Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Saint Michael and All Angels

Today we celebrate the feast day of Saint Michael and All Angels, sometimes called Michaelmas. Some churches elevate this day to a moveable feast and celebrate it on the nearest Sunday. As observed in the link above, it is a day for us to "give thanks for the many ways in which God's loving care watches over us, both directly and indirectly, and (to be) reminded that the richness and variety of God's creation far exceeds our knowledge of it."

Another Anglican tradition of the day, observed mainly in English boarding schools, universities, and seminaries, is to hold a service of Evensong today to mark the start of the academic year or semester (the corresponding spring semester service is held on Candlemas, or the Feast of the Presentation, February 2). In fact, in some places what we in the US would call the fall semester is known as the Michaelmas term. While this Evensong custom is not widely observed in this country, it does pop up here and there, such as this service tonight at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California.

There are many more hymns about angels in general than there are specifically for Saint Michael the archangel, but all are appropriate for the day. This anonymous text comes from The Year of Praise (1867), compiled by Henry Alford.

They are evermore around us,
Though unseen to mortal sight,
In the joyful hours of sunshine,
and in sorrow's starless night;
Deep'ning earth's most sacred pleasures
With the pow'r of sin forgiven,
Whisp'ring to the lonely mourner
Of the endless joys of Heav'n.

Lovingly they come to help us,
When our faith is cold and weak,
Guiding us along the pathway
To the blessed home we seek;
In our hearts we hear their voices,
Breathing sympathy and love,
Echoes of a spirit language
From the heav'nly world above.

They are with us in our trials,
With their words of hope and cheer
Bringing news of earth's salvation,
Blessed tidings all may hear;
And a greater One is with us
As we shrink not from the strife,
While the Lord of angels leads us
On the pilgrim-path of life.

Author unknown, 19th cent.; alt.
Henry T. Smart, 1868

I don't often match English Victorian texts to American folk-ish tunes, but NETTLETON might also work well with this one.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Safely Reach My Home

Continuing with hymns on the theme of heaven, we come to an interesting collaboration across a century or so. A simple, four stanza text by Isaac Watts, first published in 1707, which appeared under the epigraph The hope of heaven our support under trials on earth speaks of a sort of celestial real estate. It could be set to many different tunes in Common Meter ( such as ST. ANNE or WINCHESTER OLD, tunes which were known in Watts's time. However, it has become more familiar in this country with a folk tune from Scotland which was arranged in an early American tune collection titled Kentucky Harmony (1817).

When I can read my title clear
To mansions in the skies,
I'll bid farewell to every fear,
And wipe my weeping eyes.
And wipe my weeping eyes,
And wipe my weeping eyes
I'll bid farewell to every fear,
And wipe my weeping eyes.

Should earth against my soul engage,
And fiery darts be hurled,
Then I can smile at Satan’s rage,
And face a frowning world.
And face a frowning world,
And face a frowning world,
Then I can smile at Satan’s rage,
And face a frowning world.

Let cares, like a wild deluge come,
And storms of sorrow fall!
May I but safely reach my home,
My God, my heav’n, my all.
My God, my heav'n, my all,
My God, my heav'n, my all,
May I but safely reach my home,
Ay God, my heav'n, my all.

There shall I bathe my weary soul
In seas of heav’nly rest,
And not a wave of trouble roll,
Across my peaceful breast.
Across my peaceful breast,
Across my peaceful breast,
And not a wave of trouble roll,
Across my peaceful breast.

Isaac Watts, 1707; alt.
Scottish tune, arr. Joseph C. Lowry, 1817

PISGAH, like many hymn tunes, is named for a place in the Bible, the topmost part of Mount Nebo, from which Moses saw the Promised Land. Though a folk tune, we would probably consider it today somewhat more elaborate than a simple Common Meter tune, partly because the tune requires repeating the last two lines over four lines of the tune. Such repetition was more common in eighteenth and early nineteenth century tunes, though not often used in modern hymn tunes (contemporary Christian songs are a different matter; text repetition is one thing often criticized about them).

There may be a few instances of this text in a modern hymnal with a regular Common Meter tune, but I think this is the way it's mostly still remembered and sung.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Emma L. Ashford

Eighty years ago today, composer Emma Louise Ashford died in Nashville, Tennessee. As described here two years ago, she had written about 600 works for voice, chorus, or organ. Though I have learned little more about her life, I have dug up some brief nuggets of information about some of her compositions.

She first published many of her anthems in the Choir Leader, which was a long-running monthly magazine put out by Edmund S. Lorenz for small-to-medium church choirs (his company remains in business today). A Palm Sunday anthem, Lift up your heads, is still in print, and was released on a 1960 recording by Mahalia Jackson, You'll Never Walk Alone.

In addition to the two hymn tunes that appeared in the 1905 Methodist Hymnal, I've also found a song called Christmas Bells in Triumphant Songs (1890), as well as two older gospel songs, none listed yet at the Cyber Hymnal. I also discovered a reference to her writing tunes for temperance songs, but thus far none of the temperance hymnals I've looked at has anything by Ashford.

I have already used Ashford's tune EVELYN for a few different texts, so today we have the second one from the Methodist Hymnal. This text is from the Unitarian Hymns of the Spirit (1864) which was compiled by Samuel Longfellow and Samuel Johnson, but its author remains obscure.

In every human mind we see
A temple made for Deity,
And righteous thoughts and acts declare
The Holy Spirit's presence there.

The Living God who Moses saw,
Whose pow'r revealed the ancient law,
Within the reason and the will
Makes known God's truth and goodness still.

In every age the hallowed light
Of revelation shines more bright;
Our creeds, like meteors, rise and fall;
Faith, Hope, and Love survive them all.

T. L. Harris, 19th cent.?; alt.
Emma L. Ashford, 1905

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Saint Matthew

“Arise and follow me!”
Who answers to the call?
Not Ruler, Scribe, or Pharisee,
Proud and regardless all.

“Arise and follow me!”
The tax collector heard;
All Caesar's duties left behind,
Obeyed the Savior's word.

Thenceforth in joy or woe,
Wherever Jesus trod,
Among the Twelve his place was near
The Holy One of God.

“Arise and follow me!”
So Matthew heard that voice;
Apostle, Saint, Evangelist,
For whom we now rejoice.

Henry Alford, 1845; alt.
James Watson, 1867

Two Years Ago: Saint Matthew

One Year Ago: Saint Matthew

Friday, September 17, 2010

Josiah Conder

Author Josiah Conder was born today in London in 1789. His father was a bookseller, and Josiah worked in the shop as a boy, eventually taking it over when he was twenty-one. However, he had already begun his writing career by this time (his first published essay appeared when he was ten) and nine years later he gave up the bookshop for writing and editing.

For twenty-three years he was the editor of The Eclectic Review, a popular and respected literary magazine, and later of The Patriot, a Nonconformist newspaper that was a strong supporter of abolition. In 1839 Conder became a founding member of the British and Foreign Anti-slavery Society for the Abolition of Slavery and the Slave-trade Throughout the World, an organization still in existence today as Anti-Slavery International. He was one of the main organizers of the world's first anti-slavery convention held in London in 1840.

Conder published several books of his own, including The Modern Traveler, which was a thirty-volume collection covering the geography of many of the countries of the world. His first book of religions verse, The Star in the East, from where his earliest hymns have been taken, appeared in 1824. This was followed by The Choir and the Oratory (1837), his second collection.

In 1836 he published the first Congregational Hymn Book which had been authorized by a resolution of the Congregational Union three years earlier. It contained 620 hymns by eighty different writers (including fifty-six of his own), and was to be used in conjunction with the Psalms and Hymns of Isaac Watts, Watts being so revered by the Congregationalists that he deserved a separate volume devoted to his works. Conder too believed in the primacy of Watts and later wrote The Poet of the Sanctuary (1851), a centenary commemoration of Watts, and edited a revised version of Psalms and Hymns (1852), hoping that Watts would continue to have his own volume in the Congregational pew-racks.

Conder's many hymn texts are largely unknown today. The most recent US Congregational hymnal, Hymns for a Pilgrim People (2007), which was intended to emphasize hymns by Gongregationalist authors, unfortunately contains none by Conder. In looking over several possibilities for today I settled on this Trinitarian text that probably hasn't appeared anywhere for a while.

'Tis good, with tuneful verses,
Our God's high praise to sing;
Creator of all mercies,
Our Maker and our King.
Praise God for all creation,
The wonders of our birth;
For daily preservation
And all the joys of earth.

And for the the great Redemption,
Let equal anthems swell,
For pardon and exemption
From woes no tongue can tell.
To Christ all glory render,
Himself, who freely gave;
Our Shepherd, our Defender,
Omnipotent to save.

We bless the Holy Spirit,
For all the means of grace;
The hopes that we inherit,
The faith that we embrace;
The seal of our high calling,
The word that makes us wise,
And strength to keep from falling,
And win the heav'nly prize.

Josiah Conder, 1836; alt.
Neuvermehrtes Gesangbuch, 1693
harm. Felix Mendelssohn, 1847

Conder died in 1855 from an attack of jaundice. The following year, one of his sons, Eustace, a Congregational minister, compiled his hymn texts into one volume, Hymns of Praise, Prayer, and Devout Meditation.

P.S. - The "portrait" of Josiah Conder above is actually excerpted from a much larger painting by Benjamin Haydon which depicted the delegates at the Anti-Slavery Convention of 1840. You can't even make him out in the full painting online, he's somewhat near the speaker but in the third or fourth row.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Horatio W. Parker

Composer Horatio William Parker, born today in Auburndale, Massachusetts in 1863, is pictured here in his Yale academic robes (he was the first Dean of the Yale School of Music from 1904 to 1919).

In The History of American Music (1915), author Lewis Charles Elson recounts some recollections of Horatio's mother, Isabella, who was a church organist. According to her, the child Horatio showed no interest in music. His interest developed rather suddenly when he was fourteen (she pinpointed it to October, 1877), when he began "to ask all sorts of questions about it, and to spend literally whole days at the piano, beginning at daylight, and stopping only when his father sent him to bed." She began to teach him piano and organ, and within two years he was the organist at St. Paul's Church in Dedham, Massachusetts.

He also started to compose during these years; among his first works was a set of fifty songs with texts by childrens' writer and illustrator Kate Greenaway, described as having "good melody and sufficient accoampaniment."

Of course, as recounted here on his previous birthdays, he went on to become one of the most prominent composers of his day, particularly renowned for his contributions to church music with his oratorios, anthems, service music, and hymn tunes. Since we've already some of his tunes, today I'm directing you to one of his anthems. Perhaps his most lasting one is the Easter anthem Light's glittering morn, sung here at St. Peter's Catholic Church in Columbia, SC during a regional convocation of the American Guild of Organists (text is below). Listen for when the familiar hymn tune VICTORY comes in from the choir, over the soloist - it's my favorite moment in this favorite piece.

Light's glittering morn bedecks the sky;
heaven thunders forth its victor cry;
the glad earth shouts her triumph high,
and groaning hell makes wild reply.

While he, the King, the mighty King,
despoiling death of all its sting,
and, trampling down the powers of night,
brings forth his ransomed saints to light.

That Eastertide with joy was bright,
the sun shone out with fairer light,
when, to their longing eyes restored,
the glad apostles saw their Lord.

He bade them see his hands, his side,
where yet the glorious wounds abide;
the tokens true which made it plain
their Lord indeed was risen again.

O Jesus, King of gentleness,
do thou thyself our hearts possess
that we may give thee all our days
the tribute of our grateful praise.

O Lord of all, with us abide,
in this our joyful Eastertide;
from every weapon death can wield
Thine own redeemed forever shield.

[Congregation joins:]
The strife is o'er, the battle done,
The victory of life is won,
The song of triumph has begun.

Alleluia, alleluia! (et repetitur)

All praise be thine, O risen Lord,
from death to endless life restored.
All praise to God the Father be,
and Holy Ghost, eternally.
Alleluia, Amen!

Aurora lucis rutilat, formerly attributed to Ambrose of Milan;
tr John Mason Neale, 1851

Two Years Ago: Horatio W. Parker

One Year Ago: Horatio W. Parker

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Caleb Simper

Sung throughout the civilized world.

That slogan was printed on millions of copies of church anthems written by composer Caleb Simper in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, though like many of his contemporaries, he is largely unknown today.

Simper was born today in 1856, in Wiltshire. Though his father is usually described as a shoemaker, he also played the violin in local ensembles. Caleb received little or no formal musical training, but he probably learned some at home, from his father. As an adult, his first entry into the music business was working at a music store in Worcester, but soon after he was appointed organist and choirmaster at the church of St. Mary Magdalene in that city. It was here that he wrote his first anthem for his choir to dine at Easter, He is risen, which he published under the pseudonym of Edwyn Clare.

After about ten years in Worcester, he moved his family to Barnstaple, where he went into partnership with John Thomas White in a music warehouse, selling pianos, organs, and sheet music. He continued to hold organist positoins, and to publish his anthems, which became extremely popular. Less than a year after entering the partnership, he sold his half to White in order to devote more time to composition. He also began to write for the organ, publishing the first of twelve volumes of organ music in 1898. This book also included a piece written by his son Roland at the age of eight.

Like many other Victorian church musicians, Simper also wrote hymn tunes, including two which won prizes in a contest sponsored by the Manchester Sunday School Union, believed to be BARNSTAPLE and SUPPOSE, both of which appear in the Sunday School Hymnary of 1905 (at #42 and #13 respectively). He wrote carols, several of which appear in the American collection Carols Old and Carols New (1916). Today's tune, the only one of his listed at the Cyber Hymnal, was named for his son Roland, who followed in his footsteps as an organist and composer.

Who are these in bright array?
This innumerable throng,
Round the altar night and day,
Tuning their triumphal song?
"Worthy is the Lamb, once slain,
Blessing, honor, glory pow'r,
Wisdom, riches to obtain,
New dominion every hour."

These through fiery trials trod;
These from great affliction came;
Now, before the throne of God,
Sealed with God's eternal Name,
Clad in raiment gleaming bright,
Victor palms in every hand,
Through their great Redeemer's might,
More than conquerors they stand.

Hunger, thirst, disease unknown,
On immortal fruits they feed;
Them the Lamb amidst the throne'
Shall to living fountains lead.
Joy and gladness banish sighs;
Perfect love dispels their fears'
And forever from their eyes
God shall wipe away all tears.

James Montgomery, 1819; alt.
Caleb Simper, 19th cent.

This text by James Montgomery uses some well-known imagery from the Book of Revelation, which we have also seen in another hymn, and though that one is a favorite of mine, I like this one as well. If we can have multiple hymns based on Psalm 23, we can have multiples here also.

Sources have identified more than a hundred choral anthems and cantatas by Caleb Simper, and nearly two hundred organ pieces, though no one has yet tracked the hymn tunes and carols, it appears (I have seen more than the few mentioned here). His music has been called overly simplistic and repetitive, yet at the same time it's said that the anthems work well with small choirs without great resources. Some are apparently still in print, though nearly all should be out of copyright in this country and some can be seen at the Choral Public Domain Library. You can also look him up on YouTube and find performances, which is more than can be said of some other Victorian composers I've discussed here.

While Simper was dismissed by later composers such as Ralph Vaughan Williams and Erik Routley, it may be that some critics closer to our time are taking a second look at his work. Last year, for the anniversary of one of the parish churches he served as organist, a celebration of his work was held.

At any rate, in his own day Caleb Simper was perhaps, as they say, laughing all the way to the bank. By 1920 his anthems had sold more than five million copies, and at the time of his death in 1942 his estate was valued at more then twenty thousand pounds, quite substantial in that time. His music may not have been sung in the great cathedrals, but thousands of choirs and congregations knew and loved them in smaller churches throughout the civilized world.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

One Fold, One Faith, One Hope Restore

Today's hymn of unity, one of this year's ordinary time themes, was adapted from a longer poem by the Quaker activist John Greenleaf Whittier, which was written for a somewhat different purpose.

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Thy grace impart! in time to be
Shall one great temple rise to thee
Thy Church our broad humanity.

Sweet flow'rs of love its walls shall climb,
Soft bells of peace shall ring its chime
Its days shall all be holy time

A sweeter song shall then be heard,
The music of the world's accord
Proclaiming Christ, the living Word!

That song shall swell from shore to shore,
One fold, one faith, one hope restore
The seamless robe that Jesus wore.

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

John Greenleaf Whittier, 1864; adapt.
Tune: VICTORY (8.8.8. with Alleluias)
Giovanni da Palestrina, 1591
adapt. William H. Monk, 1861

This four-stanza text may have been first adapted for congregational singing in the Unitarian New Hymn and Tune Book (1914) but the Whittier poem dates back to the Civil War. It was written for the dedication of "Thomas Starr King's house of worship," which was the second church building of the First Unitarian Church of San Francisco (pictured here), which was at 133 Geary Street (now the site of the Neiman-Marcus department store).

Thomas Starr King was a prominent Unitarian minister and respected orator of his day, who came to California in 1860 and used his political influence to ensure that California remained part of the Union in the months leading up to the Civil War. In addition, he helped organize the West Coast division of the United States Sanitary Commission (predecessor to the Red Cross) and raised a great deal of money for that organization. Whittier's original theme of unity in his fifteen-stanza poem for Starr King was more about the divisions of the war and its causes, as seen in these two stanzas:

But through the war-cloud, pray to thee
For union, but a union free,
With peace that comes of purity!

That thou wilt bare thy arm to save,
And, smiting through this Red Sea wave,
Make broad a pathway for the slave!

The familiar tune used for this hymn was arranged by William H. Monk from a choral piece by Palestrina, and is most often sung at Easter, with The strife is o'er, the battle done.

Two Years Ago: Amy Beach

One Year Ago: Amy Beach