Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Edward J. Hopkins

Composer and organist Edward J. Hopkins (1819 - 1901) was born in London on this day. At age eight he became a chorister at the Chapel Royal, where the boys received a solid overall musical education as well as instruction in singing (several composers already mentioned here began as choristers there). By the time he was fourteen he was playing the organ for services at Westminster Abbey, supervised by James Turle, the Abbey's organist and music director, who gave Hopkins a strong recommendation two years later when he gained his first organist position at Mitcham Church in Surrey.

After a few similar positions, in 1843 he came to the Temple Church in London, where his official title was Organist to the Honorable Societies of the Inner and Middle Temple. He was to remain there for fifty-five years until his retirement (he had stopped playing solo organ recitals two years earlier, on his seventy-eighth birthday). The Temple Church was known during his time for its excellent music, including the choir's singing of the psalms to Anglican chant, which the Guardian newspaper recommended to any listener, who would "hear every word distinctly pronounced, every sentence clearly and reverently enunciated," with no "slovenly hurrying or clipping of words, but all as it should be."

In 1867 Hopkins published his first hymnbook, the Temple Choral Service-Book (still in print), which contained several of his hymn tunes and arrangements as well as service music and chants. An extensive and favorable review appeared in The Church Chronicle, which concluded, with typical British understatement, "we cordially commend it to our readers' notice." Hopkins went on to serve as editor for three more major collections, The Free Church Hymn Book for the Church of Scotland, Church Praise (1882) for the Presbyterian Church of England, and the Hymnal of the Presbyterian Church of Canada.

The Cyber Hymnal link above only allows you to hear a handful of his tunes. At they list many more (though some of those are probably the same tune under a different name). Closer to his own time, his tunes were described as "melodious in a most winsome way" and "worth a place in any hymnal." We have already heard three of his tunes here: ELLERS, the most familiar and long-lived, as well as CULFORD and NUKAPU. This tune, ST. HUGH, first appeared in R.R. Chope's Congregational Tune-Book (1862 ed.) where it was matched with the text There is a fountain filled with blood, but I think it suits this text by Frederick L. Hosmer as well.

One thought I have, my ample creed,
So deep it is and broad,
And equal to my every need -—
It is the thought of God.

Each morn unfolds some fresh surprise,
I feast at life’s full board;
And rising in my inner skies
Shines forth the thought of God.

I ask not far before to see,
But take in trust my road;
Life, death, and immortality
Are in my thought of God.

To this their secret strength they owed
The martyr’s path who trod;
The fountains of their patience flowed
From out their thought of God.

Be still the light upon my way,
My pilgrim staff and rod,
My rest by night, my strength by day
O blessèd thought of God.

Frederick Lucian Hosmer, 1880
Edward J. Hopkins, 1862

There was apparently a posthumous collection of the hymn tunes of Hopkins, which I did not know two years ago when writing about him, but the reference does not mention how many tunes were included. Some continued to be used in hymnals well into the twentieth century, particularly ELLERS, and those hymnals which still include Anglican chant may have one or more by him.

As I always have to note for all these Victorian composers, Hopkins' popularity has faded over time. There is no Wikipedia entry for him, nor has anyone added his hymn tunes or anthems to the Choral Public Domain Library, unlike the music of many of his contemporaries. However, his tune OUNDLE, arranged from a melody of Orlando Gibbons, appears in the newish Harvard Univerity Hymn Book (2007), possibly more than an century after its last appearance anywhere. And just a week and a half ago, the choir of All Saints Episcopal Church in Mobile, AL sang his anthem How like a gentle Spirit (I have to note that a congregation that still sings six hymns during the summer is commendable, though I suspect they have air conditioning). So, you never know what might happen. His music is still out there, perhaps somewhat buried, waiting for someone to take an interest and dust it off.

Two Years Ago: Edward J. Hopkins

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Saint Peter and Saint Paul

Today is the feast day of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, which commemorates their martyrdom on a single occasion. Both were killed in Rome, but (apparently) not on the same day; this particular date marks the anniversary of a day in the third century when their remains were moved from their original burial places to keep them out of the hands of persecutors.

Both Peter and Paul also have separate feast days in January: The
Conversion of Saint Paul is on the 25th and the Confession of Saint Peter is on the 18th. Yet there may be other reasons for them to have a shared celebration. Both were considered strong leaders among the early followers of Christ, yet their circumstances were different and sometimes their teaching clashed. In Galatians 2:11-21 Paul writes of Peter (also called Cephas) that he (Paul) "opposed him to his face" regarding some of Peter's instructions. It seems to me that today is intended to show that though these two had their differences they were really working toward the same goal and their disagreements were really not that significant. That is also the reason that they are often depicted in art while embracing or even kissing, sharing the early Christian sign of peace.

This hymn is part of a longer Latin text that begins Decora lux aeternitatis auream and was translated by John Mason Neale. Note the reference to summer, when this day always falls (in the northern hemisphere, anyway).

It is no earthly summer's ray
That sheds this golden brightness round,
Crowning with heav'nly light the day
These nobles of the church were crowned:

The blessed Paul, to whom was given
The hearts of all to teach and school,
And Peter, keeping keys of heav'n
For those on earth that own God's rule.

All honor, pow'r, and praise be giv'n
To God who reigns in bliss on high,
For endless, endless years in heav'n,
One only God in Trinity.

Latin, tr. John Mason Neale, 19th cent.; alt.
Henry Baker, 1854

The reference of Peter and the keys of heaven jumped out at me, reminiscent of the well-known concept of St. Peter as some kind of heavenly gatekeeper, which doesn't seem terribly scriptural, but in fact that legend probably derives from Matthew 16:13-19, where Jesus says that Peter will be given those keys.

I took this text from the Catholic Church Hymnal of 1905 which gives a longer version of Neale's translation with some stanzas more specifically appropriate for Roman Catholics (remember that Neale, though never leaving the Church of England, also flirted with the pro-Catholic Oxford Movement). These are two of those stanzas, which would come between the second and third above:

O happy Rome, made holy now
By these two martyrs' glorious blood;
Earth's best and fairest cities bow,
By their superior claims subdued.

For thou alone art worth them all,
City of martyrs! thou alone
Canst cheer our pilgrim hearts and call
The Savior's sheep to Peter's throne.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

More Voices Found: Julia Anne Elliott

English hymnwriter Julia Anne Elliott was born today in Leeds in 1809. Her father, John Marshall, was a successful mill owner, but we know nothing of Julia's early life.

She married the Reverend Henry Venn Elliott in 1833. He was the curate of the Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Brighton, and his sister Charlotte Elliott had already begun her hymnwriting career. In 1835, his hymnbook Psalms and Hymns for Public, Private, and Social Worship was first published, and it included eleven hymns by Julia. Probably due to the custom of the time, her hymns were anonymous, but by the time of the third edition (1839) her editor-husband apparently allowed her initials to appear in the index next to the titles of her hymns.

In Songs from the Hearts of Women (1903), author Nicholas Smith describes Julia Elliott's hymn texts as "bearing the stamp of fine poetic taste, and all of them possess a deep religious feeling; and it is strange that they have not won a larger place in our hymnology." One hundred years later, still not having won any larger place, her time may have passed, but I did like this one, a Trinitarian hymn of praise for Sunday worship.

Great Creator, who this day
From thy perfect work didst rest,
By the souls that own thy sway
Hallowed be its hours and blest;
Cares of earth aside be thrown,
This day give to heav’n alone.

Savior, who this day didst break
The cold prison of the tomb,
Bid my slumbering soul awake;
Shine through all its fear and gloom;
Let me, from my bonds set free,
Rise from sin, and live to thee.

Blessèd Spirit, Comforter,
Sent this day from Christ on high;
Now on me thy gifts confer,
Heal, illumine, sanctify:
All thine influence shed abroad;
Lead me to the truth of God.

Julia Anne Elliott, 1833; alt.
Tune: H
Henry T. Smart, 1866

Julia Elliott died in childbirth in 1841, before she may have written more texts. Though her hymns are not as familiar as some by her sister-in-law Charlotte, or even her niece, the hymnwriter and composer Emily Elliott, she is still remembered in Brighton. At the Church of St. Mary the Virgin (the original building, pictured below, is the one she knew) one of the windows is dedicated to her memory (the Resurrection portion is shown above).

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Philip Doddridge

Today is the birthday of hymnwriter Philip Doddridge (1702-1751). He was the youngest of twenty children and one of the only two who survived past infancy, though his health was apparently never strong. His parents also died when he was young, and he was raised by family friends. He came to believe that church and state should be separate, as they were not in England (a belief called Nonconformism), and refused an offer to be educated at Cambridge because of this. He attended a Nonconformist seminary and went on to pastor the Chapel Hill Congregational Church in Northampton.

As I've noted before, Doddridge wrote his hymns to follow his sermons, t0 expand on the scripture readings he spoke on. This hymn, which he called Jacob's Vow, and based on Genesis 28:18-22, still appears in many hymnals,

O God of Bethel, by whose hand
Thy people still are fed,
Who through this weary pilgrimage
Hast all our people led.

Our vows, our prayers, we now present
Before thy throne of grace;
God of our forebears, be the God
Of each succeeding race.

Through each perplexing path of life
Our wandering footsteps guide;
Give us each day our daily bread,
And raiment fit provide.

O spread thy covering wings around
Till all our wanderings cease,
And at our Maker’s loved abode
Our souls arrive in peace.

Philip Doddridge, 1737
adapt. John Logan, 1781; alt.
Charles Hutcheson, 1832

The text as we know it today is not as Doddridge wrote it. It was altered by editor John Logan for inclusion in Scottish Translations and Paraphrases (1781) for use in the Church of Scotland, where it became very popular, and was reportedly sung often in celebrations of the four hundredth anniversary of the Reformation in Scotland in 1960. STRACATHRO is one of several Scottish tunes that have been used.

Two stanzas of Doddridge's original, which no one now sings:

If thou wilt spread thy Shield around
Till these our Wanderings cease;
And at our Father's loved abode
Our souls arrive in peace:

To thee as to our Covenant-God
We'll our whole selves resign;
And count that not our Tenth alone,
But all we have is thine.

J. R. Watson, in An Annotated Anthology of Hymns (2002) calls Doddridge's original text "a revealing exercise in Puritan Covenant theology," and while I'm sure this is theologically valid (it does follow the Genesis passage), it may appear to modern worshippers as a bargain made with God (we'll do this if you, God, do that), while hymns more frequently reverse the process (we praise God because of the things God has done).

Two Years Ago: Philip Doddridge

One Year Ago: Philip Doddridge

Friday, June 25, 2010

James Weldon Johnson

Today's commemoration of James Weldon Johnson is another of those added last year to the Episcopal church calendar. Johnson was born on June 17, 1871 in Jacksonville, Florida. Hisparents had roots in the Bahamas, and his mother was the first black woman to teach in the public schools in that state, and Johnson graduated from that school before attending Atlanta University, and receiving his degree in 1894.

He returned to Jacksonville and became the principal of the school where his mother had taught. During this time he also began a newspaper for the black community (though it only lasted eight months) and also completed law school and was admitted to the bar. When his younger brother John Rosamond Johnson graduated from the New England Conservatory of Music and also came back to Florida, the two collaborated on a comic opera called Tolosa, though they were unable to get it produced in New York as they had hoped.

The Tolosa experience provoked James's interest in writing lyrics for the melodies composed by his brother, and they began to collaborate on popular songs, at which they would become quite successful. But their most enduring song was written in 1900 for a Lincoln's birthday celebration at Johnson's school, where the students were welcoming Booker T. Washington as their guest speaker.

Lift every voice and sing,
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise,
High as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith
That the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope
That the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun
Of our new day begun,
Let us march on
Till victory is won.

Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet,
Come to the place for which our parents sighed?
We have come over a way
That with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path
Through the blood of the slaughtered;
Out from the gloomy past,
Till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam
Of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years
God of our silent tears,
Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who hast by thy might,
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places,
Our God, where we met thee.
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine
Of the world, we forget thee.
Shadowed beneath thy hand,
May we forever stand,
True to our God,
True to our native land.

James Weldon Johnson, 1900; alt.
Tune: LIFT EVERY VOICE (irregular)
John Rosamond Johnson, 1900

This song spread far beyond that Jacksonville school in the years that followed, taken up as a hymn by black churches across the country, where the words were often pasted into the front cover of their hymnals. Lift every voice and sing was adopted by the NAACP as the black "national anthem" in 1919, and it remains in popular use today, having spread to many other denominational hymnals.

The Johnson brothers moved to New York in 1902 with a third partner, Bob Cole, and wrote many songs which were used in Broadway musicals (before the days when a musical score would be written by one composer). One of their hit songs, Under the Bamboo Tree, survives today partly due to the 1944 film Meet Me in St. Louis, where it was sung by Judy Garland and Margaret Rutherford.

James Weldon Johnson later became disillusioned with the racial stereotyping of popular music and turned to other kinds of writing: poetry, folklore, and novels, including The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912). He was also diplomatic consul to Venezuela for several years and later the secretary of the NAACP. He died on June 26, 1938 when his car was struck by a train.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Dorothy Ann Thrupp

Dorothy Ann Thrupp was born today in 1779 in London and died in 1847. Hardly anything more is known of her life, but fortunately we know just a bit more about her work.

Her earliest hymns appeared in two magazines published by the Reverend William Carus Williams, The Children's Friend and The Friendly Visitor. Later, some of her hymns (credited to D.A.T.) were published in Selection of Hymns and Poetry for the use of Infant Schools and Nurseries, compiled by Mrs. Herbert Mayo (1838). She produced two hymnbooks of her own, Hymns for the Young (1830) and Thoughts for the Day (1837). Most, but not all, of her hymns were written for children. This one originally appeared in the children's section of many nineteenth-century hymnals, but t0day it is sung by everyone.

Savior, like a shepherd lead us,
Much we need thy tender care;
In thy pleasant pastures feed us,
For our use thy folds prepare.
Blessèd Jesus, blessèd Jesus!
Thou hast bought us, thine we are.
Blessèd Jesus, blessèd Jesus!
Thou hast bought us, thine we are.

We are thine, do thou befriend us,
Be the guardian of our way;
Keep thy flock, from sin defend us,
Seek us when we go astray.
Blessèd Jesus, blessèd Jesus!
Hear, O hear us when we pray.
Blessèd Jesus, blessèd Jesus!
Hear, O hear us when we pray.

Thou hast promised to receive us,
Lost and helpless though we be;
Thou hast mercy to relieve us,
Grace to heal and power to free.
Blessèd Jesus, blessèd Jesus!
Early let us turn to thee.
Blessèd Jesus, blessèd Jesus!
Early let us turn to thee.

Early let us seek thy favor,
Early let us do thy will;
Blessèd Friend and only Savior,
With thy love our bosoms fill.
Blessèd Jesus, blessèd Jesus!
Thou hast loved us, love us still.
Blessèd Jesus, blessèd Jesus!
Thou hast loved us, love us still.

attr. Dorothy Ann Thrupp, 1836; alt.
William B. Bradbury, 1859

This hymn apparently first appeared in a later edition of Hymns for the Young. Unfortunately, under Thrupp's editorship, none of the hymns in that book were credited to an author, and thus sometimes this hymn is credited to the ubiquitous Anonymous. In several older hymnals it was even said to have been written by Henry Francis Lyte, though no one today thinks that Lyte wrote it.

This tune by William B. Bradbury is generally used in the US, but some people also know this text better to the familiar SICILIAN MARINERS.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Charles Gounod

The French composer Charles Gounod (June 17, 1818 - October 18, 1893) was born today in Paris. His mother was his first piano teacher but eventually he enrolled in the Paris Conservatoire and later studied the sacred choral music of Palestrina and others in Italy. It was reportedly Fanny Mendelssohn (sister to Felix and a composer herself) who introduced Gounod to the piano music of J.S. Bach. For two years he considered entering the priesthood but returned to composing, and though he wrote music in many forms, sacred music was always a part of the mix.

Gounod's first major work to gain success was a Messe solenelle (solemn mass) which was first sung on Saint Cecilia's Day in 1855 (and is now known as the St. Cecilia Mass). He was also writing symphonies around this time, and had produced his first opera, Sapho (1851), which was a failure. He eventually wrote twelve operas, the most successful of which was Faust (1859), which was for many years the most-performed opera in the world. It was the first work performed at New York's Metropolitan Opera House in 1883, and most people today think of Gounod as solely an opera composer.

For a time during and after the Franco-Prussian War, Gounod went to live in London, where he concentrated more specifically on sacred music. He formed a choral group (still singing today as the Royal Choral Society) which performed new pieces of his beginning with the cantata Gallia (1871). Even after his return to France in 1876 he continued to write large-scale choral works such as La rédemption (1882) for the major British choral festivals.

Many of his sacred vocal and choral pieces were smaller, such as his Ave Maria, adapted from a keyboard piece of Bach (which I well remember singing at my sister's wedding 20 years ago). His years in England coincided with the huge growth in hymnals published (following the popularity of Hymns Ancient and Modern in 1861), so it is not surprising that he wrote a few hymn tunes as well while he was there, such as this one which still appears in some hymnals today.

Christ, whose glory fills the skies,
Christ, the true, the only Light,
Sun of Righteousness, arise,
Triumph o’er the shades of night;
Dayspring from on high, be near;
Day-star, in my heart appear.

Cold and cheerless is the morn
Unaccompanied by thee;
Joyless is the day’s return
Till thy mercy’s beams I see;
Till they inward light impart,
Glad my eyes, and warm my heart.

Visit then this soul of mine,
Pierce the gloom of sin and grief;
Fill me, Radiancy divine,
Scatter all my unbelief;
More and more thyself display,
Shining to the perfect day.

Charles Wesley, 1740; alt.
Charles Gounod, 1872

I would be in trouble in some quarters if I did not mention the other tune to which this hymn is frequently matched, a German tune later harmonized by William Henry Havergal called RATISBON. I don't really have a preference between the two, but some people do.

Some of Gounod's other hymn tunes are adapted from his choral works, and I would not be surprised if, hidden away in some nineteenth-century hymnals, there are also some tunes taken from melodies in his operas.

Though Gounod is no longer as acclaimed in this century as he once was, he is far from unknown. His descendants, however, are not quite satisfied with his current reputation and have built their own website to spread the word about the glories of Charles Gounod.

Two Years Ago: Helen Maria Williams

Monday, June 14, 2010

William Chatterton Dix

Hymnwriter William Chatterton Dix was born today in Bristol in 1837. His middle name comes from the young and somewhat notorious poet Thomas Chatterton, about whom Dix's father had written a biography.

His career was not in the church; for most of his life he worked for a maritime insurance company in Glasgow. But hymnody was a lifelong interest; his first collection, Hymns of Love and Joy, was published in 1861, and he submitted texts to most of the major English hymnals of the day. We have already seen one of his most popular hymns, Alleluia! sing to Jesus!, which was written "to assist in supplying a then-acknowledged lack of Eucharistic hymns in Church of England hymnody," according to Julian's Dictionary of Hymnology. Dix also translated many hymn texts from Greek and Abyssinian, though these are not as well known today.

When he was 29 he suffered a serious illness which left him bedridden for several months and, as a consequence, depressed. Several of his hymns were written during this time, including this one.

“Come unto me, ye weary,
And I will give you rest.”
O blessèd voice of Jesus,
Which comes to hearts oppressed!
It tells of benediction,
Of pardon, grace and peace,
Of joy that has no ending,
Of love which cannot cease.

“Come unto me, ye wanderers,
And I will give you light.”
O loving voice of Jesus,
Which comes to cheer the night!
Our hearts are filled with sadness,
And we had lost our way;
But Christ has brought us gladness
And songs at break of day.

“Come unto me, ye fainting,
And I will give you life.”
O cheering voice of Jesus,
Which comes to aid our strife!
Our foes are stern and eager,
Our conflict fierce and long;
But Christ has made us mighty
And stronger than the strong

“Whoever comes to hear me
I never will cast out.”
O welcome voice of Jesus,
Which drives away our doubt,
Which calls us, weary travelers,
Unready though we be
To love so free and boundless,
To come, O Christ, to thee.

William Chatterton Dix, 1867; alt.
John Pyke Hullah, 1867

This hymn was much more familiar in Dix's lifetime, but a similar text by Horatius Bonar, I heard the voice of Jesus say, is more often published in hymnals in our time. I think they're both worthwhile.

One Year Ago: Harriet Beecher Stowe

Sunday, June 13, 2010

In the Desert Ways I Sing

It's the Third Sunday after Pentecost, and we are well into the part of the church year called ordinary time. This will go on for quite a while, until we get around again to the First Sunday in Advent, and there are not many Sundays between now and then that have any particular commemorations. So, as in previous years I have picked a few themes for our Sunday hymns in these "ordinary" Sundays.

The first, always appropriate for the post-Pentecost season, will be hymns of the Holy Spirit. And yes, I used this theme two summers ago, but I am sure we won't run out of good hymns; honestly, the Holy Spirit doesn't get much play in many churches during the rest of the church year, which is mostly constructed around the life of Jesus.

Holy Spirit, Truth divine,
Dawn upon this soul of mine;
Word of God and inward Light
Wake my spirit, clear my sight.

Holy Spirit, Love divine,
Glow within this heart of mine;
Kindle every high desire;
Perish sin in your pure fire.

Holy Spirit, Power divine
Fill and nerve this will of mine;
Grant that I may strongly live,
Bravely bear, and nobly strive.

Holy Spirit, Joy divine,
Gladden now this heart of mine;
In the desert ways I sing,
“Spring, O Well, forever spring.”

Holy Spirit, Peace divine,
Still this restless heart of mine;
Speak to calm this tossing sea,
Stayed in your tranquility.

Holy Spirit, Right divine,
Now within my conscience reign;
Be my Law, and I shall be
Firmly bound, forever free.

Samuel Longfellow, 1864; alt.
Orlando Gibbons, 1623

This hymn has appeared in many different denominational hymnals regardless of the fact that its author, Samuel Longfellow, was a Unitarian. Some hymnals have attributed it as a collaboration between the American Longfellow and Andrew Reed of England, who wrote a similar hymn in 1817 called Holy Ghost, with light divine, and some have even claimed that Longfellow simply rewrote Reed's text for inclusion in Hymns of the Spirit (1864), one of the hymnals Longfellow edited. Longfellow's niece Alice addressed this in the preface to her uncle's collected Hymns and Verses (1897) which she published after his death: The hymn bears some resemblance to one by Andrew Reed, but after careful investigation they appear to be quite distinct.

There's also another Holy Ghost, with light divine written by Rowland Hill in 1783, and I think Reed's text is closer to Hill's than to Longfellow's. I also think it likely that Longfellow knew of one (if not both) of these earlier texts and chose to write his own version of a hymn that would call upon the different aspects of the Holy Spirit; more than that he did not take from either Hill or Reed. When we used this in our hymnal project, we did rearrange a few stanzas, feeling that Firmly bound, forever free was the best closing line for the text as a whole (Longfellow's final line was Spring, O Well, forever spring, certainly not a bad choice either).

P.S. I chose a text by Longfellow on purpose today, even though his birthday is coming up later this week. This afternoon, at a hymn festival in Berkeley, California, he will be presented to many people in a somewhat new light, and they will be singing this hymn of his.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

More Voices Found: Harriet Martineau

Harriet Martineau, born today in 1802, has become known as the first woman sociologist. She published more than fifty books, several based on her travels, and once wrote "When one studies a society, one must focus on all its aspects, including key political, religious, and social institutions."

She was born in Norwich, into a Unitarian family. Her education was much broader than most girls of the time, which enabled her to earn a living at writing after the death of her father and the failure of the family business. She began writing for the Monthly Repository, a Unitarian journal, and published her first book for children in 1823, Devotional Exercises and Addresses, Prayers and Hymns.

Her younger brother James was a well-known Unitarian minister who wrote hymns and edited three hymnals, including Hymns of the Christian Church and Home (1840). Their relationship was close for many years, but also somewhat competitive. Harriet did not write many hymns, but she may have been attracted to them because of her brother's interest.

Faith grasps the blessing she desires,
Hope points the upward gaze;
And Love, celestial Love, inspires
The eloquence of praise.

But sweeter far the still small voice
Heard by no human ear,
When God has made the heart rejoice,
And dried the bitter tear.

No accents flow, no words ascend;
Earth's speech is futile there;
But God will always comprehend
And answer silent prayer.

Harriet Martineau, 1829; alt.
Scottish Psalter, 1625

The hymn is perhaps more meaningful when you know that Harriet Martineau became deaf in her teen years.

An extended stay in the United States (1834-1836) led to a strong association with American abolitionists and their cause, which she was to support for the rest of her life (she had previously written against slavery in articles and books). Her influential three-volume Society in America was published after her return to England.

Martineau gradually abandoned her Unitarian beliefs in favor of "freethinking," which many called simply atheism. This may partially explain why her hymns are not better known; editors would have avoided texts by controversial writers.

She died in 1876 after twenty years of poor health. She had written a two-volume autobiography to be published upon her death, and asked her friend and fellow abolitionist Maria Weston Chapman to complete a third volume.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Saint Barnabas

Brightly did the light divine
From his words and actions shine
From the Twelve, with love unblamed,
“Son of consolation,” named.

Full of peace and lively joy
Sped he on his high employ,
By his mild exhorting word
Adding many to the Lord.

Blessèd Spirit, who didst call
Barnabas and holy Paul,
And didst them with gifts endue,
Mighty words and wisdom true,

Grant us, Source of life, to be
By their pattern full of thee;
That beside them we may stand
In that day on Christ’s right hand.

Henry Alford, 1844
John Antes, c. 1790
arr. John B. Wilkes, 1861

Two Years Ago: Saint Barnabas

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sir John Stainer

Composer John Stainer was born in London on this day 170 years ago. His father was a schoolmaster and good amateur musician and the young Stainer learned the piano and organ at a young age (there were reportedly five pianos in the house as well as a chamber organ).

He became a boy chorister at age eight at St. Paul's Cathedral and a few years later was playing the organ there on occasion. When Stainer was a teen, Frederick Gore Ouseley heard him play and invited him to be the organist at the music school Ouseley had established at Tenbury. During those years Stainer also attained a Bachelor of Music degree from Oxford University.

After receiving two more advanced music degrees (one for his oratorio Gideon in 1865) he returned to St. Paul's in the position of organist. He became renowned for improving musical standards at the cathedral during his tenure there. Stainer was also a government inspector of music training and visited elementary school training colleges, interviewing the students and evaluating the programs. He was knighted in 1888 for his many contributions to English music.

His compositions include forty-two anthems, four oratorios (including The Crucifixion, still performed today), service music for the Anglican church, organ works and vocal madrigals. His hymn tunes run to several dozen, at least (though not many are still sung), and he also edited The Church Hymnary for the Church of Scotland. Another book by Stainer still studied today is The Music of the Bible (1879), which looks like it might deserve more exploration.

This short morning hymn, set to one of Stainer's tunes, is by an English Methodist writer and may have first appeared in this country in Hymns of the Spirit (1864), the Unitarian hymnal compiled by Samuel Longfellow and Samuel Johnson. It was retained in other Unitarian hymn collections into the twentieth century.

The light pours down from heaven
And enters where it may;
The hearts of all earth's children
Are cheered with each bright ray
So let the soul's true sunshine
Be spread o'er earth as free,
And fill our waiting spriits
As waters fill the sea.

Then let each human spirit
Enjoy the radiance bright;
The Truth which comes from heaven
Shall spread like heav'n's own light;
Till earth becomes God's temple,
And every human heart
Shall join in one great service,
Each happy in our part.

Joseph Gostock, 1849; alt.
John Stainer, 19th cent.

Two Years Ago: Sir John Stainer

P.S. I don't usually play this game, but if a movie was ever to be made of Stainer's life (ha!) I think he should be played by actor Dennis Franz (formerly Detective Sipowicz from NYPD Blue).

Saturday, June 5, 2010

George Rawson

George Rawson (June 5, 1807 - March 25, 1889) wrote his first several hymns under the nom de plume of "A Leeds Layman." Fortunately, the Congregational clergy in the town of Leeds knew his real identity as well as his extensive knowledge of hymnody, and asked him to join them in compiling a hymnal. The book was eventually known as the Leeds Hymn Book and probably led to a group of Baptists asking Rawson to help them with their hymnal a few years later.

Rawson contributed his own texts to these hymnals (15 to the Congregationalists and 27 to the Baptists) and assisted in the selection of hymns chosen, but he was also known for his editorial work, altering older texts as necessary and adding original stanzas of his own to some texts. He was an early advocate of the seventeenth-century poet George Herbert and adapted some of Herbert's poems into hymn texts for the Leeds Hymn Book, though his adaptations are not those we use today.

This hymn was published in the first collection of Rawson's own texts, Hymns, Verses and Chants (1876).

Transcendent mystery unknown!
O God unsearchable!
O still receding, tow'ring Light

What can we know? Things that are seen
Are faint reports of thee --
Smallest upliftings of the veil
Of thine immensity.

In thy creation, filled with awe,
Thy wondrous hand we trace
In all our witness of thy pow'r
Divine Almightiness!

How grand thy glowing rainbows are,
Thy skies and stars, how bright!
Eternal Loveliness, they gleam
But shadows of thy light.

So we look up, thy little ones,
To thy majestic state;
Our comfort is, thou art so good
And that thou art so great.

George Rawson, 1876; alt.
SONG 67 (C.M.)
Orlando Gibbons, 1623
arr. Henry T. Smart, 19th cent.

You don't see many six-syllable words in hymn texts, particularly ones that take up a whole line (stanza 1).

This tune comes from the work of Orlando Gibbons, whose birthdate is unrecorded, but who died on this date in 1625, so today's hymn is a double commemoration. SONG 67 was originally set to a text for St. Matthias' Day, but was arranged by Henry Smart more than two hundred years later into "the more stately, dignified, measured beat and slow movement of the old psalm tunes" according to Handbook to the Hymnal (1935).

Two Years Ago: Orlando Gibbons

One Year Ago: George Rawson

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Brian Wren

Happy Birthday to hymnwriter Brian Wren, who is seventy-four years old today. He is certainly one on the best known contemporary writers of hymn texts; several appear in many modern hymnals. He was ordained in 1965 in the United Reformed Church in England but has now lived for many years in the US, currently in Georgia with "his partner in marriage and ministry," the Reverend Susan Heafield, a United Methodist minister. Their joint website, Praise Partners, contains much more information on their lives and works.

I would guess that Wren probably has written a greater number of texts that have never appeared in a denominational hymnal than those that have. It's true that hymnwriters generally write more texts than are ever accepted for publication, but it's also true that many of Brian Wren's texts are considered too radical by many. His commitment to writing in inclusive language has only strengthened over time (he first believed it to be an American fad when encountering the idea nearly forty years ago). He also believes that modern hymns should avoid much of the language of the past about militarism and even the kingship of God.

One of his hymns that some may know is Bring many names (which you can see and hear at the Cyber Hymnal). Written more than twenty years ago, it exemplifies everything that some people like about his texts as well as everything that other people don't. The text was considered for inclusion in the Methodist Hymnal of 1989, but lost the committee's recommendation by only one vote. Presumably the Methodists were not ready for a "strong Mother God" (among other things).

Anyway, the hymn did go on to be published in the Unitarians' Singing the Living Tradition (1993), the United Church of Christ's New Century Hymnal (1995), the Anglican Church of Canada's Common Praise (1998), and perhaps a few others I don't know about. It also appears in some supplemental collections that don't have the same wide usage as an official denominational hymnal, such as the Episcopalians' Voices Found (2003). And the Methodists finally included it in their supplement The Faith We Sing (2000).

Others of his texts seem unlikely to be widely used, such as All-Perceiving Lover or Against the clock (you can see these and several others by searching at the links in the first paragraph above). But it's always useful to remember that some of the most well-known hymns sung today were not immediately loved or widely sung at the time of their creation, or even in the lifetime of their writers.

I encourage you to read these two interviews with Wren, one from the Christian Century and one from Reformed Worship. Though they are not as current as I'd like, they do give a better understanding of the themes and ideas that he brings to modern hymnwriting-- he explains them so much better than I ever have.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Henry Francis Lyte

Henry Francis Lyte was born today in 1793, near the Scottish village of Kelso. His father deserted the family when Lyte was a boy, and his mother died shortly after. Young Henry was at the time attending Portora Royal School in Ireland, and the headmaster there adopted him unofficially.

Following Portora he studied at Trinity College in Dublin and was ordained in the Church of England in 1815. After serving at a few other country parishes he settled in Lower Brixham in 1823, where he was employed at All Saints Church until poor health forced his retirement in 1844.

Lyte is primarily remembered for his two most popular hymns, Abide with me and Praise, my soul, the King of heaven, though he wrote several others. That latter hymn first appeared in a collection by Lyte called Spirit of the Psalms (1834) which contained 65 psalm paraphrases, many of which were subsequently used in various hymnals. In the introduction to the book, he wrote: Poetry and music are never better employed than when they unite in the celebration of the praises of God. The first edition of the book was published anonymously, but it proved very successful, and Lyte eventually took credit for it. His paraphrases were compared favorably to those of Isaac Watts written a hundred years earlier, though they are not much known today.

This is Lyte's version of Psalm 46. One reason it is not generally sung today is that there is a much more familiar hymn based on that psalm, if one is called for.

God is our Refuge, tried and proved
Amid a stormy world;
We will not fear though earth be moved
And hills to ocean hurled.

The waves may roar, the mountains shake,
Our comfort shall not cease;
For God the world will not forsake,
And God will give us peace.

A gentle stream of hope and love
To us shall ever flow;
It issues from God's throne above,
And cheers the saints below.

When earth and hell against us came,
God spoke, and quelled their powers;
Eternal God is still the same,
The God of grace is ours.

Henry Francis Lyte, 1830; alt.
Tune: SINAI (C.M.)
Joseph Barnby, 19th cent.

Two Years Ago: Henry Francis Lyte