Friday, January 30, 2009

Its Echoes Sweetly Ringing

I make no particular secret of my love for the hymn texts and tunes of the English Victorian age. In fact, one of my ongoing research projects is to find the "lost" tunes of the once-popular composers of the era, long forgotten and unsung in old hymnals. There are far, far more than you can find at the Cyber Hymnal site from people like Joseph Barnby, John Stainer, Edward J. Hopkins, and Arthur Sullivan. And sometimes you can find something that really deserves to be reintroduced.

However, I am also aware of the rampant sentimentalism that sometimes mars these hymns and tunes, and keeps them out of modern worship with good reason. It's a fine line, but sometimes there's just a little too much sweetness and syrup (treacle, the Victorians would have called it, though their tolerance was higher). Of course, that line will always be drawn differently by different people (including you, my readers).

So here, a little background. Last Sunday my choir sang an Evensong service which included a setting of the evening canticles by Henry Smart, one of those Victorian composers whose hymn tunes we have encountered before. It was a fun piece to sing, very much of its time, but boisterous and flamboyant just where it needed to be and properly solemn when necessary. We're singing it again in a few weeks at a choir festival at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in NYC.

Later, I happened to mention to our choir director that Smart had written a tune for an evening hymn, but one that was no longer in the current Episcopal Hymnal 1982. Pulling a copy of the Hymnal 1940 from a shelf, I turned to this hymn.

Hark! hark, my soul! angelic songs are swelling,
O’er earth’s green fields and ocean’s wave-beat shore:
How sweet the truth those blessèd strains are telling
Of that new life when sin shall be no more.

Angels of Jesus, angels of light,
Singing to welcome the pilgrims of the night!

Far, far away, like bells at evening pealing,
The voice of Jesus sounds o’er land and sea;
And laden souls, by thousands meekly stealing,
Kind Shepherd, turn their weary steps to thee.

Onward we go, for still we hear them singing,
“Come, weary souls, for Jesus bids you come”;
And through the night, its echoes sweetly ringing,
The music of the Gospel leads us home.

Cheer up, my soul! faith’s moonbeams softly glisten
Upon the breast of life’s most troubled sea,
And it will cheer thy saddened heart to listen
To those brave songs which angels mean for thee.

Rest comes at length: though life be long and dreary,
The day must dawn, and lonesome night be past;
Faith’s journeys end in welcome to the weary,
And heaven, the heart’s true home, will come at last.

Angels, sing on, your faithful watches keeping;
Sing us sweet fragments of the songs above,
Till morning’s joy shall end the night of weeping,
And life’s long shadows break in cloudless love.

Frederick William Faber, 1854; alt.
Tune: PILGRIMS ( with refrain)
Henry T. Smart, 1868

Now, I thought this was just a curiosity, and added that I really didn't think much of the hymn; though I've sung it before, I think it's a bit over that fine line previously mentioned. But he liked it! And wanted to show it to the rector so that we could sing it at another Evensong service sometime. Clearly, no good deed goes unpunished.

The tune is all right, I suppose, but not as strong as some others by Smart. At first I thought that maybe the text is not quite as bad as I recalled. Then I realized that while I classified this in my head as an evening hymn, in fact, somewhat buried beneath its sweetness, it's actually about death and dying (in a particularly oversentimentalized fashion). No one likes hymns about heaven more than I do, but this one just wallows in the process of getting there more than in the final attainment.

An original verse from the hymn that has been (fortunately) omitted for over a century makes this clearer. I didn't even try to do the "alt." for this verse.

Darker than night life’s shadows fall around us,
And like benighted men we miss our mark:
God hides Himself, and grace hath scarcely found us,
E’er death finds out his victims in the dark.

That verse aside (please!), I'll put the question to you. Different people draw their line in different places. Do we have here a buried treasure that we should rejoice at rediscovering, or a justifiably forgotten and old-fashioned text that should be left in the past? I've certainly given away my opinion, but I'd still like to hear yours. Maybe it's even someone's favorite! (I won't banish you from the blog if so)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Saint Thomas Aquinas

Thomas Aquinas, commemorated on this day, was born in 1224 or 1225, and at the age of five was sent by his parents to live in a Benedictine monastery, where they hoped he would follow in the footsteps of his uncle, the monastery's abbot. This didn't work out for his family, as he eventually became a Dominican friar instead. They had him abducted and imprisoned for two years, trying to convince him to renounce the Dominican order, but without success.

In adulthood, Aquinas became a prominent theologian and philosopher, his reputation continuing into the present day. Fifty years after his death on March 7, 1274, he was proclaimed a saint by Pope John XXII. Subsequent popes have declared that the theology of Aquinas is considered definitive for the Roman Catholic Church.

In addition to his many theological works, he wrote many Latin hymns that have been translated by different poets over the years. Some of the most well known have become part of the Catholic liturgy, such as this one, the Latin O salutaris Hostia.

O saving Victim, open wide
The gate of heaven to us below;
Our foes press on from every side;
Thine aid supply; thy strength bestow.

All praise and thanks to thee ascend
Forevermore, blest One in Three;
O grant us life that shall not end
In our true native land with thee.

Thomas Aquinas, 13th c.;
tr. Edward Caswall,1849, and others
Samuel Sebastian Wesley, 1872

This short hymn is the final section of a longer text, Verbum supernum prodiens, and is sung during the rite of Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, celebrated in the Roman Catholic church, the Western Rite Orthodox Church, and in some Anglo-Catholic Episcopal/Anglican churches.

Another Aquinas hymn, the Tantum ergo, is also sung during Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. At my own church, Benediction is celebrated a few times a year during Evensong services. The congregation sings O salutaris Hostia (as the hymn above), followed by a choral setting of the Tantum ergo. I sometimes wonder about reversing them; having a choral setting of the O Salutaris (of which there are many) and a metrical hymn version of the Tantum ergo, but we never do it that way. There may well be some arcane liturgical rule about why not.

At YouTube you can hear one of the Tantum ergo settings
we have sung, by Gabriel Faure, performed by a choir of men and boys (we do a standard four-part arrangement, with tenor solo instead of boy soprano).

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul

January 25 is set aside in many churches to commemorate the Conversion of St. Paul. In Acts 26:9-20, Paul (formerly Saul) relates how a blinding light from heaven changed him from a fierce persecutor of Christians t0 a follower of Jesus' teachings.

Author John Ellerton dated the writing of this hymn to February 28, 1871, and it first appeared later that year in Church Hymns.

We sing the glorious conquest,
Before Damascus’ gate,
When Saul, the church’s spoiler,
Came breathing threats and hate;
God's light shone down from heaven
And broke across the path;
God's glory pierced and blinded
The zealot in his wrath.

O Voice, that spoke within him
The calm, reproving word!
O Love, that sought and held him
A captive of his Lord!
Help us to know your presence
That we, in every hour,
In all that may confront us,
Will trust your hidden power.

Your grace by ways mysterious
The wrath of foes can bind;
And in those least expected,
A chosen saint can find.
In us you seek disciples
To share your cross and crown,
And give you final service
In glory at your throne.

John Ellerton, 1871; alt.
Neuvermehrtes Gesangbuch, 1693
harm. Felix Mendelssohn, 1847

This is an extensive revision that appeared in the Episcopal Hymnal 1982. While Ellerton's hymns are frequently sung with minimal changes, the original text of this hymn is more problematic, containing some fairly impenetrable syntax for modern worshippers. (I think it would take so much time to sort out the second half of the third verse that you'd miss singing the whole last verse!)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Song of Them That Feast

Conjubilant With Song is one year old. The first post was on Wednesday, January 23, 2008, and talked a bit about where the blog name comes from, but I've never presented the whole hymn, which is a favorite of mine. By an odd coincidence that I didn't notice at the time, today is John Mason Neale's birthday, the translator of this hymn.

Jerusalem the golden,
With milk and honey blest,
Beneath thy contemplation
Sink heart and voice oppressed.
I know not, O, I know not,
What joys await us there,
What radiancy of glory,
What bliss beyond compare.

They stand, those halls of Zion,
Conjubilant with song,
And bright with many an angel,
And all the martyr throng;
The Savior, ever in them,
The daylight is serene.
The pastures of the blessèd
Are decked in glorious sheen.

There is the throne of David,
And there, from care released,
The shout of them that triumph,
The song of them that feast;
And they, who with their Leader,
Have conquered in the fight,
Forever and forever
Are clad in robes of light.

O sweet and blessèd country,
The home of God’s elect!
O sweet and blessèd country,
That eager hearts expect!
O Christ, in mercy bring us
To that dear land of rest,
Who art, with our Creator,
And Spirit, ever blest.

Bernard of Morlaix, 1146;
tr. John Mason Neale, 1858; alt.
Tune: EWING (
Alexander Ewing, 1853

This seems to be the only hymn tune by Alexander Ewing, a bit surprising because I think it's quite a good one. The tune was originally slightly different rhythmically (and originally called ST. BEDE), and was altered to its present form by the editors of Hymns Ancient and Modern in 1861. Unfortunately, Ewing was not happy with the changes, believing that it now sounded like a polka.

Anyway, there's much more to come here at CWS. Most of the hymnwriters and composers we've encountered have more good material to present, and I'm always adding more birthdays and anniversaries to the calendar.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Phillips Brooks

The Episcopal calendar of saints remembers former Bishop of Massachusetts Phillips Brooks (December 13, 1835 - January 23, 1893) on this day. Born in Boston, he graduated from Harvard in 1855 and was ordained in 1859. He first served two churches in Philadelphia, where he was known for his anti-slavery views and for a widely-circulated sermon he delivered shortly after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

In 1869 he was named rector of Trinity Church in Boston, where he stayed intil 1891, when he accepted the post of bishop, which he was only to hold for 15 months. He once claimed that the theme of all his sermons was from John 10:10 -- "I have come that you might have life, and have it abundantly." His funeral service packed the huge sanctuary at Trinity, and more than 10,000 people who were not able to get in waited outside in Copley Square.

His great fame was largely due to his renowned preaching; several volumes of his sermons were published as well as smaller books of quotations, marking him as quite a celebrity. If he had been born a hundred years later he'd have had his own television show. Since he never married, there has also been some speculation about his personal life.
Though it's now a bit out of season, it would be foolish not to remember his most familiar hymn today, a Christmas carol known and sung around the world.

O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by.
Yet over thy streets shineth
The everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.

For Christ is born of Mary,
And gathered all above,
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wondering love.
O morning stars together,
Proclaim the holy birth,
And praises sing and anthems ring,
And peace to all on earth!

How silently, how silently,
The wondrous gift is giv’n;
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings sent from heav’n.
No ear may hear his coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still,
The dear Christ enters in.

Where children pure and happy
Pray to the blessèd Child,
Where misery cries out to thee,
Born of a mother mild;
Where charity stands watching
And faith holds wide the door,
The dark night wakes, the glory breaks,
And Christmas comes once more.

O holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in,
Be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
Our God, Emmanuel!

Phillips Brooks, 1867; alt.
Tune: ST. LOUIS (
Lewis H. Redner, 1868

When writing this text, Brooks must have been remembering his own trip to the Holy Land, where on Christmas Eve, 1865, he assisted with the midnight service in Bethlehem. The fourth verse is sometimes omitted in hymnals, and I'd imagine that many churches sing even fewer verses than that in crowded Christmas services, but the entire text is worth preserving. Lewis Redner was the organist at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Philadelphia when Brooks was the rector there, and he wrote the tune the night before it was sung in worship for the first time on Christmas Day, 1867.

Phillips Brooks wrote a few other verses and hymn texts, but not many. In 1903, a small collection titled Christmas Songs and Easter Carols was published, though none are as well-known as O little town of Bethlehem, the first selection in the book.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

William Marion Runyan

William Marion Runyan was born on this day in 1870. Ordained in the Methodist church in 1891, he served congregations in Kansas for several years.

Various sources report that he wrote his first gospel song in 1915, and he wrote both texts and tunes in the years to come, his works straddling that divide between public domain and copyrighted material (most anything published after 1923 in this country is copyrighted).

In 1918 he co-edited a songbook with Daniel B. Towner, another gospel songwriter, Songs of the Great Salvation, which has many selections by both men, far more for Runyan at least than are listed at his Cyber Hymnal page. Later, Runyan also co-edited The Service Hymnal for Hope Publishing.

He is most well-known as the composer of the tune used for the (still copyrighted) hymn Great is thy faithfulness.

This earlier (?) text by Runyan is not a gospel song but a hymn text in Common Meter, so we don't know if it was written before the 1915 date, and apparently no one knows if it was written after 1923 either, though no source seems to show it as copyrighted.

“Like as a mother comforteth,”
O words of gentle worth!“
So will I comfort you,” declares
The Mother of the earth.

She bends in faithful watchfulness;
She slumbers not nor sleeps;
Above her trusting child, our God
A constant vigil keeps.

She patient is, as mothers are
Who love their children well;
Our faults and failings she forgives;
Her mercies—who can tell!

“Like as a mother,” grant, O God,
This likeness e’er may be
A holy symbol to declare
The love that dwells in thee.

William Marion Runyan, 20th c.; alt.
John Bacchus Dykes, 1875

The revision to cast the entire text into the feminine gender was done several years ago. Looking at it today I also like the tension between the masculine articles and the motherhood theme in the original text, so I'm not sure which way I would go in case of eventual publication.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Suddenly a Voice Divine

One of yesterday's lessons from the Revised Common Lectionary was 1 Samuel 3:1-20, the story of God calling young Samuel in the temple. Unfortunately, this appropriate hymn for the day is one of those that no longer appears in most hymnals.

Hushed was the evening hymn,
The temple courts were dark;
The lamp was burning dim
Before the sacred ark;
When suddenly a voice divine
Rang through the silence of the shrine.

The old man, meek and mild,
The priest of Israel, slept;
His watch the temple child,
The little Levite, kept;
And what from Eli’s sense was sealed
Our God to Hannah’s son revealed.

O give me Samuel’s ear,
The open ear, O God,
Alive and quick to hear
Each whisper of thy Word,
Like him to answer at thy call,
And to obey thee first of all.

O give me Samuel’s heart,
A lowly heart, that waits
Where in thy house thou art,
Or watches at thy gates;
By day and night, a heart that still
Moves at the breathing of thy will.

O give me Samuel’s mind,
A sweet unmurm’ring faith,
Obedient and resigned
To thee in life and death,
That I may read with childlike eyes
Truths that are hidden from the wise.

James Drummond Burns, 1857; alt.
Tune: SAMUEL (H.M.)
Arthur Sullivan, 1874

Though this could have been a hymn for yesterday, it's also somewhat appropriate for today, which commemorates someone else who heard God's call.

James Drummond Burns was a Scottish clergyman and hymnwriter, and we've encountered Sir Arthur Sullivan a nymber of times before.

The painting above, part of Samuel relating to Eli the judgments upon Eli's house, is by John Singleton Copley, a well-known American artist of the colonial period.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

William Henry Havergal

William Henry Havergal (January 18, 1793 - April 19, 1870) was a composer, hymnwriter and hymnologist. Ordained in 1817, he served as rector in three different parishes until his health forced him to retire in 1867. In fact, his health was never very good; a carriage accident in 1829 disabled him and he turned to composing music as a form of relaxation, then a few years later he lost most of his sight.

He made a study of hymn tunes and in 1844 published a reprint of the Thomas Ravenscroft Whole Booke of Psalmes, which had been originally published in 1618. He followed this with Old Church Psalmody (1847), another collection of older tunes, many with his new arrangements. Later, he brought out A Hundred Psalm and Hymn Tunes (1859) which were all new compositions. A History of the Old Hundredth Psalm Tune appeared in 1854. He also wrote hymn texts in addition to other sacred compositions, and many of his sermons were published.

To praise our Shepherd's care,
That wisdom, love, and might,
Our loudest, loftiest songs prepare
And bid the world unite!

Supremely good and great,
Christ tends the earthly fold;
And stoops, though throned in highest state

The weary to uphold.

Kind Shepherd of the sheep,
A wandering flock are we,
And snares and foes are nigh; but keep
The lambs who look to thee.

And if through death's sad vale
Our feet should early tread,
Oh, may we reach thy fold, and hail
The love which has us led.

William Henry Havergal, 19th c.; alt.
Tune: SWABIA (S.M.)
Johann Speiss, 1745;
arr. William Henry Havergal, 1847

Most of his texts and tunes are little known today. SWABIA is still found in some modern hymnals, though I don't know that it's anyone's favorite tune (someone will no doubt show up now to tell me that it is); also surviving is EVAN, an original Havergal tune. William Henry is probably better known today as the father of another hymnwriter and composer, Frances Ridley Havergal.

The painting below, by an unknown artist, depicts St. Nicholas' church in Worcester, where Havergal was rector for eighteen years and was probably painted around the time he was there. However, the church was closed in 1990 and is now a pub/restaurant, part of the "Slug & Lettuce" chain (if you should ever find yourself in Worcester).

Friday, January 16, 2009

Building Proud Towers

On this day in 1920, the first Council Meeting of the League of Nations was held in Paris, as photographed above. Only six days had passed since the Treaty of Versailles, which officially ended hostilities between Germany and the Allies in World War I, had taken effect. The Council was a smaller body than the full League, somewhat like the modern-day Security Council of the United Nations.

Pacifist English poet Laurence Housman wrote this hymn for the newly-formed League of Nations and awarded its copyright to the organization. His hopes for the future of the community of nations seem almost overwhelmed by the problems and challenges he lists, but for the repeated refrain "Thy will be done."

Wisdom eternal, brooding o'er creation,
Spirit of life, which moved ere form was made;
Through the oppression covering every nation,
Strength to our weakness, O be thou our aid:
Thy presence come, O God, thy will be done.

Races and peoples, lo! we stand divided,
And sharing not our griefs, no joy can share;
By wars and tumults love is mocked, derided,
Christ's saving cross no nation yet will bear:
Thy presence come, O God, thy will be done.

Envious of heart, closed-minded and confounded,
Nation by nation still goes unforgiven;
In wrath and fear, by jealousies surrounded,
Building proud towers which shall not reach to heaven:
Thy presence come, O God, thy will be done.

Lust of possession worketh desolations;
There is no meekness in the powers of earth;
Led by no star, the rulers of the nations
Still fail to bring us to the blissful birth.
Thy presence come, O God, thy will be done.

How shall we love thee, holy, hidden Being,
If we love not the world which thou hast made?
Bind us in thine own love for better seeing
Thy Word made flesh, and in a manger laid:
Thy presence come, O God, thy will be done.

Laurence Housman, 1920; alt.
Geoffrey T. Shaw, 1921

Thursday, January 15, 2009

More Voices Found: Louisa Putnam Loring

Hymnwriter and editor Louisa Putnam Loring was born on this day in 1854 into a prominent New England family. She lived most of her life with her older sister, Katherine Peabody Loring, in Prides Crossing, Massachusetts, a seashore section of the town of Beverly. Louisa was an accomplished musician who played the piano and harp.

She was the Emergency Secretary of the Massachusetts Red Cross, as well as a founder and sometime president of the Aiken Cottages in South Carolina, a sanitarium for men suffering from tuberculosis. She and her sister were involved in many charitable causes, including the Beverly Anti-Tuberculosis Society, aid for the victims of the Great Salem Fire, and aid for Bulgarian schoolchilden.

Louisa compiled a hymnal, Hymns of the Ages (1906). In the 1907 annual report of the American Unitarian Association we find this quote about the recently-released volume:

"It represents the completion of many years of study, and it is as near the ideal of what a hymn-book for our free churches should be as we are likely to achieve."

Unfortunately, Loring's Hymns of the Ages is not yet available online. This hymn was written a few years earlier.

O thou who turnest into morning
The shadows of the passing night,
Again to conscious life returning,
We bless thee for the newborn light.

Grant us that light, to all unfailing
Who seek to do thy perfect will,
That we, o’er doubt and fear prevailing,
May trust thy good above all ill;

That we may offer thee thanksgiving
Beyond our prayers and songs that rise
In greater faithfulness of living,
In deeper love through sacrifice.

Louisa Putnam Loring, 1902
Charles Lincoln Ziegler, 1902

Ziegler was apparently a church musician and sometime composer in the Boston area, but more than that I've not found.

The picture of Louisa Loring above is a black-and-white reproduction of a miniature portrait painted by American artist Florence MacKubin. Loring was also painted twice by the famous John Singer Sargent; one of those portraits (with her sister Katherine) was lost in a fire, while the other remains privately owned and not visible online.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

John Darwall

English clergyman, composer and poet John Darwall was baptized on this day in 1731, another case where an actual birth date is lost to posterity. He served the congregation of St. Matthew's parish in Walsall, Staffordshire from his ordination to his death in 1789.

Darwall composed tunes for all 150 psalms as paraphrased in A New Version of the Psalms of David (1696) by Nicholas Brady and Nahum Tate. His tunes were written in two parts only: melody and bass. The British Museum has his manuscript books of the tunes, and the first line of each can be seen online (the opening of Psalm 1 is the picture above).

However, only one of his tunes is still known, though it appears in just about any hymnal you might find today. We know it as DARWALL, or sometimes DARWALL'S 148th as it was written for this Tate and Brady paraphrase of that psalm.

Ye boundless realms of joy,
Exalt your Maker's fame,
God's praise your song employ
Above the starry frame;
Your voices raise,
Ye cherubim
And seraphim,
To sing God's praise.

Thou moon, that rul'st the night,
And sun, that guid'st the day,
Ye glittering stars of light,
To God your homage pay.
God's praise declare,
Ye heavens above
And clouds that move
In liquid air.

Let all their powers be stirred,
To praise God's holy name,
By whose almighty Word
They all from nothing came;
And all shall last
From changes free;
God's firm decree
Stands ever fast.

United zeal be shown
God's wondrous fame to raise,
whose glorious name alone
Deserves our endless praise.
Earth's utmost ends
God's power obey;
This glorious sway
The sky transcends.

Nicholas Brady & Nahum Tate, 1696; alt.
John Darwall, 1773

DARWALL has been used for a great many texts over the years, some fitting better than others. The law of averages alone would indicate that anyone who could write one tune as remarkable and long-lasting as this one must have written something else worthwhile among those other 149 tunes (and the unknown others that he wrote to non-psalm texts). But somehow this is the only one that has come down to us.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Through Jordan's Flood Was Led

The season of Epiphany continues this week with the story of John baptizing Jesus in the Jordan River from Mark 1:4-11, depicted here in a woodcut illustration by Gustave Dore. This particular hymn draws a bit more from the same story in Matthew 3: 13-16.

The author of the text is unknown, but it first appeared in the Christian Hymn Book of 1865. It may have been some sort of joint editorial concoction, or a particular editor who didn't want his contribution credited (I've been there).

"I come," the great Redeemer cries,
"To do thy will, O Lord!"
At Jordan's stream, behold! he seals
The sure prophetic word.

"Thus it becomes us to fulfill
All righteousness," he said.
Then, faithful unto God's commands,
Through Jordan's flood was led.

Hark, a glad voice! God kindly speaks
From heaven's exalted height:
"This is my Child, my well-beloved
In whom I take delight."

The Savior Jesus, well-beloved,
That Name we will profess;
Like Christ, desirous to fulfill
God's will in righteousness.

Christian Hymn Book, 1865; alt.
Tune: ST. ANNE (C.M.)
William Croft, 1708

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Lowell Mason

Lowell Mason, sometimes called the "father of American church music" was born on this day in 1792. However, his first job was in retail and after that he worked in banking, intending to make it a career. Music was going to be a sideline for him; his first hymnal, containing his own tunes and arrangements, appeared anonymously in 1822. It was published by the Handel and Haydn Society of Boston and was extremely successful. He was eventually credited as the editor in later editions of the hymnal.

He took on a few church music director positions, while remaining a banker, but gradually music became more and more important. He is credited with introducing music into the public school curriculum in Boston (from where it spread throughout the country) and he later served as music superintendent of the Boston school district. He also was a co-founder of the Boston Academy of Music, and continued to write church music and hymn tunes. Some estimates of his composed and arranged tunes run as high as 1600. His hymnals and tune collections continued to appear; eventually there were more than 50, in addition to at least 11 secular collections and 17 children's columes and exercise books.

Later in life he was the music director at the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York. He amassed a large collection of hymnals, which were willed to Yale University, where they are still maintained.

A number of his tunes have already come up here, but today I want to use one of the tunes that he arranged or harmonized.

Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Jesus' love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.

Before our Maker’s throne
We pour our ardent prayers;
Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one
Our comforts and our cares.

We share each other’s woes,
Each other's burdens bear;
And often for each other flows
The sympathizing tear.

When we are called to part,
It gives us inward pain;
But we shall still be joined in heart,
And hope to meet again.

This glorious hope revives
Our courage on the way;
While each in expectation lives,
And longs to see the day.

From sorrow, toil and pain,
And sin, we shall be free,
And perfect love and friendship reign
Through all eternity.

John Fawcett, 1772; alt.
Tune: DENNIS (S.M.)
Hans Nageli, 19th c.; arr. Lowell Mason, 1845

Mason's contribution to American music has not been universally applauded. He preferred contemporary European classical music and attempted to write in that style, though some feel he was not particularly good at it and his tunes are somewhat dull. That style also supplanted an American style that had flourished up until his time, and earlier composers such as William Billings and Daniel Read were no longer emulated.

The fifth verse of this hymn is sometimes omitted, but surely its message of hope is never out of place. In fact, the verse bridges the end of the third verse to the beginning of the fifth, telling of the sustaining hope for the day when "From sorrow, toil, and pain..." Why leave it out?

The text is by
John Fawcett, whose birthday was also this week (January 6, 1739), and so pushed aside for the Epiphany. Fawcett was first a Methodist, then a Baptist minister in Yorkshire. In 1772 he accepted a position in a London church. He had preached his farewell sermon, the wagons were packed to transport the family to the city, but the "love and tears" of his congregation convinced Fawcett and his wife at the last moment to forego the tempting new position and remain where they were. It is believed that this hymn was written shortly thereafter.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

We Too May Seek That Cradle

So here we are on the twelfth day after Christmas, the actual day of the Feast of the Epiphany in Western tradition. Churches that are especially strict about the liturgical calendar have waited until today to celebrate the coming of the Magi, though their attendance would probably have been better this past Sunday.

Today's hymn has come up in discussion before but I still wanted to use it today because it's a particular favorite of mine, even though I don't see it in any of the contemporary hymnals where it might logically be found.

Saw you never, in the twilight,
When the sun had left the skies,
Up in heav’n the clear stars shining
Through the gloom, like silver eyes?
So of old the sages, watching,
Saw a little stranger star,
And they knew the Christ was given,
And they followed it from far.

Heard you never of the story
How they crossed the desert wild,
Journeyed on by plain and mountain,
Till they found the holy Child?
How they opened all their treasure,
Knelt in awe and wondering;
Gave the gold and fragrant incense,
Gave the myrrh in offering?

Know ye not that lowly baby
Was the bright and morning Star?
One who came to light the nations,
And the scattered isles afar?
And we, too, may seek that cradle;
There our hearts’ best treasures lay;
Love, and faith, and true devotion
For our Savior, God, alway.

Cecil Frances Alexander, 1853: alt.
French melody, 15th c.; arr. Charles Wood, 1902

This hymn was first published in Cecil Frances Alexander's Narrative Hymns for Village Schools (1853), where it was titled The Adoration of the Wise Men. It is perhaps considered too quaint for modern-day worshippers, but its charm is not lost on me, and hopefully not on you either.

Irish composer Charles Wood, probably best known for his Anglican anthems and service music, arranged this tune from a medieval French love song (Helas! je l'ay perdu, or Alas! I am lost) for the Cowley Carol Book in 1902.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Star of the East

Some churches will celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany today, commemorating the visit of the Three Kings to Bethlehem, while some will wait until January 6, the twelfth day after Christmas and "official" date. Here at CWS we can mark it both days; there are plenty of Epiphany hymns to go around!

Brightest and best of the stars of the morning,
Dawn on God's people and lend us thine aid;
Star of the East, the horizon adorning,
Guide where our infant Redeemer is laid.

Cold on thy cradle the dewdrops are shining;
Low lies thy head with the beasts of the stall;
Angels adore thee in slumber reclining,
Maker and Monarch and Savior of all!

Shall we then yield thee, in costly devotion,
Odors of Edom and offerings divine?
Gems of the mountain and pearls of the ocean,
Myrrh from the forest, and gold from the mine?

Vainly we offer each ample oblation,
Vainly with gifts would thy favor secure;
Richer by far is the heart’s adoration,
Dearer to God are the prayers of the poor.

Brightest and best of the stars of the morning,
Dawn on God's people and lend us thine aid;
Star of the East, the horizon adorning,
Guide where our infant Redeemer is laid.

Reginald Heber, 1811; alt.
James P. Harding, 1892

Priest Reginald Heber wrote many hymns which were first published in the Anglican periodical Christian Observer. Later in life he was named Bishop of India, and while there he was pleased to hear this hymn "better than I ever heard (it) in a church before," sung during the dedication of a remote church near the Himalayas. It has since become one of the most well-known Epiphany hymns, sung across many denominations.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Elizabeth Rundle Charles

Elizabeth Rundle Charles (January 2, 1828 - March 28, 1896) was a popular author in Victorian England. Nicholas Smith, in Songs From the Hearts of Women (1903) writes that her books "covered a wide field, including fiction, travels, history, biography, general religious literature, translations from the Latin, Greek, Swedish, and German languages, poetry, and hymnology." Though she was an Anglican by birth, her interests and her education pursued broader Christian themes.

One of her greatest successes was a novel (published anonymously) about Martin Luther and the Reformation, The Chronicles of the Schön­berg-Cot­ta Fam­i­ly (1863); many of her other books were published as "by the author of" that novel, such as the one pictured above, Christian Life in England in the Olden Time (1866).

She translated hymns from several languages (and therefore several denominations), many of them appearing in The Voice of Christian Life in Song (1859). She writes in the introduction of that book:

"It is trusted that the treasures of sacred song, faintly reflected in these translations, may serve to illustrate that unity of faith which binds one age to another through the Communion of Saints."

Her translated hymns seem to have survived into modern times better than her original ones (e.g., three to none in the Episcopal Hymnal 1982), but I find her original texts very intriguing, such as this one.

Around a table, not a tomb,
Christ willed our gathering place to be;
When, going to prepare our home,
Our Savior said,"Remember me."

We kneel around no sculptured stone,
To mark the place where Jesus lay;
Empty the tomb, the angels gone,
The stone forever rolled away.

No, sculptured stones are for the dead!
The three sad days of death are o'er;
Thou art the Life, our living Head,
Our living Light forevermore!

Thus round thy table, not thy tomb,
We keep the sacred feast with thee;
Until within our promised home
Our endless gathering place shall be.

Elizabeth Rundle Charles, 1862; alt.
English traditional melody;
arr. Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1906

Probably one reason I like Charles is that she also wrote verse and prose about the women of the Bible. I've talked before about how so many of those women went unnamed, perhaps due to the unconscious sexism of the time the scriptures were written. In Songs Old and New (1887), she advances a different theory in this excerpt from her poem The Unnamed Women:

He would not have the sullied name
Once fondly spoken in a home,
A mark for strangers' righteous blame,
Branded through every age to come.

And thus we only speak of them
As those on whom His mercies meet --
"She whom the Lord would not condemn,"
And "She who bathed with tears His feet"

I don't actually agree with her (the motive is still somewhat sexist, though chivalrous instead of unthinking) but the theory is interesting nonetheless.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

More Voices Found: Bessie Porter Head

Elizabeth Ann Porter was born in Belfast on January 1, 1850. Very little is known about her younger life, but at some point she became involved with the Young Women's Christian Association and was the secretary of the Swansea branch in 1894. From 1897 to 1907 she served with the South Africa General Mission in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, and Johannesburg, helping to found South African branches of the YWCA. In 1907 she married the chairman of the SAGM, Albert Alfred Head, and returned to England. She and her husband, both evangelical Anglicans, were also members of the annual Keswick Convention.

Bessie, as she was known, wrote much religious verse as well as prose articles about her missionary experiences for the publications of the Convention and the SAGM. A collection of her verses, Heavenly Places and other Messages (1920) contained this one, a renewal hymn by a New Year baby.

O Breath of Life, come sweeping through us,
Revive your church with life and power;
O Breath of Life, come, heal, renew us,
Prepare our hearts to meet this hour.

O Wind of God, come thrill us, wake us,
Till humbly we confess our need;
Then in your tenderness remake us,
Revive, restore, for this we plead.

O Breath of Love, come breathe within us,
Renewing thought and will and heart;
Come, Love of Christ, afresh to win us,
Strengthen us now in every part.

O Heart of Christ, once broken for us,
Where we shall find our strength and rest;
Our broken, contrite hearts now solace,
And let our waiting souls be blest.

Revive us, God! Is zeal abating
While harvest fields are vast and white?
Revive us, God, the world is waiting,
Help us go forth to spread the light.

Bessie Porter Head, 1920; alt.
Mary Jane Hammond, 1920

Bessie continued to write religious verse until her death in 1936. More of her hymns appeared in the Keswick Hymn Book (1937). Unfortunately, almost nothing is known about composer Mary Jane Hammond.