullay.

Traditional English carol; 16th c.
Tune: COVENTRY CAROL (4.4.6.D. with refrain)

There have been other choral settings of this carol over the years. One I found on YouTube that I like is by the young British composer Philip Stopford.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Sir John Goss

John Goss was almost certainly named for St. John, on whose feast day the little Goss was born in 1800. His father, Joseph, was a church organist and the son eventually followed in this line.

Young John became a chorister at the Chapel Royal in 1811, and later studied music with composer and organist Thomas Attwood. He succeeded Attwood as the organist at St. Paul's Cathedral in 1838 and remained in that position for more than thirty years. He was also a Professor of Harmony at the Royal Academy of Music (a young Arthur Sullivan was one of his students), and was eventually knighted by Queen Victoria in 1872.

During these years he composed mostly church music (anthems, chants, and hymn tunes), though he also produced incidental music for a play, The Sergeant's Wife (sometimes described as an opera, but probably not), and some orchestral music.

His most familiar hymn tune is LAUDA ANIMA, generally sung with Praise, my soul, the King of heaven. My own favorite Goss tune was always ARMAGEDDON, though in recent years I've learned that he only provided the standard arrangement of this tune that was actually written by German composer C. Luise Reichardt. Previously on the blog we have heard Goss's BEVAN. Today we continue in the Christmas spirit with an almost-forgotten song that first appeared with a tune by Goss in Christmas Carols New and Old (1871), collected by John Stainer.

See, amid the winter's snow,
Born for us on earth below,
See the tender Lamb appears,
Promised from eternal years.

Hail, thou ever-blessed morn!
Hail, redemption's happy dawn!
Sing through all Jerusalem,
Christ is born in Bethlehem!

Lo, within a manger lies
One who built the starry skies;
One, who throned in height sublime
Sits amid the cherubim.

Say, ye holy shepherds, say
What your joyful news today;
Wherefore have ye left your sheep
On the lonely mountain steep?

"As we watched at dead of night,
Lo, we saw a wondrous light;
Angels singing peace on earth
Told us of the Savior's birth."

Teach, O teach us, Holy Child,
By thy face so meek and mild,
Teach us to resemble thee,
In thy sweet humility!

Edward Caswall, 1858; alt.
Tune: HUMILITY ( with refrain)
John Goss, 1871

I say "almost-forgotten" but it's probably someone's favorite somewhere. There are actually dozens, possibly hundreds, of really forgotten Christmas hymns, carols, and songs in the hymnals of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. We like the standards.

Saint John the Evangelist

December 27 is the feast day of Saint John the Evangelist, apostle and Gospel writer. Originally he had to share it with Saint James the Greater but before long he got the day to himself.

Saint John is not one of these disciples (like Bartholomew or Jude) that almost nothing is known about; he appears in many of the stories of Jesus' ministry, and is sometimes called "the beloved disciple." He remained at the cross during the Crucifixion, and took Mary, the mother of Jesus, into his home afterward.

Unlike most of the other apostles, he was not martyred, returning to Ephesus after exile in Greece. In art he is frequently depicted with an eagle. Modern scholars disagree on exactly what parts of the New Testament he wrote (maybe/ maybe not the Book of Revelation) but he retains credit for his own Gospel.

Come sing, ye choirs exultant,
Those messengers of God,
Through whom the living Gospels
Came sounding all abroad!
In one harmonious witness
The chosen four combine,
While each his own commission
Fulfills in ev'ry line.

As, in the prophet's vision,
From out the amber flame
In form of visage diverse
Four living creatures came;
Lo, these the fourfold river
Of paradise above,
Whence flow for all earth's people
New mysteries of love.

Praise for the loved disciple,
Exiled on Patmos' shore;
Praise for the faithful record
He to thy Godhead bore;
Praise for the mystic vision,
Through John to us revealed;
May we, in patience waiting,
In thine own heart be sealed.

Adam of St. Victor, c.1170;

tr. Jackson Mason, 1889; alt. (v.1 & 2)
Horatio Bolton Nelson, 1864; alt. (v.3)
English traditional melody;
arr. Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1906

This continues (and concludes) the Evangelists' hymn I have used throughout this year; you can see the prior ones for St. Matthew, St. Mark, and St. Luke.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

With the Oxen Standing By

Cecil Frances Alexander published her popular Hymns for Little Children (text only, no music) in 1848. She wrote these hymns to explain various parts of Christian doctrine, and today's hymn was to illustrate a portion of the Apostles' Creed (...conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary...)

Once in royal David's city
Stood a lowly cattle shed,
Where a mother laid her baby
In a manger for a bed:
Mary was that mother mild,
Jesus Christ, her little child.

You came down to earth from heaven,
As the living God of all,
And your shelter was a stable,
And your cradle was a stall;
You, with all the meek and lowly,
Lived on earth, our Savior holy.

For you are our lifelong pattern,
Day by day like us you grew;
You were little, weak and helpless,
Tears and smiles like us you knew.
And you feel for all our sadness,
And you share in all our gladness.

And our eyes at last shall see you,
Through your own redeeming love;
For that Child so dear and gentle
Now is Christ in heaven above;
And you lead your children on
To the place where you have gone.

Not in that poor lowly stable,
With the oxen standing by,
We shall see you; but in heaven,
Set at God's right hand on high;
Where like stars your children crowned,
Shall with joy your courts surround.

Cecil Frances Alexander, 1848; alt.
Tune: IRBY (
Henry J. Gauntlett, 1849

Composer Gauntlett wrote this tune specifically for Mrs. Alexander's text, and it remains his most well-known. There have been a few other unsuccessful attempts at writing a new tune, such as Katie Smith's in 1876, but none have lasted.

Ever since 1919, this hymn has been used as the opening processional for the
Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at Kings College, Oxford University (broadcast around the world since 1928).

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The World In Solemn Stillness Lay

Massachusetts minister Edmund Hamilton Sears published his most famous hymn in the December 29, 1849 issue of the Christian Register, a popular Unitarian weekly magazine that is still published today as UU World. The following year the text was paired with a tune by Richard Storrs Willis and has since become one of the most familiar songs we sing at Christmas, even though it never specifically mentions the birth of Jesus.

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth
To touch their harps of gold:
"Peace on earth, good will to all,
From heaven the news we bring."
The world in solemn stillness lay
To hear the angels sing.

Still through the cloven skies they come
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heavenly music floats
O'er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever o'er its Babel-sounds
The blessed angels sing.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the heavenly strains have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And we, engaged in war, hear not
The tidings which they bring;
O hush the noise and cease your strife
And hear the angels sing!

O ye, beneath life's crushing load
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow;
Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing:
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing.

For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophets seen of old,
When with the ever-circling years
Shall come the time foretold,
When Peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Edmund Hamilton Sears, 1849; alt.

Tune: CAROL (C.M.D.)
Richard Storrs Willis, 1850

I never will forget encountering the words of the fourth verse (sometimes left out of modern hymnals) on a memorial panel of the NAMES Project quilt nearly twenty years ago.

Willis's tune was used for other hymn texts in the nineteenth century, though it's hard for us today to imagine it outside of Christmas. I think the strangest match I've seen is the Lenten hymn There is a green hill far away (only using the first two lines of this tune). This probably wouldn't bother the English, who sing It came upon... to the tune NOEL, a folk melody arranged by Arthur Sullivan.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Saint Thomas

Today, in spite of Advent and the approach of Christmas, we are taken to the post-Easter story of Saint Thomas the Apostle on his feast day (transferred to a day later this year because of the Fourth Sunday of Advent). Thomas, of course, is best remembered for not believing in Jesus' resurrection until he had touched and seen for himself, as recounted in John 20:24-28.

There are other mentions of Thomas in the New Testament, but all are overshadowed by this story. Though he was apparently a twin, we never hear about that sibling. He was at the Last Supper; he once exhorted his fellow apostles to follow Jesus though it might mean all their deaths, and there are several accounts of his later life, yet he remains "doubting Thomas."

We walk by faith, and not by sight;
No gracious words we hear
From you, who spoke as none e'er spoke;
But we believe you near.

We may not touch your hands and side,
Nor follow where you trod;
But in your promise we rejoice;
And cry, "My Lord and God!"

O Jesus, help our unbelief;
And may our faith abound,
To call on you when you are near,
And seek where you are found:

That, when our life of faith is done,
In realms of clearer light
We may behold you as you are,
With full and endless sight.

Henry Alford, 1844; alt.
Tune: ST. BOTOLPH (C.M.)
Gordon Slater, c.1930

This feels to me like a more modern hymn text than it is. Generally, nineteenth century hymnwriters referred to the Biblical biographies of saints in hymns for their feast days. This text by Henry Alford, which was written for St, Thomas' Day in Alford's hymnal Psalms and Hymns Adapted to the Sundays and Holydays Throughout the Year, To Which Are Added Some Occasional Hymns (1844), looks forward to the hymn writers of our time, who are often more likely to explore the connection between the life of the saint and our own lives today.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The World So Long Had Waited

For the fourth and last Sunday in Advent, churches following the Revised Common Lectionary readings will hear Luke 1:26-38, the story of the angel Gabriel telling Mary of the wonder God has in store for her, and Mary's all-important "yes!"

This story is told not only during Advent, but also on March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation. Bishop William Walsham How, author of this hymn, wrote it for inclusion in Church Hymns (1871), for which he was chair of the committee assembling it.

Great Gabriel sped on wings of light,
With wondrous tidings laden,
And came from heav'n's unclouded height
To greet a lowly maiden.

For God had marked her low estate,
And looked on her with favor;
And to this day we celebrate
The mighty gift God gave her.

O matchless bliss! that from her womb
Should spring the Uncreated,
The great and Holy One, for whom
The world so long had waited.

O Mary blest, we still would trace
Your earthly footsteps lowly;
Your joys and woes, your saintly grace,
Your life so calm and holy.

William Walsham How, 1871; alt.
Traditional Irish melody

This sound file is somewhat slower than I think the hymn should be played, but I listened to four different online files before I found one that correctly played the triplet figure in the second line.

Another Advent is winding down. The carols are coming closer!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Phoebe Worrall Palmer

Methodist evangelist Phoebe Worrall Palmer was born on this day in New York City in 1807. She is recognized as one of the founders of the Holiness Movement because of her public speaking and popular books, one of which, The Way of Holiness (1843), sold more than 20,000 copies in its first six years and is still in print today.

Phoebe and her sister began having Tuesday afternoon prayer meetings, which grew over the years to encompass both women and men, including professors, editors, and bishops. The sisters helped found a magazine, The Guide to Holiness, and Phoebe's articles there became her books when collected. She eventually became the editor, and wrote so many articles that new ones continued to be published for some time after her death in 1874. She traveled and spoke about her religious experience and her perfectionist theology. However, she would not call when she did "preaching," as she believed that was something that women should not do.

She wrote hymns as part of her desire to instruct others in her beliefs. Her daughter (and namesake), growing up in this environment of celebrity, and having some musical skill of her own, eventually composed some tunes for her mother's texts, including one that appeared in several 19th century hymnals, The Cleansing Wave. That daughter became better known for composing gospel songs as Phoebe Palmer Knapp, collaborating with Fanny Crosby on Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine and with many other songwriters of the day.

In 1870 Phoebe Palmer and her husband were about to move into a new mansion in New York. She awoke one morning with the desire to write a hymn to dedicate the new house, where their Tuesday afternoon meetings would continue. It was published in a biography that appeared in 1876, Life and Letters of Mrs. Phoebe Palmer, edited by the Reverend Richard Wheatley.

Sung at the Tuesday Afternoon Meeting, November 29, 1870, on the occasion of the Dedication of the House, 316 East 15th Street, opposite Stuyvesant Park.

O thou Most High! in heaven adored,
While angels bow with veiled face,
And cry, O Holy, Holy Lord!
Behold! we worship from this place.

Though Zion's gates thou lovest best,
In wondrous grace thou dost ordain
That Jacob's dwellings shall be blest,
And in them thou dost live and reign.

And now, O God, behold and see!
Thy people in thy name have met
To dedicate this house to thee;
Here let thy holy seat be set.

And in this house wilt thou abide:
We consecrate it to thy name;
In every room and heart reside,
And here thy hallowing grace proclaim.

Head of the Church! O wilt thou still
Thy Church in this our house behold,
With greater grace thy people fill,
Give power beyond the days of old.

Here let the Holy Ghost abide,
And Pentecostal gifts be given;
And Christ -- the living Christ, reside
In human hearts made fit for heaven.

Phoebe W. Palmer, 1870; alt.
Tune: HAMBURG (L.M.)
Lowell Mason, 1824

The tune that they actually sang that day was not recorded. If they only had words and no music they would have used a familiar tune, and this one by Lowell Mason, often called the "father of American church music" is a (remote) possibility. But we must remember that there were many more hymn tunes that would have been familiar to Palmer's attendees, so it's really impossible to know. They could have had a leaflet printed for the occasion with the tune -- perhaps even a new one by Phoebe Knapp. I will be on the lookout for a Knapp tune in Long Meter (four lines of eight syllables) -- have not seen one yet but I've only found about a dozen of the many she is supposed to have written. And then, it's also possible Palmer's text was not sung at all -- sometimes hymns were simply recited.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

John Greenleaf Whittier

Apparently continuing John Week at C.W.S. (John the Baptist, John Chandler, John Ellerton...) we come to John Greenleaf Whittier (December 17, 1807 - September 7, 1892), born into a Quaker family in Haverhill, Massachusetts.

When he was fifteen, a teacher loaned him a volume of poetry by Robert Burns, which he later credited with inspiring his own poetic efforts. A few years later, one of his sisters submitted a poem of his to the Free Press, a weekly paper published by William Lloyd Garrison. The poem was printed, launching Whittier's literary career as well as a long-lasting friendship with Garrison, strengthened by both men's commitment to the cause of abolition.

Whittier was a founding member of the American Anti-Slavery Society, and became editor of the National Era in 1847, one of the most influential abolitionist newspapers. His poetry and articles were also frequently published in the Atlantic Monthly.

Samuel Longfellow and Samuel Johnson were the first editors to turn Whittier's poetry into hymns in their two hymnals, but other hymnals were soon using his texts as well. The hymns that are attributed to Whittier are often excerpted from longer poems, such as this one, six verses taken from the original thirty-seven verses of his poem Our Master.

Immortal love, forever full,
Forever flowing free,
Forever shared, forever whole,
A never-ebbing sea!

Our outward lips confess the name
All other names above;
Love only knows from whence it came,
And comprehends but love.

We may not climb the heavenly steeps
To bring you, Jesus, down;
In vain we search the lowest deeps,
For you no depths can drown.

But warm, sweet, tender, even yet,

A present help you'll be;
And faith still has its Olivet,
And love its Galilee.

The healing of your seamless dress
Is by our beds of pain;
We touch you in life’s throng and press,
And we are whole again.

The letter fails, the systems fall,
And every symbol wanes;
The Spirit overshadowing all,
Eternal Love remains.

John Greenleaf Whittier, 1856; alt.
Jeremiah Clarke, 17th c.

Whittier remains in many hymnals today. Just this last Sunday, a Whittier hymn sing was held at the Friends Meeting House in Amesbury, Massachusetts, where he worshipped.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

John Ellerton

Hymnwriter and hymnologist John Ellerton was born in Middlesex on December 16, 1826. He attended Trinity College at Cambridge University and was ordained in 1850.

He began to write and translate hymns, editing his first hymnal, Hymns for Schools and Bible Classes in 1859. He refused to register copyrights on his hymns, saying that if they were "counted worthy to contribute to Christ's praise in the congregation, one ought to feel very thankful and humble."
He was on the committee (with Saturday's Bishop W.W. How) that produced Church Hymns in 1871 for the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, and wrote the companion notes for that hymnal which were published in 1881. Later, he joined the Hymns Ancient and Modern editors for their revised volumes of 1875 and 1889. He was widely consulted for his hymnic knowledge by other editors and compilers.

His enthusiasm for the subject was evident in his letters. Writing to Godfrey Thring, who was wrapping up work on A Church of England Hymn-Book in 1879, he first disparages a hymn of his own that they were discussing, saying that it was "very bad." He continues:

"Don't be angry with me for not doing an Easter Eucharistic Hymn; I always use (and rejoice in) At the Lamb's high feast we sing, but even without that I could not add a mediocre one to the stock of really fine Easter hymns we possess. Don't you like the rough force too of Luther's Christ Jesus lay in death's strong bands? I do think that is so full of Easter life and joy and strength."

I think that if Ellerton was alive today he might be writing a hymn blog.

He wrote and translated at least eighty-six hymns. Following his death in 1893, Henry Housman, a former curate of his published John Ellerton: Being a Collection of His Writings on Hymnology (1896).

I like his hymns very much; we have already seen a number of them over the last year. This is probably his most popular one in England, and has consistently ranked at or near the top in various polls there.

The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended,
The shadows fall at thy behest;
To thee our morning hymns ascended,
Thy praise shall sanctify our rest.

We thank thee that thy church, unsleeping,
While earth rolls onward into light,
Through all the world its watch is keeping,
And rests not now by day or night.

As o’er each continent and island
The dawn leads on another day,
The voice of prayer is never silent,
Nor dies the strain of praise away.

So be it, God; thy Word shall never,
Like earth’s proud empires, pass away:
Thy mercy stands, and grows forever,
Till all thy creatures own thy sway.

John Ellerton, 1870; alt.
Clement C. Scholefield, 1874

"The voice of prayer is never silent,/Nor dies the strain of praise away" is one of my favorite phrases in any hymn -- the world keeps turning and every hour there are people praying and praising.even while we are asleep.

Clement Cotterill Scholefield was a friend of Arthur Sullivan, the musical editor of Church Hymns, where this tune first appeared. In recent years, some Sullivan scholars have suggested that this tune was actually by Sullivan, and that as a gift he allowed Scholefield to claim credit for the tune. It's true that Sullivan re-harmonized several of the tunes in Church Hymns, and may have done so for ST. CLEMENT, but the theory that the whole tune is his doesn't really account for the three other tunes credited to Scholefield in Church Hymns. It was probably Sullivan who named the tune, though; Scholefield would have had to be quite the egotist otherwise.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Our Refuge and Our Great Reward

For the third Sunday of Advent, many churches heard about John the Baptist in readings from John 1:6-8 and 19-26. John's is a new Advent voice telling of the coming Messiah that the ancient prophets had foretold.

On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry
Announces that the Christ is nigh;
Awake, and hearken, and rejoice
To hear the desert-prophet's voice!

Then freed be every one from sin;
Prepare the way for God within;
And let each heart prepare a home,
Where such a mighty Guest may come.

For thou art our salvation, Lord,
Our refuge, and our great reward.
Without thy grace our souls must fade
And wither like a flower decayed.

Stretch forth thy hand, our health restore,
And make us rise to fall no more;
O, let thy face upon us shine,
And fill the world with love divine.

All praise, eternal Christ, to thee,
Whose advent sets thy people free,
Whom with the Maker we adore
And Holy Spirit evermore.

Charles Coffin, 1736; tr. John Chandler, 1837; alt.
Musikalisches Handbuch, 1690;
harm. William H. Monk, 1847

Charles Coffin was French and wrote his hymns in Latin. This one (Jordanis oras praevia) was first published in Hymni Sacri Auctor Carolo Coffin (1736) and shortly thereafter in the Paris Breviary. When John Chandler discovered the Breviary a hundred years later, he believed the Latin hymns to be much older than that and included some of them in a book of his translations called Hymns of the Primitive Church (1837).

The final verse was added by the editors of Hymns Ancient and Modern in 1861 and has been used to close at least two other Advent hymns. Chandler's translation has undergone many alterations over the years; if you look at five hymnals you may not find more than two or three where the text matches exactly.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Frances Ridley Havergal

Today we mark the birthday of Frances Ridley Havergal (1836 - 1879), surely one of the most famous women hymnwriters. She was born into a musical family; her father, William Henry Havergal, was an evangelical minister who also wrote hymns and composed hymn tunes. Frances learned to play the piano at an early age, and wrote her first poems at seven. She became fluent in at least six languages, and memorized much of the Bible.

Havergal was in poor health for much of her life, though she did manage to travel to Germany in 1852 for a year of study, where she also wrote her first hymn. She became more and more dedicated to her religion, and after 1873 it was said that she only sang and played sacred music. She was also involved in several philanthopic causes.

Her hymns appeared in a few small volumes and periodicals during her lifetime. Her most famous hymn, still sung today, is the consecration hymn Take my life and let it be, which is sung in many denominations. Much less known are the several tunes she composed, though this one still appears today in some hymnals. Her text, though not an Advent one, seems appropriate as the end of the year comes closer.

Standing at the portal
Of the opening year,
Words of comfort meet us,
Hushing every fear;
Spoken thru the silence
By our Maker’s voice,
Tender, strong and faithful,
Making us rejoice.

Onward, then, and fear not,
Live the words we pray,
For God's Word shall never,
Never pass away.

“I, your God, am with thee,
Be thou not afraid;
I will help and strengthen
Be thou not dismayed.
Yea, I will uphold thee
With my own right hand;
Thou art called and chosen
In my sight to stand.”

For the year before us,
O what rich supplies!
For our care and comfort
Living streams shall rise;
For the sad and doubting
Shall God's grace abound;
For the faint and weary
Perfect strength be found.

God will never fail us,
God will not forsake;
The eternal covenant
God will never break.
Resting on the promise,
What have we to fear?
God is all sufficient
For the coming year.

Frances Ridley Havergal, 1873; alt.
Tune: HERMAS ( with refrain)
Frances Ridley Havergal, 1871

HERMAS was not written especially for this text, but for an earlier one by Havergal. It has been used for several other hymns over the years.

About a year before her death at age 43, Frances and her sister Maria moved to a part of south Wales called The Mumbles. After Frances's passing, Maria published Memorials of Frances Ridley Havergal, as well as a collected edition of her hymns and many of her letters. Today, an organization called the Havergal Trust, based in Missouri, is working to keep her works alive and available.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

William Walsham How

William Walsham How (December 13, 1823 - August 10, 1897) was born in Shrewsbury. He was ordained in the Church of England in 1847, serving in several different locations before becoming well known for his work among the poor of the East End when he was Suffragan Bishop of London. He was called the "omnibus bishop" because he rode the buses with the people rather than in a private coach. In 1889 he was named Bishop of the newly-created diocese of Wakefield after earlier turning down two other bishoprics.

How published several volumes of his own sermons as well as religious verse. He wrote 54 hymns, probably the most well known of which is For all the saints. He was chair of the committee that produced Church Hymns in 1871, where I found today's much less known hymn for baptism.
O'er the shoreless waste of waters
In the world's primeval night,
Moved the quickening Spirit, waking
All things into life and light.
God, thus in thy new creation
Light in thine own light we see,
By the water and the Spirit
Born again to life in thee.

When from thine avenging deluge
Thou thy chosen ones would save
Lo! the ark of thine appointing
Rode in safety on the wave.
So, thus in the world's broad ocean,
Tossed with tempests fierce and stark,
All thy people find a refuge,
And thy church is now their ark.

Through the Red Sea's cloven waters
Israel's children gained the shore,
Free to seek the land of promise,
Egypt's bond-slaves now no more.
So upon their journey starting,
Thou thy children, God, shall free;
Lo! they pass from every bondage
Into glorious liberty!

As when Christ, baptized at Jordan,
Heard with John, the prophet wild,
May thy people hear thy blessing:
"This is my beloved Child."
Guard and guide them by thy Spirit,
Lead them on from strength to strength,
Till, all toils and conflicts ended.
They are safe with thee at length.

William Walsham How, 1854; adapt. C.W.S.
Henry T. Smart, 1868

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Let No Harp Remain Unstrung

I thought there was a composer to write about yesterday but online and offline research determined that there was a typo at the Cyber Hymnal site. We'll get to him later in the month.

So here's another Advent hymn, a favorite of mine that may not be as familiar as some.

Christ is coming! Let creation
From its groans and travail cease;
Let the glorious proclamation
Hope restore and faith increase;
Christ is coming! Christ is coming!
Come, O blessèd Source of Peace!

Earth can now but tell the story
Of thy bitter cross and pain;
We shall yet behold thy glory,
When thou comest back to reign;
Christ is coming! Christ is coming!
Let each heart repeat the strain.

Long thine exiles have been pining,
Far from rest, and home, and thee;
Now, in heav’nly vestures shining,
They their loving Shepherd see;
Christ is coming! Christ is coming!
Haste the joyous jubilee.

With that blessèd hope before us,
Let no harp remain unstrung;
Let the mighty Advent chorus
Onward roll from tongue to tongue:
Christ is coming! Christ is coming!
Come, O Jesus, quickly come!

John Ross MacDuff, 1853, alt.
Joachim Neander, 1680

Author John Ross MacDuff wrote several books on religious and scriptural themes, many of which you can see on Google.

Joachim Neander was a theologian and eventually a pastor in the German Reformed Church. One year before his death at age 30 he published a collection of 71 hymns, some with his own tunes, including this familiar one, which is sometimes called NEANDER. Though I never made the connection before now, a river valley near Dusseldorf was renamed in his honor, and in 1856, prehistoric fossilized remains were found there that were named Homo neanderthalensis (Neanderthal man). There's a odd hymnic association for you.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Broken Heart to Bind

Not many birthdays or other events to mark this week, but another Advent hymn is certainly appropriate. We move from the prophecies regarding the reign of God to the promised coming of Christ as Savior and Healer.

Hark, the glad sound! the Savior comes,
The Savior promised long;
Let every heart prepare a home,
And every voice, a song.

On you, the Spirit, largely poured,
Exerts her sacred fire;
And wisdom and might, and zeal and love,
Your holy words inspire.

You come, the prisoners to release,
In sorrow's bondage held;
The gates of brass before you burst,
The iron fetters yield.

You come, the broken heart to bind,
The bleeding soul to cure;
And with the treasures of your grace
Life's vict'ry to ensure.

Heavn's silver trumpets publish loud
The jubilee of God!
Our debts are all remitted now,
Our heritage restored.

Our glad hosannas, Prince of Peace,
Your welcome shall proclaim;
And heav’n’s eternal arches ring
With your belovèd Name.

Philip Doddridge, 1735; alt.
Thomas Haweis, 1792; adapt. Samuel Webbe, 1808

Philip Doddridge we have met before. I have reinstated the fifth verse of his hymn, which is frequently left out of modern hymnals. One more verse that is rarely seen:

You come, from thickest films of vice
To clear the mental ray,
And on the eyes oppressed with night
To pour celestial day.

Thomas Haweis, expelled from Oxford University for proclaiming himself a Calvinist, is somewhat more remembered as a writer of hymn texts rather than tunes, though he wrote both. He compiled a hymnal titled Carmina Christo; or, Hymns to the Savior (1792), "designed for the use and comfort of those who worship the Lamb that was slain" and containing 256 of his own hymns.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Hark, the Voice of One That Crieth

Another recurring theme of Advent is the coming of the promised reign of God, foretold by the Old Testament prophets. Everything will be all right! In many churches today the opening verses of Isaiah 40 were read, along with their recurrence in the opening verses of the book of Mark.

Comfort, comfort ye my people,
Speak ye peace, thus saith our God;
Comfort those who sit in sadness,
Mourning ’neath their sorrow’s load;
Speak ye to Jerusalem
Of the peace that waits for them;
Tell her that her sins I cover,
And her warfare now is over.

Hark, the voice of one that crieth
In the desert far and near,
Calling all to true repentance,
Since the reign of God is here.
O that warning cry obey!
Now prepare for God a way!
Let the valleys rise in meeting,
And the hills bow down in greeting.

Make ye straight what long was crooked,
Make the rougher places plain:
Let your hearts be true and humble,
As befits this holy reign,
For the glory of our God
Now o’er earth is shed abroad,
And all flesh shall see the token
That God's word is never broken.

Johann Olearius, 1671; tr. Catherine Winkworth, 1842; alt.
Tune: PSALM 42 (
Louis Bourgeois, 1551

This paraphrase of the beginning of Isaiah 40 was written by.Johann Olearius and later translated by Catherine Winkworth. It was originally written to commemorate the feast day of Saint John the Baptist (June 24) but is generally used in Advent now. Olearius published an important Lutheran hymnal, Geistliche Singe-Kunst (1671) with over 1200 hymns, nearly one-quarter of which were written by him.

The tune has several different names in different hymnals but it was originally composed by Louis Bourgeois to accompany a version of Psalm 42.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Christina Georgina Rossetti

Today we celebrate the birthday of Christina Rossetti, less famed as a hymnwriter than as a poet, though a few of her poems have been made into hymns and anthems. She is considered a major poet of the Victorian era and there is much information online about her should you want to read further.

She was born in 1830, into a family of writers that included her father, sister, and two brothers, all of whom published either poetry or biography. Her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti was a renowned painter as well (the portrait of Christina here is his).

Christina, her mother, and sister Maria all became devout Anglicans (her sister even becoming a nun). Christina was especially drawn to "high church" practice, and followed the church calendar faithfully, observing saints' days and times of fasting. She broke two separate engagements because the men did not live up to her religious expectations.

Her best known book of poetry is the somewhat surreal Goblin Market and Other Poems (1862), but some feel that her devotional and spiritual poetry in the Anglican literary tradition should be seen as a greater accomplishment.

This poem, titled by her A Christmas Carol, has become her most well-known hymn:

In the bleak midwinter,
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter,
Long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold you,
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When you come to reign.
In the bleak midwinter
A stable place sufficed
The Living God incarnate,
Jesus Christ.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air;
But your mother only,
In her maiden bliss,
Worshipped her beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give you,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd,
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a seer,
I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give you:
Give my heart.

Christina Rossetti, 1871; alt.
Tune: CRANHAM (Irregular)
Gustav Holst, 1906

Composer Gustav Holst contributed three tunes to Ralph Vaughan Williams's English Hymnal in 1906, including this one. In 1921, he arranged the tune THAXTED from a melody in the "Jupiter" section of his great orchestral work The Planets to go with the text I vow to thee, my country.

And yes, I know this is a Christmas hymn in Advent, but it is Rossetti's best-loved hymn (and it's not Sunday worship here). She did in fact write an Advent poem, This Advent moon shines cold and clear, but I 'm not sure it would make a particularly good hymn. There are some well-crafted lines, but it lacks the simplicity of her Christmas Carol.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

More Voices Found: Clara Scott

Clara Scott (December 3, 1841 - June 21, 1897) was a hymnwriter and composer whose work has all but disappeared, except for one gospel song that remains fairly well known.

She was born in Elk Grove, Illinois. In 1856 she studied at Cady's Musical Institute in Chicago and went on to teach music at the Ladies' Seminary in Lyons, Iowa. She began to compose songs and anthems which were published in collections assembled by songwriters Luther O. Emerson and Horatio Palmer. In 1882 Scott herself produced the Royal Anthem Book, said to be the first book of anthems edited by a woman.

The Baptist Quarterly Review (vol. V, 1883) describes it:
It is claimed by the publisher that "no such combination of American and European authors has ever been presented in any one book of its kind." It embraces contributions from such well-known composers as Drs. H.R. Palmer, George F. Root, W.O. Perkins, W.F. Sherwin, and J.B. Herbert. Also from such foreign authors as Canthal, Gluck, Abt, Lichner, Lange, and Weber. It has many selections designed for special occasions, such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Mission and Baptismal Service, Decoration-day, Praise Offerings, festival and funeral occasions.

A number of her own anthems were also included. Unfortunately, the Royal Anthem Book has not yet turned up on Google Books, though some of Scott's choral works can be seen (if not heard) online.

O be joyful in the Lord
Tarry with me, O my Savior
and a setting of the Te Deum

In 1896, Scott published a collection of 79 hymns titled Truth in Song: For the Lovers of Truth Everywhere (also not yet online). It's not clear whether they were all written or composed by her, but at least some of them were. And yet this is the only song by her that many people still know.

Open my eyes, that I may see
Glimpses of truth you have for me;
Place in my hands the wonderful key
That shall unlock and set me free.

Silently now I wait for you,

Ready, my God, your will to do,
Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit divine!

Open my ears, that I may hear
Voices of truth you're sending clear;
And while the wave notes fall on my ear,
Everything false will disappear.

Open my mouth, and let me bear,
Gladly the warm truth everywhere;
Open my heart and let me prepare
Love with your children thus to share.

Clara H. Scott, 1895; alt.
Tune: SCOTT ( with refrain)
Clara H. Scott, 1895

This gospel song first appeared in another hymnal in 1895 but seems likely to have also been in Truth in Song the following year. I've looked in dozens of other hymnals from the turn of the last century and nothing else by Scott ever turns up. Yet there are ten songs by her in Unity Song Selections (the 1975 (?) edition -- no date appears anywhere in the book). I'd like to trace them back to earlier publication but I have a feeling they may have appeared in Truth in Song and rarely, if ever, migrated to other hymnals until the Unity Church adopted them (and possibly rewrote them a bit). It's also possible that the Unity connection goes back to the beginning, though I've not yet found anything that specifically links Clara Scott to that movement.

I'd like to present some of those ten songs but the sound files do not yet exist and I never like to put up words without music. That's a goal for the next year of the blog: to showcase even more lesser-known music in the same way lesser-known texts are sometimes used here.

Almost forgot! In 1975, lesbian feminist songwriter Cris Williamson used the opening lines and a bit of the chorus of this song of Clara Scott's to open her own anthem of sorts, Song of the Soul, which of course you can hear sung by Williamson on YouTube. Song of the Soul was and is considered to be a hymn in the Metropolitan Community Church, and is sung right along with Scott's original.