Sunday, October 31, 2010

Dressed in Living Green

The Jordan River, seen above, sometimes appears in the hymns about heaven that we've seen. The applicable metaphor derives from the story of the Israelites, having escaped from Egypt and spent forty years in the wilderness, finally crossed the Jordan into the land of Canaan, already established in the Old Testament as a place of abundance. Moses, their leader, had seen this promised land across the Jordan (Deuteronomy 34: 1-5) but did not survive long enough to get there.

This text by Isaac Watts draws from that story. It's said to have been inspired partly by a view of green fields over the estuary at Southampton, where Watts often walked. This hymn ranked at #30 in The Best Church Hymns (1899) and still appears in some hymnals, though it might not be quite so highly ranked today. More than one source I consulted called it one of the most beautiful of Watts's hymns.

There is a land of pure delight,
Where saints immortal reign;
Infinite day excludes the night,
And pleasures banish pain.

There everlasting spring abides,
And never with'ring flowers:
Death, like a narrow sea, divides
This heav’nly land from ours.

Sweet fields beyond the swelling flood
Stand dressed in living green:
So to God's people Canaan stood,
While Jordan rolled between.

But timorous mortals start and shrink
To cross this narrow sea;
And linger, shivering on the brink,
And fear to launch away.

O could we make our doubts remove,
Those gloomy thoughts that rise,
And see the Canaan that we love
With unbeclouded eyes!

Could we but climb where Moses stood,
And view the landscape o’er,
Not Jordan’s stream, nor death’s cold flood,
Should fright us from the shore.

Isaac Watts, 1707; alt.
Aaron Wiliams, 1764

Some hymnals have omitted the third and fourth stanzas about doubt, but certainly that was more or less the point for Watts. In his Hymns and Spiritual Songs, where this text was first published, it was titled A Prospect of Heaven Makes Death Easy.

Two hundred years after Watts, Alma White (who would certainly have known this hymn) wrote her own crossing-the-Jordan hymn which we have already seen. Doubt was not a part of her text either, but it doesn't seem that White ever had much to do with doubt, at least in her public persona.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Adelaide Anne Procter

Today is the birthday of Adelaide Anne Procter (born in 1825), who wrote the text of one of the most popular songs of the nineteenth century, The Lost Chord, though she did not live to see her words joined to Arthur Sullivan's music.

In the book Lady Hymn Writers (1892) by Emma Raymond Pitman, we learn a few details of Procter's childhood. Even before she learned to write she was captivated by poetry, and

"...she made for herself a tiny album of note-paper, into which her favorite poems were copied for her, at her urgent request, by her mother. (...) This little album was cherished and carried around by the child, much as dolls are by other little girls."

Years later, her own poetry was published, first by Charles Dickens in his magazine Household Words, and later collected in Legends and Lyrics (1858-60). A smaller volume of primarily devotional poems followed, A Chaplet of Verses (1862). Some of her texts were later set to music and appeared in hymnals, such as this one.

My God, I thank thee, who hast made
The earth so bright,
So full of splendor and of joy,
Beauty and light;
So many glorious things are here,
Noble and right.

I thank thee, too, that thou hast made
Joy to abound;
So many gentle thoughts and deeds
Circling us round,
That in the farthest spot of earth
Some love is found.

I thank thee, God, that thou hast kept
The best in store;
We have enough, yet not too much
To long for more:
A yearning for a deeper peace
Not known before.

Adelaide Anne Procter, 1858
Frederick C. Maker, 1876

Procter died in 1864, reportedly worn down by the charitable work which to her was much more significant than her poetry. Dickens wrote of her:

"Perfectly unselfish, swift to sympathize and eager to relieve, she wrought at such designs with a flushed earnestness that disregarded season, weather, time of day or night, food, rest. Under such a hurry of the spirits, and such incessant occupation, the strongest constitution will commonly go down. (...) And so the time came when she could move about no longer and took to her bed."

The popularity of her poetry continued to increase after her death for many years to come, and undoubtedly there were many other little girls who loved her works before they had learned to write. I hope some of them had mothers who wrote down their favorites for them to carry about.

One Year Ago: Adelaide Anne Procter

Two Years Ago: Christopher Wordsworth

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Saint Simon and Saint Jude

When thou, O Christ, didst send the Twelve,
Thy work of grace to do,
Conjoined in holy bands of love
They went forth, two and two.

Today, O Lord, before us here
Two blest Apostles stand,
Forever in thy realm above
United hand in hand.

Jude bids us in our holy faith
With zeal to seek the right,
And zeal shines brightly in the name,
Simon the Canaanite.

So send thou down into our hearts
Thy Spirit from above,
And give us ever-fervent zeal
Tempered with holy love.

And may we with these servants then
In heav'nly glory be!
For fellowship in holy love
Is unity in thee.

Christopher Wordsworth, 1862; alt,
The Whole Book of Psalmes, 1592
arr. William H. Monk, 1861

Bishop, scholar, hymnwriter and hymnal editor Christopher Wordsworth (whose birthday is coming up this Saturday) wrote this text for the day and included it in his collection The Holy Year (1862). WINCHESTER OLD is another psalter tune that has been sung with many texts over the last four hundred years, though the version most used today was harmonized by William Henry Monk, as you can probably guess by now, for Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861) .

Two Years Ago: Saint Simon and Saint Jude

One Year Ago: Saint Simon and Saint Jude

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sweet Will Be the Flower

Continuing a look at the psalter tunes that originally set the style for hymn tunes as we know them today, we come to the Scottish Psalter. The version of 1650 is the best-known today, and was used most often by various churches, but there were earlier ones as well. Today's familiar tune comes from the 1615 version, published in Edinburgh by Andro Hart, a printer and bookseller. The tune we know as DUNDEE was one of twelve tunes included in Common Meter (C,M,. or - four-line stanzas beginning with a line of eight syllables) which were not specifically assigned to a particular psalm. Since many, if not most, of the psalm paraphrases were also written in Common Meter, they could be sung to FRENCH TUNE, as DUNDEE was originally called (though no French origin has yet been traced). The tunes in Hart's psalter were melody-only.

In 1621 The Whole Booke of Psalmes, based on the earlier psalm paraphrases of Sternhold and Hopkins, was published by composer Thomas Ravenscroft, which included FRENCH TUNE, now arranged in four-part harmony and called DUNDY TUNE, and matched with a paraphrase of Psalm 36. (You can see the original page from Ravenscroft's psalter here; scroll down for a version of Psalm 36 we would not likely sing today; the familiar melody is found in the tenor part). Ravenscroft re-named the tune in honor of the city of Dundee, which was known at that time as the Scottish Geneva because of its importance in the Reformation in Scotland. However, the name FRENCH TUNE persisted in many hymn and psalm collections well into the nineteenth century, while others came to call it DUNDEE. The Companion to the Baptist Hymnal (1976) calls it "a sturdy tune that should not be sung at too rapid a tempo."

Under whichever name this tune has been sung consistently for nearly four hundred years to a wide variety of texts. In addition to many many psalms, one hymn we have already seen here, and this text by William Cowper is also frequently sung to it.

God moves in a mysterious way,
Great wonders to perform;
And, planting footsteps in the sea,
God rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
God treasures up all bright designs
And works one sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not our God by feeble sense,
Trust only for God's grace;
Behind a frowning providence
God hides a smiling face.

God's purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan God's work in vain;
God is the one interpreter,
And God will make it plain.

William Cowper, 1774; alt.
Scottish Psalter, 1615

In 1635, Andro Hart, who first published this tune, published another psalter which matched each paraphrase to a particular tune, and the tunes in this book were in four-part harmony. A tune very similar to DUNDEE, called CAITHNESS (named for a county in Scotland), first appeared in this book, and they sometimes get confused, though they only share the first five notes. But I have stood next to people who started singing a hymn to DUNDEE and ended up singing it to CAITHNESS. I'm sure none of my readers would ever do that.

One Year Ago: Sarah Josepha Hale

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Frederick Lucian Hosmer

Today is the 170th birthday of Unitarian minister and hymnwriter Frederick Lucian Hosmer who was born in Framingham, Massachusetts. Educated at Harvard University and Harvard Divinity School, he was ordained in the Unitarian church shortly after graduation in 1869, and served his first church in Northboro, MA for three years before moving westward in his career, to churches in Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, and California.

As described here before, he and his friend William Channing Gannett produced two important Unitarian hymnals, Unity Hymns and Chorals (1880) and The Thought of God in Hymns and Poems (1885), both of which they revised in later editions. According to a quote in the later Unitarian collection Hymns for the Celebration of Life (1964), Gannett was the better poet, Hosmer the better hymnwriter.

Hosmer wrote today's hymn for the 1891 commencement ceremony of Meadville Theological School in Meadville, PA. Canon Percy Dearmer, who was at least partly responsible for introducing Hosmer's hymns to Great Britain, believed this text to be "one of the noblest hymns in the language."

God's time shall come! Forever so
The passing ages pray;
And faithful souls have longed to know
On earth that promised day.

But the slow watches of the night
Not less to God belong;
And for the everlasting right
The silent stars are strong.

And lo, already on the hills
The flags of dawn appear;
Go forth in joy, ye prophet souls,
Proclaim the day is near.

The day in whose clear shining light
All wrong shall stand revealed,
When justice shall be throned in might,
And every hurt be healed.

When knowledge, hand in hand with peace,
Shall walk the earth abroad;
The day of perfect righteousness,
The promised day of God.

Frederick Lucian Hosmer, 1891; alt.
Thomas Clark, 1807

Two Years Ago: Frederick Lucian Hosmer

One Year Ago: Frederick Lucian Hosmer

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Cecil Frances Alexander

Irish hymnwriter Cecil Frances Alexander died on this day in 1895 (the date of her birth in 1823 is not recorded). Her first published writing was in a series of religious tracts she produced with her friend Lady Harriet Howard. They were both influenced by the Oxford Movement (also sometimes called the Tractarian Movement because its precepts were laid out in a series called Tracts for the Times, published from 1833 to 1841). Harriet and Fanny (as she was known) decided to put out their own tracts in 1842. Harriet supplied the prose and Fanny the poetry, intended to reflect and expand upon Harriet's themes. The tracts attracted much interest and were collected into a book in 1848.

By that time she had already published two collections of poetry: Verses for Holy Seasons (1846) and Hymns for Little Children, and texts from these collections began appearing in hymnals. Several more collections followed, and hymnal editors often contacted her for a new text or two for their books. By the time of her death her hymns were known and loved throughout the world, and many survive into our time.

Here are the blog we have already seen all of her most familiar hymns (click on the tag below), so I found something a bit more obscure for today.

From many a close and crowded place,
From many a lowly room,
Out of the strife of common life,
Out of its toil and gloom,

We come, for strength to keep our hope,
To feed the life we live;
The feast is spread, the cup and bread,
And Christ is there to give.

Each time we seek thy table blest,
Again, again, 'tis dear --
Joy thus to be rememb'ring thee.
And joy to know thee near.

Be with us at thy sweet love-feast,
Still feed us with thy grace,
Till faith's strong might be lost in sight,
And we behold thy face.

Cecil Frances Alexander, 19th cent.; alt.
Scottish Psalter, 1625

Following her death, her husband William Alexander, the Archbishop of All Ireland, published a larger collection of her hymns and poems. Though he included some biographical information in the preface, he did not reveal her birthdate either. Most of the preface tells about Mrs. Alexander's many works of charity and somewhat less about her writing. In a brief personal recollection, writing of their marriage in 1850, he says: it is not the exaggeration of affection which says that she was a singularly attractive person. Perhaps not the most effusive tribute, but he was, after all, an archbishop.

Two Years Ago: Healey Willan

Two Years Ago: Ralph Vaughan Williams

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Thrice Holy Fount, Thrice Holy Fire

One of the oldest hymns of the Holy Spirit, Veni Creator Spiritus, comes down to us from the ninth century. It's a prayer that begins:

Veni, Creator Spiritus,
mentes tuorum visita,
imple superna gratia
quae tu creasti pectora.

The Latin text is now generally attributed to the German monk Rhabanus Maurus, a scholar and author, and later the bishop of Mainz, though in earlier times it was sometimes credited to the Emperor Charlemagne. Rhabanus wrote a fair amount of poetry, though one source claimed that he was "a skillful versifier, but a mediocre poet." Still, this text has survived to the present day, often sung at ordinations, confirmations, and of course at Pentecost.

Martin Luther translated it into German in 1524 as Komm, Gott Schopfer, heiliger Geist. It was first translated into English in 1549, when it was added to the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, where it began:

Come Holy Ghost, eternal God,
Proceeding from above,
Both with the Father and the Son,
The God of peace and love.

Since then there have been more than sixty English translations. Among the best-known are:

Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire, (1627) by John Cosin

Creator Spirit by whose aid, (1693) by
John Dryden

Come, Holy Ghost, Creator blest, (1877) by
Edward Caswall (and others)

Today's hymn is a later adaptation of the Dryden text, in four-line rather than six-line stanzas.

Creator Spirit, by whose aid
The world’s foundations first were laid,
Come, visit every pious mind;
Come, pour thy joys on humankind;

Plenteous of grace, descend from high,
Rich in thy sev'nfold energy,
From sin, and sorrow set us free;
And make us temples worthy thee.

Heal and refine our earthly parts;
But, oh, inflame and fire our hearts!
O'er all may we victorious be
That stands between ourselves and thee.

Thrice holy Fount, thrice holy Fire,
Our hearts with heav’nly love inspire;
Make us eternal truths receive,
And practice all that we believe.

Rhabanus Maurus, 9th cent.;
tr. John Dryden, 1693; adapt.
William B. Bradbury, 19th cent.

Of course, for most of its existence, Veni Creator Spiritus was sung to plainsong chant (even up to the present), and some of the English translations have also used that melody, partially pictured here.

But plainsong was not always in fashion in many places over the last thousand years, so other tunes have been used too. This particular tune I discovered this week, in preparation for the birthday of William B. Bradbury (which was October 6, and I never finished writing it). I like it because it would seem to have great potential in the hands of a skillful musician; it builds in intensity and reaches its peak in the cascading notes of the last line. It seems made for a text like this one, which is a prayer of supplication.

Two Years Ago: Samuel Johnson

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Charles Crozat Converse

Composer Charles Crozat Converse was born today in Warren, Massachusetts, in 1834 (some sources say 1832). After his secondary schooling in upstate New York, he went to Germany to study music, where he became acquainted with composers Franz Liszt and Louis Spohr. He returned to this country and entered law school in Albany, NY, graduating in 1861.

Though he practiced law in Erie, Pennsylvania, he was also composing tunes for Sunday school music and compiling songbooks in association with William B. Bradbury. During these early years he published his music under various pseudonyms, such as "Karl Reden" in this example, perhaps to keep it separate from his law career. Converse composed in other forms besides Sunday school music, including cantatas, oratorios, string quartets, and two symphonies, all unknown today. He also wrote a training manual for the guitar.

This is Converse's only surviving tune but it has been a favorite of many people over the hast hundred and fifty years. Author Joseph Scriven first published it anonymously, and his authorship was only revealed thirty years later, after the song was a great success.

What a Friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer.

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged;
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness;
Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy laden,
Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge,
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In his arms he’ll take and shield thee;
Thou wilt find a solace there.

Joseph H. Scriven, 1855
C.C. Converse, 1868

Apparently one additional stanza to this hymn exists, though I don't ever recall encountering it before.

Bless├Ęd Savior, thou hast promised
Thou wilt all our burdens bear
May we ever, Lord, be bringing
All to thee in earnest prayer.
Soon in glory bright unclouded
There will be no need for prayer
Rapture, praise and endless worship
Will be our sweet portion there.

One additional unusual item about Converse comes from his Wikipedia entry -- he is said to have originated the intermediate, gender-neutral pronoun "thon" (the th pronounced as in they) to mean "his or her." He came to believe in its necessity through his writing for the law, and in fact it was adopted by two major American dictionaries for several years, as late as 1964. Clearly it never caught on with the general public, which is no surprise to me.

Two Years Ago: Henry Alford

One Year Ago: Henry Alford

Monday, October 4, 2010

Harriet Auber

Anglican hymnwriter Harriet Auber was born today in 1773. In 1829 she published The Spirit of the Psalms, a collaboration between herself, only referred to in the book as "the Author," and the editor, who wrote the preface of the book, and was only referred to as "A Clergyman of the Church of England." Years later it was learned that the unnamed editor was a Reverend Mr. Harvey (first name apparently still unknown) of Bristol, who was married to Auber's niece.

Harvey and Auber produced this book to offer a more modern look at the Psalms, which in many places in the Church of England were still being sung to the seventeenth-century verses of the New Version by Nahum Tate and Nicholas Brady. Harvey writes in the Preface to The Spirit of the Psalms:

Of the Authorized versions of the Psalms it is generally admitted, that they are unworthy appendages to (the) admirable Book of Common Prayer (...) deficient in poetical merit, often faulty in doctrine (...) alike unsatisfactory to the educated, the ignorant, and the devout.

In some cases, Auber took the Tate and Brady psalms and partially rewrote them, though mostly she wrote her own original texts. Generally her paraphrases were shorter and in more modern language, and the syntax was somewhat less convoluted. Still, she was clearly not trying to produce close paraphrases of the original.

Today's hymn is Auber's version of Psalm 61, 'in the spirit' of the original, at least.

O gracious Source of every good,
Our Savior, our defense,
Thou art our glory and our shield,
Our help and confidence.

When anxious fears disturb our rest,
When threatening foes are nigh,
To thee we pour our fervent prayer,
To thee for help we fly.

Blest Tow'r of strength, exalted Rock,
Whence living waters flow,
O Jesus Christ, the blessed hope
Of every soul below.

To thee we heavy laden come,
To thee our sorrows bring;
O hear! and save us from the storm
Beneath thy shelt'ring wing.

Harriet Auber, 1829; alt.
Hugh Wilson, 1800

Though some of her texts did appear in many other hymnals (a few until the present day), The Spirit of the Psalms did not supplant the older paraphrases. However, she was neither the first nor the last hymnwriter to believe that better versions of the psalms were desirable, and even today, hymnwriters are still producing their own paraphrases for modern congregations to sing.

Two Years Ago: Harriet Auber