Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Franz Joseph Haydn

I am celebrating the birthday of Franz Joseph Haydn (March 31, 1732 - May 31, 1809) in a slightly unique way -- tonight I will be at a rehearsal of his oratorio The Creation, which the choral group I sing with is performing at the end of April.

Last year I wrote about Haydn, including
one of the hymn tunes arranged from this oratorio. Here is the chorus The heavens are telling, from The Creation, from where the hymn tune CREATION is taken.

The performance is from June 2002, by the Symphony Orchestra of Sri Lanka & Chorus with members of the Amsterdam Chamber Orchestra & Bombay Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Lalanath de Silva.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

John Keble

John Keble (April 25, 1792 - March 28, 1866) is commemorated today in the Episcopal calendar of saints.

He attended Oxford University, where he was awarded double first class hono(u)rs for his academic performance. He was ordained in the Church of England in 1815 and returned to Gloucestershire as curate in his father's parish. He continued to serve in small churches for the rest of his career.

Keble's employment prospects (though not his renown or influence) may have been diminished by a famous sermon he preached at Oxford in 1833 titled National Apostasy. In it, he attacked what he saw as the Anglican Church's indifference to doctrine and lack of respect for bishops. The Oxford Movement was born on that day,with a new respect for the ministry, liturgy, and the sacraments, but it was not welcomed by everyone and was seen as "too Catholic."

In 1827 Keble published The Christian Year, a book of poems for each Sunday of the church calendar. This has been called the most popular book of religious poetry in the nineteenth century; it went through ninety-five editions in Keble's lifetime alone. Most of his hymn texts are taken from this book (usually shortened somewhat).

This familiar hymn was the second poem in The Christian Year, originally fourteen verses long.

Sun of my soul, thou Savior dear,
It is not night if thou be near;
O may no earthborn cloud arise
To hide thee from thy servant’s eyes.

Abide with me from morn till eve,
For without thee I cannot live;
Abide with me when night is nigh,
For without thee I dare not die.

Watch by the sick, enrich the poor
With blessings from thy boundless store;
Be every mourner’s sleep tonight,
Like infants’ slumbers, pure and light.

Come near and bless us when we wake,
Ere through the world our way we take,
Till in the ocean of thy love
We lose ourselves in heaven above.

John Keble, 1820; alt.
Tune: HURSLEY (L.M.)
Katholisches Gesangbuch, 1774

At one point I thought the original first verse should be restored:

'Tis gone, that bright and orbed blaze,
Fast fading from our wistful gaze;
Yon mantling cloud has hid from sight
The last, faint pulse of quivering light.

but now I think it's a bit fussy and better left out so that the more familiar first verse begins the hymn.

HURSLEY is named for the town in Hampshire where Keble was the vicar of All Souls Church for many years. Composer Herbert Oakeley wrote another tune, ABENDS, for this text because he thought HURSLEY was too close to the aria Se vuol ballare, from Mozart's opera The Marriage of Figaro. He wrote "... to hear Sun of my soul, thou Savi­our dear sung to a live­ly tune, un­suit­a­ble to sac­red words, had the ef­fect of driv­ing me out of church." The second edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern used ABENDS for the recommended tune, so it may be better known in the UK.

Friday, March 27, 2009

George Matheson

George Matheson was born in Glasgow, Scotland on March 27, 1842. As a child, his eyesight was weak, but it grew progressively worse until his college years, when he became blind. His sisters then learned Greek, Latin, and Hebrew so that they could help him in his divinity studies.

He was ordained in the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) in 1868 and gained a great reputation for his preaching, which attracted listeners from great distances. Queen Victoria invited him to preach at the parish church near Balmoral in 1885. Matheson's published works: sermons, theological studies, and poems and hymns (generally dictated to one or another of his sisters, though in later years he had a succession of male secretaries) were also very popular.

We have already seen his most familiar hymn, O love, that wilt not let me go. He later wrote of its creation:

It was the quickest bit of work I ever did in my life. I had the impression rather of having it dictated to me by some inward voice than of working it out myself. I am quite sure that the whole work was completed in five minutes, and equally sure that it never received at my hands any retouching or correction.

Well, except this one:

The Hymnal Committee of the Church of Scotland desired the change of one word. I had written originally 'I climbed the rainbow in the rain.' They objected to the word 'climb' and I put 'trace.'"

Some have said 'climb' might actually have been the better word after all; that 'climb' implies taking action rather than waiting for things to get better.

He published only one volume of poems and hymns, Sacred Songs (1890), which contained today's hymn. Matheson was fascinated by the religions of the world, writing a history of them in 1877: Growth of the Spirit of Christianity. He believed that each of them made a favorable contribution to society.

Gather us in, O Love that fillest all;
Gather our rival faiths within thy fold;
Rend each one’s temple veil, and bid it fall,
That we may know that thou hast been of old.

Gather us in —- we worship only thee;
In varied names we stretch a common hand;
In diverse forms a common soul we see;
In many ships we seek one spirit land.

Each sees one color of thy rainbow light,
Each looks upon one tint and calls it heaven;
Thou art the fullness of our partial sight;
We are not perfect till we find the seven.

Some seek a parent in the heav’ns above;
Some wish a human image to adore;
Some crave a spirit vast as life and love;
Within thy mansions we have all and more.

George Matheson, 1890; alt.
A Selection of Psalm Tunes, 1834

Denominations remain quite territorial in our day; I'm not sure that any but the Unitarians have included this hymn in their published hymnals.

The rainbow seems to have been an important image for Matheson; it appears in both these hymns. In a prayer from Moments on the Mount (1884), he writes "Show me that my tears have made my rainbows."

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Godfrey Thring

English hymn writer and hymnal editor Godfrey Thring was born on this day in 1823 in the town of Alford in Somerset. Years later, as an Anglican priest, he would return to the local church as rector for nine years.

In Popular Hymns and Their Writers, by Norman Mable, it's recorded that Thring wrote his first hymn when his mother complained that there were no good texts for a particular tune she liked -- they all required that the last line be repeated three times, which she thought ridiculous. The result of his effort was not mentioned, though presumably he was successful, judging by his further career in hymnody.

Thring published a few volumes of his own hymn texts, and also edited hymnals, most notably A Church of England Hymn-book (1880) which was considered by many hymnologists to contain the most literary collection of hymns available at that time.

Looking at a list of his works, you may discover that in many cases he was only adding a verse or two to someone else's hymn text (see here and here for examples), probably in line with his editorial work. His added verses (as well as many other textual revisions he made to various hymns) have come to be accepted as the "standard" version of those hymns (I should be so lucky).

While I considered each of the two above examples for today's hymn I decided to go with a less-familiar text that at least was entirely by Thring.

All that's good, and great, and true,
All that is and is to be,
Be it old, or be it new,
Comes, Creator, all from thee.

Mercies dawn with every day,
Newer, brighter than before,
And the sun's declining ray
Gathers others up in store.

Every blade and every tree,
All in happy concert ring,
And in wondrous harmony,
Join the cheerful birds to sing.

Far and near, o'er land and sea,
Mountain top and hidden dell,
All, in singing, sing of thee,
Songs of love unquenchable.

Fill us then with love divine,
Grant that we, though toiling here,
May, in spirit being thine,
Know and serve thee everywhere.

May we all with songs of praise,
Here on earth thy name adore,
Till with angel choir we raise
Songs of praise forevermore.

Godfrey Thring, 1874; alt.
Tune: EVELYN (
Emma Ashford, 1905

I have used this tune by Emma Ashford before when writing about her last fall. It suits this text quite well, and as it happens, Ashford's birthday is this Friday, so this is also in celebration of that occasion.

One Year Ago: The Feast of the Annunciation

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Fanny Crosby

More than eight thousand gospel songs are reputed to have come from the pen of Frances Jane Crosby, born today in 1820. Some estimates go even higher, though you can only see about five hundred listed at the Cyber Hymnal (fewer than ten percent of them!). Blinded as a child of six weeks by poor medical care, Crosby later entered the New York Institution for the Blind (still operating as the New York Institute for Special Education) in the Bronx. She was a student there for several years and later returned as a teacher of English and history.

She began writing poetry at the age of eight, and her first collection, The Blind Girl and Other Poems was published in 1844. The year before, she had traveled with a group from the school to Washington DC to lobby for better educational funding for the blind. While there, she became the first woman to speak on the floor of the US Congress when she read one of her poems (a tribute to the late Secretary of State Hugh Legare) before a joint session. She would return to Washington several times after that, visiting Presidents and other politicians. (Grover Cleveland had once been employed at the New York Institution for the Blind when Crosby was there.)

She published a few more collections of poetry, and in time began to write secular songs. Working with composer George Root she wrote The Flower Queen (1852), said to be the first American cantata. She collaborated with Root on several more songs which were very successful.

In 1863, William B. Bradbury asked her to write a hymn for a collection he was editing. There's a cry from Macedonia was published with music by Bradbury, and neither of them could have foreseen the career that was born. Before long nearly every new gospel songbook and Sunday School collection would include several texts by Fanny Crosby, with music by all the prominent composers of the time. She worked for many years for the publisher Biglow & Main, and would go to their offices to sit and write several texts each day. Eventually she began to write under pseudonyms (nearly 200 have been identified) because publishers didn't want their books to include so many songs by the same author.

She was an accomplished musician, and even wrote the music for a handful of her songs. In 1858 she married Alexander Van Alstyne, another blind musician who taught at the Institution. They were married for more than forty years, though they did not always live together. Fanny was often traveling around the country, lecturing, meeting with her fellow songwriters and composers, and doing various works of charity. She rarely received much remuneration for her hymns and songs, and what she got she usually gave away. By agreement with her husband she continued to be published as Fanny Crosby, the name by which she was best known, though some older hymnals credit her as Mrs. Van Alstyne for propriety's sake.

Several of her songs have already appeared here on the blog (click on the Crosby tag below), some of the most popular as well as more obscure ones. This one falls in the "more obscure" category but I found it interesting and somewhat different from many of her others. It first appeared in the Biglow & Main collection Brightest and Best (1875), and is adapted from the
first chapter of the book of Ruth. The Song of Ruth is a ancient poem of fidelity, part of a long progression of Biblical songs proclaimed by both women and men.

Entreat me not to leave thee,
My heart goes with thee now;
Why turn my footsteps homeward?
No friend so dear as thou!
Thy heart has borne my sorrow,
And I have wept for thine;
And now how can I leave thee?
Oh, let thy lot be mine.

Entreat me not to leave thee,
Entreat me not to leave thee,
Or to return from following after thee;
For where thou goest I will go,
And where thou lodgest I will lodge;
Thy people shall be my people,
And thy God my God,
Thy people shall be my people,
And thy God my God.

I’ll follow where thou leadest;
My love will cling to thee;
And where thy head is pillowed,
My nightly rest shall be;
Thy birthplace and thy kindred
I’ll cherish like my own;
Thy God shall be my refuge,
I’ll worship at God's throne.

Where death’s cold hand shall find thee,
There let my eyelids close,
And, in the grave beside thee,
This mortal frame repose:
Oh, do not now entreat me;
No friend so dear as thou;
My heart would break in anguish
If I should leave thee now.

Fanny Crosby, 1875
Tune: SONG OF RUTH ( with refrain)
Robert Lowry, 1875

I'm not sure if this song ever appeared in any other hymnals or songbooks, but given the tremendous number of texts by Fanny Crosby, editors always had new ones to consider. So it's not surprising that many interesting ones were set aside in favor of the most popular ones -- even those would be enough to fill a book or two. Similarly, her later songs, those written in the twentieth century, are also little-known.

Fanny published an autobiography in 1906, Memories of Eighty Years, which is almost as interesting for what she leaves out as for what she includes (for example, her marriage is covered in two paragraphs). She continued her work of songwriting and charity up until her death in 1915. For the last several years of her life she had lived in Bridgeport, CT, and her funeral there was the largest that city had seen, larger than that of P.T.Barnum, they said. Only a small stone reading "Aunt Fanny" and "She hath done what she could."originally marked her gravesite, but in 1955 the city erected a larger monument there with the words of Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine inscribed.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Temptation Sharp You Knew

This hymn actually encompasses the whole of Christ's life on earth, but I have always thought that the Lenten verses (2-4) were the most memorable.

O love, how deep, how broad, how high,
How passing thought and ecstasy,
That God should love us so, to take
Our mortal form for mortals’ sake!

For us baptized, for us you bore
Your holy fast and hungered sore,
For us temptation sharp you knew;
For us the tempter overthrew.

For us you prayed; for us you taught;
For us your daily works you wrought;
By words and signs and actions thus
Still seeking not yourself, but us.

For us to wicked hands betrayed,
Scourged, mocked, in purple robe arrayed,
You bore the shameful cross and death,
For us gave up your dying breath.

For us you rose from death again;
For us you went on high to reign;
For us you sent the Spirit here,
To guide, to strengthen, and to cheer.

All glory to our Savior God
For love so deep, so high, so broad,
The Trinity whom we adore
Forever and forevermore.

Latin, 15th c.; tr. Benjamin Webb, 1854
Grenoble Antiphoner, 1753;
adapt. Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1906, and others

This anonymous text is part of a longer poem of 23 verses, Apparuit benignitas. Translator Benjamin Webb was a close friend of John Mason Neale, and translated several verses for Neale's Hymnal Noted (1854).

The tune comes from a French church melody, first adapted as a modern hymn tune by Ralph Vaughan Williams for his English Hymnal (1906).

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Saint Joseph

March 19 is the feast day of St. Joseph. Though he appears in the early chapters of the life of Jesus, primarily in the Chirstmas story, his later life is unrecorded in scripture, and what we know about it comes from other sources.

Joseph fares about the same in hymnody. He has some lines in several Christmas hymns and carols, and a few more in hymns about the childhood of Christ, but not much beyond that. Most denominations that sing saints' day hymns don't include one for Joseph. It seems to me that I have seen a few contemporary (and therefore copyrighted) ones, but I couldn't even locate those when looking for a hymn for today.

But of course, the Roman Catholic Church has always venerated Joseph, though not to the level of his wife Mary. This hymn comes from the Catholic Church Hymnal of 1905. It was set there to this same melody, though a slightly different (obviously earlier) arrangement. Author Frederick William Faber was an Anglican priest who converted to Roman Catholicism in 1846. Joseph is still defined in relation to Mary and Jesus, but it's nominally his hymn at least.

Dear husband of Mary!
Dear nurse of her Child!
Life's ways are full weary,
The desert is wild;
Bleak sands are all 'round us,
No home can we see;
Sweet spouse of our Lady,
We lean upon thee.

For thou to the pilgrim
Art father and guide,
And Jesus and Mary
Felt safe by thy side;
Ah, blessed Saint Joseph,
How safe I should be,
Sweet spouse of our Lady,
If thou wert with me!

O blessed Saint Joseph!
How great was thy worth,
The one chosen shadow
Of God upon earth,
The father of Jesus!
Ah, then wilt thou be,
Sweet spouse of our Lady,
A father to me?

Thou hast not forgotten
The long, dreary road,
When Mary took turns with
Thee, bearing thy God;
Yet light was that burden,
None lighter could be;
Sweet spouse of our Lady,
Oh, canst thou bear me?

God chose thee for Jesus
And Mary; wilt thou
Forgive a poor exile,
For choosing thee now?
There is no saint in heaven
I worship like thee;
Sweet spouse of our Lady,
Ah, deign to love me!

Frederick W. Faber, 19th c.
German melody; 18th c.
arr. Sydney Nicholson, 1916

I probably wouldn't include this in a hymnal of my own, as it is quite unrestrainedly Catholic. But many of my readers don't come from a tradition of singing any saints' day hymns, so I suppose it is only a matter of degree.

A personal note: I was born in St. Joseph's Hospital in Savannah (only because my father was in the Air Force) and the nuns told my (non-Catholic) mother that I had to have at least one saint's name, so Joseph was chosen for the middle one. Which apparently makes this my sort-of name day.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Carl P. Daw, Jr.

Today is the birthday of Carl Pickens Daw, Jr., one of my favorite contemporary hymnwriters. Born in Louisville, KY in 1944, he taught for eight years at the College of William and Mary in Virginia before entering seminary. Following his ordination in the Episcopal Church he served congregations in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut.

While serving as an advisor to the Text Committee for the Episcopal Hymnal 1982 he began to write hymns of his own, some of which appeared in the final volume. He also wrote an essay on The Spirituality of Anglican Hymnody in the Hymnal 1982 Companion. He has served as Secretary and Chair of the Episcopal Standing Commission on Church Music. Since 1996 he has been the Executive Director of the
Hymn Society in the United States and Canada, serving as a sort of ambassador for hymnody who frequently lectures on the subject around the world. He will be retiring this coming fall from that position.

I would guess that most hymnals published in the last twenty years include at least some of his hymns. Recently here on the blog I referred to O day of peace that dimly shines, sung to C.H.H. Parry's tune JERUSALEM. Another popular hymn, Like the murmur of the dove's song, has also been sung by several denominations. If you go to the "hymnody" section of the
website of Hope Publishing and search on Daw's name you can see many of his other hymn texts (first you'll have to click on an agreement not to reproduce them, then find his name in the drop-down menu).

His texts are contemporary without being trendy, generally inclusive and welcoming, but grounded in scriptural reference. Hope Publishing has brought out four collections of his hymns, any of which would be worth your attention:

A Year of Grace: Hymns for the Church Year (1990)
To Sing God's Praise (1992)
New Psalms and Hymns and Spiritual Songs (1996)
Gathered for Worship (2006)

For more of his ideas on hymns and hymnody you can read his Thoughts About Choosing Hymns for Worship online, as well as an interview of sorts: Hymn Writing is Alive and Well.

Happy Birthday, Dr. Daw!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

And Humbly Follow After Me

Today's Lenten hymn was actually sung last week in many churches, as it was adapted from a section of one of the suggested lessons, Mark 8:31-36. The text is from the Episcopal Hymnal 1982, slightly modernized from its original version.

Take up your cross, the Savior said,
If you would my disciple be;
Take up your cross with willing heart,
And humbly follow after me.

Take up your cross, let not its weight
Fill your weak spirit with alarm;
My strength shall bear your spirit up,
And brace your heart and nerve your arm.

Take up your cross then in my strength,
And calmly every danger brave,
It guides you to abundant life,
And leads to victory o'er the grave.

Take up your cross and follow me,
Nor think till death to lay it down;
For only those who bear the cross
May hope to wear the glorious crown.

Charles W. Everest, 1833; alt.
Tune: BOURBON (L.M.)
attrib. Freeman Lewis, 19th c.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Paul Gerhardt

Paul Gerhardt (March 12, 1607 - June 7, 1676) was the first significant Lutheran hymnwriter after Martin Luther. Born in Germany near Wittenburg, he studied theology at the university there for several years during the Thirty Years War.

He began writing verse a few years after leaving his studies. His first eight hymns were published by Johann Cruger in his hymnal Praxis Pietatis Melica (1647). In 1651 Gerhardt was ordained in the Lutheran church and served several congregations. In Berlin, religious tensions were so high that pastors were forbidden by law to refer to doctrinal differences in their sermons. Gerhardt refused to comply and was dismissed from his job there.

In succeeding editions of Cruger's hymnal, more and more of Gerhardt's hymns were published. His hymns were known for their personal testimony and connection to Lutheran theology, as opposed to Luther's more doctrinal texts. Eventually he wrote more than 130 and many of them are still known today (not only in Lutheran churches). He also translated Latin hymns into German, the most well known being O sacred head, sore wounded.

Give to the winds your fears,
Hope and be undismayed.
God hears your sighs and counts your tears,
God shall lift up your head.
Through waves and clouds and storms,
God gently clears the way;
Wait for God's time; at last shall come
The perfect, promised day.

Still heavy is your heart?
Still sinks your spirit down?
Cast off the weight, let fear depart
And every care begone.
God everywhere has sway
And all things serve the right;
God's every act pure blessing is,
God's path life-giving light.

Far, far above all thought,
God's counsel shall appear,
When fully God the work has wrought,
That caused your needless fear.
Leave to God's sovereign will
To choose and to command;
With wonder filled, you then shall own
How wise, how strong God's hand.

Paul Gerhardt, 1656;
tr. John Wesley, 1737; alt.
George J. Elvey, 1868

P.S. For more on John Wesley (and his brother Charles), go back to March 3 for a "new" entry that I started on that day but didn't finish due to illness. Spent a few days in bed last week with bronchitis but I did want to get back to the Wesleys again at some point. (and there's a very important hymn!)

One Year Ago: Gregory the Great

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

John Bacchus Dykes

Composer and clergyman John Bacchus Dykes (March 10, 1823 - January 22, 1876) was born in England and began his musical career quite early, playing the organ at age 10 at the church in Hull where his grandfather was vicar.

His musical interests continued through his schooling, and in university he was known for writing and performing comic songs, but he reportedly abandoned them entirely upon ordination.

Unlike most of his Victorian composer contemporaries, he was ordained in the Church of England and occupied a number of clerical positions instead of becoming an organist. He did write some anthems and church music, but is primarily known for his hymn tunes, reportedly over 300. We have already heard a number of them here (click on his name in the tags below this entry) but this is one of his most-loved.

Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who biddest the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

O Christ! Whose voice the waters heard
And hushed their raging at thy word,
Who walked upon the foaming deep,
And calm amidst its rage did sleep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

Most Holy Spirit! Who didst brood
Upon the chaos dark and rude,
And bid its angry tumult cease,
To give, for wild confusion, peace;
Oh, hear us when we cry to thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

O Trinity of love and power!
Our people shield in danger’s hour;
From rock and tempest, fire and foe,
Protect us wheresoe'er we go;
Thus evermore shall rise to thee
Glad hymns of praise from land and sea.

William Whiting, 1860; alt.
Tune: MELITA (
John Bacchus Dykes, 1861

In the US, this is generally known as the Navy Hymn, and there have also been various adaptations and new verses written for other branches of the military service. I think it's helpful to remember its origins, from a time when long distance travel was often by sea, and when more people gained their livelihood from the ocean. Think of this hymn being sung a hundred years ago by a small congregation in a coastal fishing village and it becomes even more alive.

Dykes wrote
each of his tunes for a particular text, though over the years many of them have come to be sung with different texts. Seven of his tunes were published anonymously in the first edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861), including this one.(named for the location of a Biblical shipwreck in Acts 28, which we know know as Malta). Dykes was then invited to join the committee that produced the first revision of A&M, and fifty-six of his tunes appeared in the new edition of 1875.

His tunes would appear in every English hymnal published after that, and for the next fifty years following, usually more of them than any other composer. Even Vaughan Williams could not leave Dykes wholly out of The English Hymnal (1906) and Songs of Praise (1925), much as he disliked the tunes of the Victorians. Dykes is nearly as popular in American hymnals of the 1870-1920 period, and still today a number of his tunes are regularly sung.

It's interesting to compare him with Phoebe Knapp. Roughly contemporaries, though one is English and one American; one writing "standard" hymn tunes and one gospel songs, they both composed a large number of tunes and were very popular and renowned in their time. Yet the tunes of Dykes were taken up in dozens and dozens of later hymnals while most of Knapp's tunes never made it out of the ones they were originally printed in.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Phoebe Palmer Knapp

Composer Phoebe Knapp was born in New York City on March 9, 1839. Her mother, the evangelist (and hymnwriter) Phoebe Worrall Palmer made sure that young Phoebe and her sister Sarah were brought up in a strict (if unconventional) Methodist home.

At sixteen, Phoebe married Joseph Knapp, a successful businessman seven years older, and moved to Brooklyn. His lithography firm first made him a millionnaire, after that he was one of the founders of the Metropolitan Life Insurance company. The Knapps became popular members of Brooklyn society and were very involved in Methodist causes and charities. Phoebe played the organ at St. John's Methodist Church, near their Brooklyn mansion, where the Knapps hosted four US Presidents, Methodist bishops, and New York elites. These gatherings, gaining the reputation of a sort of salon, were somewhat different from the evangelical ones for which her mother was known.

Phoebe's musical interests always included composing, and she wrote tunes for several of her mother's hymns. Phoebe the mother edited a monthly magazine, the Guide to Holiness, which included a new hymn in each issue and many of the tunes were by daughter Knapp. She went on to compose for many of the most well-known gospel song writers of the day. Fanny Crosby was a dear friend, and the two women often worked together in the elaborate music room that Joseph Knapp had built for his wife.

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine will always be their most popular song. This is another Phoebe & Fanny collaboration which also happens to be appropriate for Lent.

“Nearer the cross!” my heart can say
I am coming nearer,
Nearer the cross from day to day,
I am coming nearer;
Nearer the cross where Jesus died,
Nearer the fountain’s crimson tide,
Nearer my Savior’s wounded side,
I am coming nearer,
I am coming nearer.

Nearer the Christian’s mercy seat,
I am coming nearer;
Feasting my soul on manna sweet
I am coming nearer;
Stronger in faith, more clear I see
Jesus, who gave himself for me;
Nearer to Christ I still would be,
Still I’m coming nearer
Still I’m coming nearer.

Nearer in prayer my hope aspires,
I am coming nearer;
Deeper the love my soul desires,
I am coming nearer;
Nearer the end of toil and care,
Nearer the joy I long to share,
Nearer the crown I soon shall wear;
I am coming nearer;
I am coming nearer.

Fanny Crosby, 19th c.; alt.
Phoebe Knapp, 19th c.

Phoebe is supposed to have composed around five hundred tunes for gospel songs, some parlor music, and Prince of Peace, a cantata. She also edited two collections of songs for Sunday schools, with the first one, Notes of Joy for the Sabbath-school (1869), containing one hundred of her own pieces. A Woman of the Century (1893), a collection of biographical sketches by Frances W. Willard, proclaims of Knapp "She writes music, not as a profession, but as an inspiration." However, business-minded husband Joseph made sure that all her music was copyrighted.

I've located only sixteen of her tunes thus far, though that's twice as many as you can see at the Cyber Hymnal site linked above. Still looking for more!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Once More From Earth to Sky

We can see the Lenten theme of repentance in today's hymn, though it was not written for that purpose. Poet, journalist, and playwright Clifford Bax wrote this text in hopes of a better future during World War I, supposedly the "war to end all wars."

Turn back, turn back, forswear thy foolish ways.
Old now is earth, and none may count its days.
Yet humankind, whose head is crowned with flame,
Still wilt not hear thine inner God proclaim,
“Turn back, turn back, forswear thy foolish ways.”

Earth might be fair, all people glad and wise.
Age after age their tragic empires rise,
Built while they dream, and in that dreaming weep:
Would we but wake from out our haunted sleep,
Earth might be fair, all people glad and wise.

Earth shall be fair, and all its people one:
Nor till that hour shall God’s whole will be done.
Now, even now, once more from earth to sky,
Peals forth in joy that old undaunted cry—
“Earth shall be fair, and all its folk be one!”

Clifford Bax, 1916; alt.
OLD 124th (
Genevan Psalter, 1551

If these words seem familiar to you but you can't place them as a hymn, you may be remembering them from the musical Godspell, which used material from many sources older than its 1970s origin.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

John and Charles Wesley

The calendars of some denominations mark today in honor of John and Charles Wesley, eighteenth-century Anglican ministers who were instrumental in spreading the Methodist faith throughout the United Kingdom.

John Wesley is regarded as one of the founders of the Methodist Church, though he himself insisted that he always remained a member of the Church of England. Much more has been written about his theology and his history than can be easily covered here. He worked closely with his younger brother Charles in spreading his beliefs, and both men saw hymns as opportunities for teaching. John translated many hymns from other languages, while Charles wrote original texts (though edited by John). The brothers issued eight collections of hymns between 1739 and 1746 alone.

Charles Wesley is said to have written more than 6,500 hymns, of which a very large number are still known today. That many hymns would have to encompass a large number of subjects; the hymnologist John Julian writes of Charles:

His feelings on every occasion of importance, whether private or public, found their best expression in a hymn. His own conversion, his own marriage, the earthquake panic, the rumours of an invasion from France, the defeat of Prince Charles Edward at Culloden, the Gordon riots, every Festival of the Christian Church, every doctrine of the Christian Faith, striking scenes in Scripture history, striking scenes which came within his own view, the deaths of friends as they passed away, one by one, before him, all furnished occasions for the exercise of his divine gift.

He sometimes wrote hymn texts that would suggest other works familiar to his followers. One of his best-known hymns was intended to evoke memories of the poet John Dryden's ode to England, Fairest isle, all isles excelling. Wesley's text has now far outlived Dryden's, being sung across many denominations around the world and to many different tunes. Though I would not go so far as to call this my favorite hymn, I do think that it is one of the most perfect hymns ever written.

Love divine, all loves excelling,
Joy of heaven, to earth come down;
Fix in us thy humble dwelling;
All thy faithful mercies crown!
Jesus, thou art all compassion,
Pure unbounded love thou art;
Visit us with thy salvation;
Enter every trembling heart.

Breathe, O breathe thy loving Spirit,
Into every troubled breast!
Let us all in thee inherit;
Let us find thy promised rest.
Take away our heedless sinning;
Alpha and Omega be;
End of faith, as its beginning,
Set our hearts at liberty.

Come, Almighty to deliver,
Let us all thy life receive;
Suddenly return and never,
Never more thy temples leave.
Thee we would be always blessing,
Serve thee as thy hosts above,
Pray and praise thee without ceasing,
Glory in thy perfect love.

Finish, then, thy new creation;
Pure and spotless let us be.
Let us see thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in thee;
Changed from glory into glory,
Till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before thee,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise.

Charles Wesley, 1747 ; alt.
Rowland Hugh Prichard, c.1830

The second verse is often left out since John Wesley left it out of his 1780 collection Hymns for the Use of the People Called Methodists, but I have always liked it.

Charles Wesley's hymns have been sung by many different denominations, but naturally the Methodists are the most avid users; their hymnals generally contain more of Wesley's texts than any other author's.

The stained glass window above depicts Charles at the organ, with this hymn at his feet, but I'm not sure which of the other figures is John. It's possible that John is behind Charles, bestowing his favor on the man in the center, perhaps Thomas Coke, named by John as the first Methodist bishop in the US. However, both John and Charles did travel to America and spent time in Georgia. The window is from the World Methodist Museum in Lake Junaluska, NC.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Crystal of the Snow

It's March and I was really looking forward to spring. Unfortunately, we've had more snow, and not the kind that will melt away in a day or so. I really need a hymn today to give me a different perspective on winter.

All beautiful the march of days,
As seasons come and go;
The hand that shaped the rose hath wrought
The crystal of the snow;
Hath sent the hoary frost of heav'n,
The flowing waters sealed,
And laid a silent loveliness
On hill and wood and field.

O'er white expanses sparkling pure
The radiant morns unfold;
The solemn splendors of the night
Burn brighter through the cold;
Life mounts in every throbbing vein,
Love deepens round the hearth,
And clearer sounds the angel hymn,
"Good will to all on earth."

O thou from whose unfathomed law
The year in beauty flows,
Thyself the vision passing by
In crystal and in rose,
Day unto day doth utter speech,
And night to night proclaim,
In ever-changing words of light,
The wonder of thy name.

Frances Whitmarsh Wile, 1911; alt.
English folk melody,
arr. Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1906

"The flowing waters sealed" sounds so much better than "ice." And the "silent loveliness / On hill and wood and field" doesn't have to be shoveled.

Frances Whitmarsh Wile wrote this hymn at the request of her friends William Channing Gannett and Frederick Lucian Hosmer, who were preparing an updated edition of their Unity Hymns and Chorals (first published in 1889) and wanted a hymn about winter. There was another verse in its first publication which was left out of later hymnals, perhaps because it takes the hymn a bit out of its winter theme.

O glory of the winter-land!
The peace of nature's rest!
And sweet the dream of coming spring
That stirs within its breast.
On move the resurrection hours,
The Easter heralds throng --
Till sudden bursts the miracle
Of blossom and of song!

But as with Lent, we want to hear about the other side of winter, and Easter provides a promise for both.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Our True and Living Way

The spiritual journey of Lent can be a difficult one. We talk about Christ's discipline in the wilderness, resisting temptation. As we follow our own desert roads during this season, we need to know that we will come out the other side, that better things are in store for us. Easter always follows.

This little-known hymn of Lenten journeying is being sung in at least one church I know of today (not mine). The tune is somewhat bleak, but the message is hopeful.

Thirsting for a living spring,
Seeking for a higher home,
Resting where our souls must cling,
Trusting, hoping, Christ, we come.

In our weakness and distress,
Rock of strength, be thou our stay;
In the pathless wilderness,
Be our true and living Way.

Glorious hopes our spirits fill
When we feel that thou art near,
When our many fears are still,
Then the soul's bright rest is clear.

Make us beautiful within
By thy Spirit's holy light;
Guard us when our faith is dim,
Fountain of all love and might.

Life's hard conflict we would win,
Read the meaning of life's frown;
Change the thornbound wreath of sin
For the Spirit's starry crown.

Francis Parker Appleton, 1846; alt.
(v.2 Henry Downton, 1841)
Tune: HALLE (
The Psalmist, 1830