Tuesday, October 6, 2009

William Batchelder Bradbury

William Batchelder Bradbury (October 6, 1816 - January 7, 1868) was an influential publisher as well as a composer whose tunes are is still sung today.

He was born in Maine, and when his family moved to Boston in 1830 he enrolled in
Lowell Mason's Boston Academy of Music, and sang in Mason's choir at the Bowdoin Street Church. In 1840 he moved to New York City, where he was the organist at Baptist churches in Brooklyn and Manhattan. He began a series of singing schools there, modeled on the efforts of Lowell Mason in Boston, and was instrumental in the effort to bring music instruction into the public schools of New York. It was during this work with children that he began composing songs for use in his classes.

Bradbury then traveled to Leipzig for two years, studying composition, piano and organ, and music education. While there he attended the funeral of Felix Mendelssohn. After his return, he continued to teach and compose, while becoming more active in publishing collections of Sunday school songs (many of his own composition) and other works, such as the oratorio Esther the Beautiful Queen (1856). His books were extremely popular; fifty-nine collections were published in his lifetime. The musical style of his earlier Sunday school songs led directly to the gospel song style of the later nineteenth century.

We have already seen a number of his tunes here on the blog (click on the Bradbury tag at the end of the entry to see them). One of the earliest songs most children learn is sung to a Bradbury tune: Jesus loves me, this I know. Today's song first appeared in his collection Devotional Hymn and Tune Book (1864), said to be the only Baptist hymnbook published in this country during the Civil War. It is almost certainly this tune that has kept this song in hymnals up to the present day; the text with a different tune may never have lasted.

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus' blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus' name.

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

When shadows seem to hide thy face,
I rest on thy unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

Thy oath, thy covenant, thy blood,
Support me in the whelming flood;
When all around my soul gives way,
Thou then art all my hope and stay.

When thou shalt come with trumpet sound,
Oh. may I then in thee be found;
Clothed in thy righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.

Edward Mote, 1834; alt.
THE SOLID ROCK (L.M. with refrain)
William B. Bradbury, 1863

Edward Mote's text was originally published with six stanzas, but this is the version generally published over the last hundred years, with several of the couplets rearranged into these four stanzas.

Around the time of this tune's writing, Bradbury encountered a poet named Fanny Crosby and suggested that she might write texts for his collections. One of her first published gospel songs, There's a cry from Macedonia, was a collaboration with Bradbury. Following his death, his publishing company became Biglow & Main, probably the most preeminent gospel song publisher in the world between 1870 and 1910.


AuntE said...

Thank you for writing about Bradbury. "The Solid Rock" is a favourite of mine; I included Larry Shackley's piano arrangement on my CD.

Musically speaking, I like how the first 5 notes of the refrain stay on the same pitch - Christ is solid and unmoving!

Also, you have just helped me with a programming dilemma. I'm giving a concert the first Sun. of Advent and trying to focus on both of Christ's comings. In conversation with a friend yesterday, she commented on how several hymns include a verse (often the final?) about the Second Coming. This one fits! Yeah! Thank you.

Leland Bryant Ross said...

I agree that the tune is more than half the hymn in this case. Our pew hymnals also give it set to MELITA, but for me that is not possible. Just doesn't work.

And thanks for the "thy" version, so many these days sing the third-person "his" version.

In the second stanza, though, I think your "seem to" emendation weakens the line.

When darkness veils thy lovely face,
I rest on thy unchanging grace...

works better for me.

C.W.S. said...

I don't think that was our change, but 20 years later I don't recall where it came from. Presumably whomever made the change didn't like "veil" twice in the same stanza.

As to hymns of the Second Coming, the best one in the "last stanza" group is probably It is well with my soul (11/30/08) and the best one overall would be Lo, he comes with clouds descending (11/22/08).

Dorothy said...

Definitely a favorite here and I'm with Leland that no other tune "goes" with these words.

AuntE, oh, how I wish I could attend your concert!