Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Saint Michael and All Angels

Today is The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, also called Michaelmas. Four of the most well-known archangels are pictured above, Michael (second from the left, holding his spear over the dragon), Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel, in a window from the church of St. Michael and All Angels in Hughenden, England. At the lectionary link above you can read about those four as well as the nine established orders, or choirs, of angels, most of which are referenced in today's hymn (see if you can tell which are left out!). John Mason Neale translated this hymn from the original Greek text of Saint Joseph the Hymnographer.

Stars of the morning, so gloriously bright,
Filled with celestial splendor and light,
These that, where night never followeth day,
Raise the "Thrice Holy” song ever and aye.

These are thy ministers, these dost thou own,
God of creation, the nearest thy throne;
These are thy messengers, these dost thou send,
Help of the helpless ones! us to defend.

These keep the guard 'midst Jerusalem's bowers,
Thrones, Principalities, Virtues and Powers,
Where, with the Living Ones, mystical Four,
Cherubim, Seraphim, bow and adore.

“Who like the Lord?” thunders Michael the chief;
Raphael, God's healing pow'r, comforteth grief;
And, as at Nazareth, prophet of peace,
Gabriel, the light of God, bringeth release.

Then, when the earth was first poised in mid space,
Then, when the planets first sped on their race,
Then, when were ended the six days’ employ,
Then all the angel choirs shouted for joy.

Still let them succor us; still let them fight,
God of angelic hosts, battling for right;
Till, where their anthems they ceaselessly pour,
We with the angels may bow and adore.

St. Joseph the Hymnographer, 9th cent.
tr. John Mason Neale, 1862; alt.
Henry T. Smart, 1868

This tune by Henry Smart, written for this text in the 1868 revision of Hymns Ancient and Modern, is named for the Trisagion, the "thrice holy" song referenced in the last line of the first stanza.

One Year Ago: Saint Michael and All Angels

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Creation Speaks In Praise

Today we look at another hymn that is generally used at the opening of a service. It comes from Jewish origins, but has appeared (in one form or another) in many Christian hymnals as well over the last century.

Praise to the living God!
All praisèd be the Name,
Which was, and is, and is to be,
And still the same!
The one eternal God,
Ere aught that now appears;
The first, the last: beyond all thought,
God's timeless years!

Formless, all lovely forms
Declare this loveliness;
Holy, no holiness of earth
Can God express.
Lo, God is over all,
Creation speaks in praise,
And everywhere, above, below,
God's will obeys.

God's spirit floweth free,
High surging where it will;
In prophet’s word God spoke of old;
And speaketh still.
Established is God's law,
And changeless it shall stand,
Deep writ upon the human heart,
On sea or land.

Eternal life hath God
Implanted in the soul;
This love shall be our strength and stay,
While ages roll.
Praise to the living God!
All praisèd be the Name,
Which was, and is, and is to be,
And still the same.

Daniel ben Judah, 14th cent.
tr. Newton Mann and Max Landsberg, c. 1885
adapt. William Channing Gannett, 1910; alt.
Tune: LEONI (
Synagogue melody; adapt, Meyer Leoni, c. 1770

Daniel ben Judah lived in Rome in the fourteenth century. He was a Jewish liturgical poet and a judge, and wrote the original text of this hymn, called the Yigdal, which summarized the thirteen basic articles of the Jewish faith as established by Maimonides. It was originally sung in alternating verses by the cantor and synagogue congregation.

Around 1770, Thomas Olivers, a follower of John Wesley, heard the Yigdal at the Duke's Place Synagogue in London, sung by the congregation's cantor, Meyer Leoni (or Lyon), and was so impressed that he wrote a hymn, The God of Abraham praise, partially taken from the Yigdal but with several Christian references added, and written for the tune that Leoni sang. Olivers's version has appeared in many hymnals, though generally not including all twelve stanzas.

A century later, Unitarian minister Newton Mann collaborated with his friend, the rabbi Max Landsberg, on a more faithful versified translation of the Yigdal, but it was not in the same meter as Leoni's tune. Some years later, William Channing Gannett adapted the Mann/Landsberg translation into this meter, to be used with this tune. Some hymnals use this version, some the earlier version by Olivers, and some have even used versions including stanzas from both.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Saint Matthew

He sat to watch o’er customs paid,
A man of scorned and hard’ning trade;
Alike the symbol and the tool
Of foreign masters’ hated rule.

But grace within his breast had stirred;
There needed but the timely word;
It came, dear Jesus Christ, from thee,
That blessed summons, “Follow me.”

He rose, responsive to the call,
And left his task, his gains, his all.
O wise exchange! with these to part
And lay up treasure in his heart.

Who keep thy gifts, O bid them claim
The steward’s, not the owner’s name;
Who yield all up for thy dear sake,
Let them of Matthew’s wealth partake.

William Bright, 1889; alt.
Tune: NEW YORK (L.M.)
T. Tertius Noble, 1917

One Year Ago: Saint Matthew

Friday, September 18, 2009

Oliver Holden

Oliver Holden, born today in 1765 in eastern Massachusetts, was involved in many fields in addition to music. He served a year in the military, which provided him with an annual pension. He learned carpentry after his town was burnt by the British in the Revolutionary War, and helped to rebuild it. He also became a real estate broker, later opened a music store and a singing school, and served in the state legislature.

He gave land to a Baptist congregation for them to build a church, and worshipped with them for some years, but eventually left and became the pastor of his own Puritan congregation.

We know him best today as a composer; he authored books of hymn and tunes and songs beginning with American Harmony (1792) and Union Harmony (1793). One tune from the latter book,
CORONATION, appears in nearly every American hymnal to the present day with All hail the power of Jesus' name. It's the oldest American tune still in regular use.

Holden wrote several hymn texts as well, and since we have had a larger number of composers lately we should look at one of those.

All who seek the throne of grace,
Find that throne in every place;
When we live a life of prayer,
God is present everywhere.

In our sickness or our health,
In our want or in our wealth,
When we look to God in prayer,
God is present everywhere.

When our earthly comforts fail,
When the foes of life prevail,
Then we look to God in prayer;
God is present everywhere.

Then, my soul, in every care,
Supplicating words prepare;
God will answer every prayer;
God is present everywhere.

Oliver Holden, 1835; alt.
John D. Farrer, 19th cent.

In 1789, on the occasion of a visit by George Washington to Boston, Holden wrote the words and music to a celebratory ode which contained the lines

Now in full chorus burst the song
And shout the deeds of Washington.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Horatio W. Parker

Horatio William Parker (September 15, 1863–December 18, 1919) is generally considered the finest American composer of his time, though of course there was a definite preference for European composers back then. From a review of one of his chamber music pieces:

Mr. Horatio W. Parker, as our readers may know, is one of the most competent of that much advertised but little heard class, the American composer -- so competent that he is good enough to travel simply as composer, without any stilts of Americanism.

During his long tenure as music professor and later as dean of the music department at Yale University, he continued to compose much church music, and for many of those years he still commuted to Boston on weekends, serving as the organist at Trinity Church, and later to New York City, at the Collegiate Church of St. Nicholas. He edited a hymnal for use at Yale in which he and his fellow professor Harry Jepson arranged all the tunes for men's voices.

Parker's several hymn tunes mostly appeared in the Episcopal hymnals of 1892 and 1916, but a few made their way into other books. This one was composed specifically for this interesting text by Horatius Bonar that deserves to be better known.

Jesus, Sun and Shield art thou;
Sun and Shield forever:
Never canst thou cease to shine,
Cease to guard us never.
Cheer our steps as on we go,
Come between us and the foe.

Jesus, Love and Life art thou,
Life and Love forever:
Ne’er to quicken shalt thou cease,
Or to love us never.
All of life and love we need
Is in thee, in thee indeed.

Jesus, Peace and Joy art thou,
Joy and Peace forever:
Joy that fades not, changes not,
Peace that leaves us never.
Joy and peace we have in thee,
Now and through eternity.

Jesus, Song and Strength art thou,
Strength and Song forever:
Strength that never can decay,
Song that ceaseth never.
Still to us this strength and song
Through eternal days prolong.

Horatius Bonar, 1861
Horatio W. Parker, 1895

One Year Ago: Horatio W. Parker

Monday, September 14, 2009

More Voices Found: Jane Fox Crewdson

This year is the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of poet Jane Fox Crewdson. She was born in Cornwall in October 1809, but the exact date went unrecorded, so I'm marking the date of her death in 1863. Like several other women poets and hymnwriters, she suffered from poor health, and was an invalid for many years. Very little more is known about her, unfortunately. Her poetry was published in at least four collections, and the most popular of these was Aunt Jane's Verses for Children (1851) which is still in print today. Several of her poems were later published as hymns.

It may be that during the Moody and Sankey evangelistic crusade to England in the 1870s that Ira Sankey encountered Crewdson's verse. He wrote tunes for at least two of her texts, including this one.

I’ve found a joy in sorrow, a tender balm for pain,
A beautiful tomorrow of sunshine after rain;
I’ve found a branch of healing near every bitter spring;
A whispered promise stealing o’er every broken string,
A whispered promise stealing o’er every broken string.

I’ve found a glad hosanna for every woe and wail;
A handful of sweet manna when earthly strength may fail;
I’ve found a Rock of Ages when desert wells are dry;
And, after weary stages, I’ve found a solace nigh,
And, after weary stages, I’ve found a solace nigh.

I rest within its coolness, its fountains, and its shade;
With blessing in its fullness, when buds of promise fade;
And o'er this recognition there shines a rainbow light,
A glory and fruition, so near! yet out of sight,
A glory and fruition, so near! yet out of sight.

My Savior, thee possessing, I have the joy, the balm,
The healing and the blessing, the sunshine and the psalm;
The promise for the fearful, the solace for the faint,
The rainbow for the tearful, the glory for the saint!
The rainbow for the tearful, the glory for the saint!

Jane Fox Crewdson, 1864; alt.
Ira D, Sankey, 19th cent.

One Year Ago: Jesus Christ, eternal Savior

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Catherine Winkworth

Hymn translator Catherine Winkworth was born today in 1827 in London, and moved to Manchester at a young age, where she spent much of the rest of her life. Her interest in translating German hymns of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was perhaps sparked by the gift of a book (with the generic title Andachtsbuch, or "devotional book") containing some of these hymns, which she received from Christian Karl Bunsen, a family friend who also happened to be the British ambassador to Germany.

Catherine, assisted by her sister Susanna, published two volumes of hymn translations from German titled Lyra Germanica. The first, in 1855, contained 103 hymns, and the second, in 1858, contained 131. These books contained only the texts. In 1863, with the assistance of musical editors
William Sterndale Bennett and Otto Goldschmidt, Catherine published The Chorale Book for England, which paired many of her translations to their original German tunes.

Several of her translations have already appeared here (click on her name in the tags below). This familiar hymn is adapted from one of her best known translations from a hymn by Joachim Neander, published in the Chorale Book with its original German tune arranged by Sterndale Bennett. She retained the original meter which is quite unusual for a hymn in English: two very long lines (14 syllables!) followed by a very short line of four syllables and then finished with two lines relatively normal in length. I don't think there is another tune that would fit it.

Praise be to God, the Almighty, who rules all creation!
O my soul, worship the wellspring of health and salvation!
Join the great throng,

Psaltery, organ, and song;
Sound forth your glad adoration.

Praise be to God, who o'er all things is wondrously reigning,
And as on wings of an eagle, uplifting, sustaining!
Have you not seen

All that is needful has been
Sent by God's gracious ordaining?

Praise be to God, who will prosper your work and defend you;
Surely God's goodness and mercy here daily attend you;
Ponder anew

What the Almighty can do,
Who with great love shall befriend you.

Praise be to God, O forget not God's manifold graces!
Each that has life and breath, one song of gratitude raises;
Let the Amen

Sound from God's people again,
Singing forever God's praises.

Joachim Neander, 1680
tr. Catherine Winkworth, 1863; alt.
Ander Theil des Erneuerten Gesangbuch, 1665

harm. William Sterndale Bennett, 1864

Winkworth's four-stanza translation (fairly free to begin with, according to contemporaneous sources) has been altered in several different ways by several generations of hymnal editors, but the sense is the same. In the English Hymnal (1906) there were three additional stanzas added which were not from the German original, and perhaps written by Percy Dearmer. This is the best of them, I think (though I probably wouldn't add it in myself):

Praise be to God, who, when tempests their warfare are waging,
Who, when the elements madly around you are raging,
Bids them to cease,
Turning their fury to peace,
Whirlwinds and waters assuaging.

One Year Ago: Catherine Winkworth

Friday, September 11, 2009

Harry Thacker Burleigh

Earlier this summer, the General Conference of the Episcopal Church added several persons to be commemorated on the church calendar, including some additional musicians and hymnwriters, which puts them on our calendar here.

Composer Henry "Harry" Thacker Burleigh is marked today, one day before the anniversary of his death (though some sources erroneously show his death as December 12). Burleigh was born and raised in Erie, Pennsylvania, where he sang in a quartet with his brother and two sisters as a young teen, then in high school he joined the newly established Choir of Men and Boys at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. Paul in Erie. Over the next few years, Burleigh performed as a baritone soloist in several area churches and synagogues, as well as for community organizations.

In 1892 he moved to New York City, having won a scholarship to the National Conservatory of Music, and his first chance to receive formal musical training. He became friendly with the school's director, the composer Antonin Dvorak, and became Dvorak's assistant in 1893, copying out the instrumental parts from the manuscript of the New World Symphony. Some sources credit Burleigh's friendship with Dvorak with the elder composer's use of themes in that symphony which evoke African-American spirituals, though Dvorak apparently never confirmed that assumption.

In 1894, Harry Burleigh became the baritone soloist at St. George's Episcopal Church in New York over the objections of many in the congregation who were not comfortable with an African-American song leader. However, he was to remain in that post for the next fifty-two years, reportedly missing only one Sunday. In 1900 he also became the first black soloist at the NYC synagogue Temple Emanu-El. During these years he also began to compose, but his compositions took second place to his concert career for the next several years.

In 1911 he began working as an editor in the New York office of G. Ricordi and Company, an Italian music publisher. He took more of an interest in composing after this, and also in exploring the tradition of the spiritual. He compiled, arranged, and published Jubilee Songs of the United States (1916) and Old Songs Hymnal (1929) which collected more than a hundred spirituals that had not been published before. His arrangements of spirituals, both for soloists and for chorus are still sung today, such as this one.

Burleigh also composed instrumental music, and was renowned for his art songs. He was a charter member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) and later served on its board of directors.

In the Episcopal Hymnal 1940, his hymn tune McKEE was first published with the John Oxenham text In Christ there is no east or west. McKEE was based on the spiritual I know the angel's done changed my name, and named for the Reverend Elmore McKee, the then-current rector of St. George's. You may have sung it; it was published in several hymnals after that.

Harry Burleigh retired as St. George's baritone soloist in 1946 at the age of eighty, two years before his death. A posthumous tribute in the church's newsletter declared He seemed aware of deeper tones of brotherhood and throbbing harmonies of humanity which others did not hear.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Henry Purcell

Today is the 350th birthday of composer Henry Purcell. He was born in London, not far from Westminster Abbey, where he would be organist for many years and where he was eventually buried. His father was a well-known singer and his younger brother Daniel was also a composer (who completed the music for the “semi-opera” The Indian Queen after Henry's death).

Purcell's musical teachers included composers Pelham Humfrey and John Blow, though his talent and fame would eventually outstrip theirs. His composing career was somewhat bookended by associations with people in the “hymn business” (technically, in Purcell's time, it was really still the “psalm business”). Some of his earlier secular compositions appeared in books published by John Playford, whose most relevant book here is probably The Whole Book of Psalmes (1661), which contained some psalm tunes that were sung for a few hundred years thereafter. Toward the end of his life, Purcell's short opera Dido and Aeneas (1689) was written to a libretto by Nahum Tate, who with Nicholas Brady wrote A New Version of the Psalms of David (1696), the psalter that became the most widely used in English-speaking countries; some of the Tate and Brady psalms are still sung today.

While Purcell did not write four-part hymn tunes as we know them, some of his music was later arranged to be used with hymn texts, such as (perhaps) this one.

In the beginning was the Word:
Amid chaotic night
It gleamed with quick creative pow'r
And there was life and light!

Thy Word, O God, is living yet,
Amid earth's restless strife
New harmony creating still,
And ever higher life.

O Word that broke the stillness first,
Sound on! and never cease,
Till all earth's shadows be made light
And all its discord peace!

Till, wail of woe and clank of chain
And heat of battle stilled,
The world with thy great music's pulse,
O Word of Love! be thrilled.

Till selfish passion, strife, and wrong
Thy summons shall have heard,
And thy creation be complete,
O thou Eternal Word!

Samuel Longfellow, 1864; alt.
from Henry Purcell, 17th cent. (?)

This tune was first published in 1721 in the elaborately-titled A Choice Collection of Psalm Tunes, Hymns and Anthems, For the Delight and Improvement of All who are Truly Lovers of Divine Musick. The book was compiled by William Anchors, who neglected to identify the composers of any of the pieces. Some later sources then attributed the tune to Purcell, while others continued to identify the tune as “anonymous.” Since it is associated with Henry Purcell in many places, I'll claim it for today.

One Year Ago: Henry Purcell

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Many Names of God

God's many names as expressed in the hymns we sing is one of the ongoing themes here, though I've never made this too explicit. The poetic expressions of hymnwriters through the ages use many different names for God, some found in scripture, some not.

We know the familiar names: Father, Creator, Maker, Son, Redeemer, Holy Spirit, Holy Ghost, Comforter. Love is a name given to God in many hymns. Modern hymnwriting is especially fond of “new”
names for God, but I hope we've seen here that “modern” ideas are often not as modern as we think. Some of the hymns we've seen here already have named God in these other ways:


Shield and Defender

Protecting Power

Breath of Life


Eternal Loveliness

Grace Divine

and the sometimes controversial (elsewhere, but never here)

Here's another one, by the Unitarian
Seth Curtis Beach, primarily known for his book Daughters of the Puritans (1905) a collection of biographical essays on women writers of New England.

Mysterious Presence, Source of all --
The world without, the soul within,
O Fount of life, hear thou our call,
And pour thy living waters in!

Thou breathest in the rushing wind;
Thy Spirit stirs in leaf and flower;
Nor wilt thou from the willing mind
Withhold thy light and love and power.

Thy hand unseen to accents clear
Awoke the psalmist’s trembling lyre,
And touched the lip of holy seer
With flame from thine own altar fire.

That touch divine, O God, impart;
Still give the prophet’s burning word;
And, vocal in each waiting heart,
Let living psalms of praise be heard.

Seth Curtis Beach, 1866; alt.
William Knapp, 1738

Mysterious Presence may not be considered sufficiently orthodox a name for some, but this hymn has not been confined solely to Unitarian Universalist hymnals (the list at that link is actually incomplete; the rest of them are here). We will revisit this theme again, perhaps with more emphasis, but if you think about it, you can probably come up with a few uncommon names from hymns you already know. Please feel free to mention them in the comments section!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Amy Beach

Composer Amy Marcy Cheney Beach was born today in 1867 in New Hampshire. Her musical talent was apparent from an early age; reportedly she sang improvised harmony to her mother's melody line at the age of two, began composing (in some fashion or other) at four, and played her first piano recital at seven.

She composed in many different forms, symphony, opera, chamber music, choral music and songs, and of course a few hymn tunes. Many of her works have been recorded, though there are many more still to be heard by modern audiences.

Last year there were no performances of her choral work available for you to hear on YouTube, but one has finally turned up, her anthem Let this mind be in you (the text taken from Philippians 2:5-11, if you want to follow along). Thanks to the Gallery Choir of St. Peter's Catholic Church, Columbia, SC.

In 1921, Beach first went to stay for a period at the MacDowell Colony in her native New Hampshire, and she returned for many summer stays after that, eventually serving on the board of directors. Even during her final years, when her health rarely allowed her to leave New York, she made an effort to attend the official annual meetings. After her death in 1944, her will granted the ongoing proceeds from royalties on her copyrighted works to the colony.

One Year Ago: Amy Beach

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Queen Liliuokalani

Today is the 171st birthday of Queen Liliuokalani, the last royal ruler of Hawaii. She composed more than 165 songs and chants, several during her imprisonment in the Iolani Palace following the overthrow of her government by US interests acting without federal authorization.

In 1898 she published Hawaii's Story by Hawaii's Queen, which was a combined history and autobiography. Regarding her music, she wrote:

To compose was as natural to me as to breathe; and this gift of nature, never having been suffered to fall into disuse, remains a source of the greatest consolation...

Her most famous song was Aloha Oe (Farewell to Thee), a song about two lovers parting. The melody of this song (which you can hear online) was later adapted into at least three gospel songs:

Go and Tell (1916)
(arrangement by Clarence Kohlman, words by C. Austin Miles)

He's Coming Soon (1918)
(words and arrangement by Thoro Harris)

He Lives on High (1921)
(words and arrangement by B.B. McKinney)

Liliuokalani's melody is also said to bear a resemblance to two songs by Charles Crozat Converse (Rock Beside the Water) and George Root (There's Music in the Air).

In 1896 she was baptized and confirmed into the Episcopal Church, leaving her native church which she felt had not been supportive during her trial and imprisonment. She also supported other religions, attending a celebration of Buddhists and Shintos in 1901 that helped to bring acceptance of those faiths in Hawaii. The deposed Queen Liliuokalani died on November 11, 1917 following a stroke. In 1997, the Liliuokalani Trust finally published a collection of her musical compositions titled The Queen's Songbook.

There is one surviving member of the Hawaiian royalty, Princess Abigail, and she remains devoted to the legacy of her forebears.

One Year Ago: Queen Liliuokalani