Friday, November 14, 2008

More Voices Found: Eliza Scudder

Eliza Scudder (November 14, 1821 - September 29, 1896) was born in Barnstable, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod, and lived in the eastern part of that state for most of her life. Her uncle was Edmund Hamilton Sears, author of It came upon the midnight clear, and he included today's hymn in a book of his own before it was published in any hymnals.

Unlike many other hymnwriters, she was not associated with one single denomination; she was a Congregationalist for a time, then associated herself with the Unitarians. A number of her hymns were included in Longfellow and Johnson's Hymns of the Spirit in 1864. Still later she was captivated by the preaching and ministry of Phillips Brooks at Trinity Church in Boston and became an Episcopalian. (Continuing an inadvertent Christmas theme, Brooks wrote O little town of Bethlehem.)

In 1880 Scudder published Hymns and Sonnets, a small collection of her work.

Thou Grace Divine, encircling all,
A shoreless, soundless sea!
Wherein at last our souls shall fall
O love of God most free!

When over dizzy heights we go,
Thy strong hand guides our eyes,
The other leads us safe and slow
O love of God most wise!

And if we turn us from thy face,
And wander wide and long,
Thou hold’st us still in thine embrace,
O love of God most strong!

But not alone thy care we claim,
Our daily path to win,
We know thee by a dearer Name,
O love of God within!

And filled and quickened by thy breath,
Our souls are strong and free,
To rise o’er grief and fear and death,
O love of God, to thee!

Eliza Scudder, 1857; alt.
Tune: MANOAH (C.M.)
Gioacchino Rossini; adapt. Henry Greatorex, 1851

I'm not exactly sure where in composer Rossini's work this tune is found, but hymnal editors of the mid-nineteenth century liked to adapt melodies from the work of secular composers (operas, oratorios, chamber music, etc.) into hymn tunes. There are very few of these that we sing anymore, but MANOAH has survived better than most, even though it's a bit of a waltz.

I will be looking further into the hymns of Eliza Scudder; though I like and have sung this one I'm seeing some other interesting ones as well.


Dorothy said...

I love waltzes! I'm glad at least one made it as a hymn tune.

C.W.S. said...

Modern-day music directors don't generally care for them, though I think it depends somewhat on how they're played (that is, you can minimize the waltziness if you really want).

A similar tune would be MARYTON, often sung with O Master, let me walk with thee and sometimes dismissed as O Master, let me waltz with thee

Cyberhymnal link: