Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Henry J. Gauntlett

Henry John Gauntlett is another Victorian hymn tune composer who is now only known for a small handful of tunes. Born on this day in 1805, he progressed so far in his musical education and ability that at the age of nine he was appointed the organist at the church in Buckinghamshire where his father served as clergy. However, since he beat out his two sisters for the position it may not be quite as impressive as it seems in some accounts.

His parents then, as many parents still, thought that music was no suitable profession for an adult (child organists were OK), so he became an attorney, not fully realizing his musical aspirations until the age of thirty-nine, when he abandoned the bar and took music on full-time. He was a renowned organist, and obtained patents for applying electrical and magnetic action to the mechanics of the pipe organ. He accompanied the first perfomance of Mendelssohn's oratorio Elijah from the full manuscript, as there was no separate organ part to read from. Mendelssohn was very impressed by Gauntlett's wide-ranging musical talents and spoke highly of him in later years.

Gauntlett is often cited as the first composer of four-part hymn tunes as we know them today. Some sources claim that he wrote ten thousand hymn tunes, though others think it seems unlikely, even if older tunes that he only harmonized or arranged (such as STUTTGART) were included. He edited several hymnals, from the first, The Church Hymn and Tune Book (1852) to The Wesleyan Tune Book (1876) on which he was working when he died in 1875. He was consulted on most of the other hymnals published in England during his lifetime (a large number indeed).

This tune (and hymn) are still used in many churches.

Jesus lives! no longer now
Can thy terrors, death, appall us;
Jesus lives! by this we know
Thou, O grave, canst not enthrall us.

Jesus lives! for us Christ died;
Then, alone to Jesus living
Pure in heart may we abide,
Glory to our Savior giving.

Jesus lives! our hearts know well
Naught from us God's love shall sever;
Life, nor death, nor powers of hell
Tear us from God's keeping ever.

Jesus lives! to Christ the throne
Over all the world is given;
May we go where Christ has gone,
Live eternally in heaven.

Christian Gellert, 1751; tr. Frances E. Cox, 1841, alt.
Tune: ST. ALBINUS ( with Alleluia)
Henry J. Gauntlett, 1852

Gauntlett has one even more familiar tune, IRBY, used for Once in royal David's city, but we'll get to that at a more appropriate time of year. Here at the blog, we've heard his ST. BARNABAS, which hymnologist Erik Routley called "astounding" (though he didn't mean it in a good way). Routley says of Gauntlett "At his best he is a true and inspired master of the commonplace..." One tune, ST. ALPHEGE, is said to have been composed at a dinner, while a messenger waited for the manuscript.

However many Gauntlett tunes there are, the twenty-four listed at are a very small fraction, and I'm not sure I want Erik Routley -- no fan of the Victorians -- to have the last word unchallenged. Gauntlett was widely respected in his time, much in demand for his skills. Though his time has come and gone, a backhanded "compliment" cannot completely diminish his accomplishments.


Dorothy said...

"His parents then, as many parents still, thought that music was no suitable profession for an adult..." Your comment here made me chuckle. Our daughter is a musician by profession and we've certainly had those thoughts, not that we object to it as a profession on any other grounds than her ability to support herself.

I really like the hymn tune "Irby."

Leland Bryant Ross said...

I know I recently saw another (I think a new) text, not a Christmas one, set to IRBY. But I can't for the life of me think what or where. Big presentation at work today has been distracting me from my hymnic duties.

Leland aka Haruo

C.W.S. said...

IRBY is a fine tune, and I think I've seen some other text set to it also but I can't remember which either.

I just thought it was amusing that the elder Gauntletts thought nothing of using their childrens' musical talents but didn't want them to pursue music when they got older.

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