Sunday, February 27, 2011

William James Kirkpatrick

Composer William James Kirkpatrick was born today in 1838 in Duncannon, PA. His father was a music teacher, so William studied music from an early age and learned to play different musical instruments. At sixteen he left home to further his music studies, including composition, in Philadelphia. He supported himself through carpentry and joined the Wharton Street Methodist Episcopal Church, accompanying and singing in the choir.

When he was just twenty-one, several of his tunes appeared in Devotional Melodies (1859), published by A.J. Jenks. who, in the book's introduction, thanks "Mr. W. J. Kirkpatrick for the simple and appropriate arrangement of a large number of the musical compositions found in this book." Two years later, during the early years of the Civil War, he served as fife major and principal musician for the 91st Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers. He returned from the war and went into the furniture business in Philadelphia, though church music remained a very active sideline.

Following the death of his first wife in 1878 he decided to devote himself to music full-time, and for several years thereafter was the organist and music director at Grace Methodist Episcopal Church. His tunes were now in great demand and he also began editing and compiling songbooks either alone or in collaboration with others. John R. Sweney was a friend and frequent collaborator.

His most enduring tune is probably CRADLE SONG, one of the tunes sung with Away in a manger (though it's used with other texts too). Another one already seen here is O spread the tidings round. Many will probably remember this well-known tune of Kirkpatrick's which first appeared in Sweney's Songs of Redeeming Love (1882) with a text by Priscilla Owens, a Methodist Sunday School teacher in Baltimore who wrote several songs for her students which were later published.

We have heard the joyful sound:
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Spread the tidings all around:
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Bear the news to every land,
Climb the mountains, cross the waves;
Onward! ’tis our God’s command;
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!

Waft it on the rolling tide:
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Tell to people far and wide:
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Sing, you islands of the sea;
Echo back, you ocean caves;
Earth shall keep the jubilee:
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!

Sing above the battle strife:
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Sing of love and endless life:
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Shout it brightly through the gloom,
When the heart for mercy craves;
Sing in triumph o’er the tomb:
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!

Give the winds a mighty voice:
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Let the nations now rejoice:
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Shout salvation full and free;
Highest hills and deepest caves;
This our song of victory:
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!

Priscilla J. Owens, 1882; alt.
William J. Kirkpatrick, 1882

Kirkpatrick would go on to compile or collaborate on more than eighty songbooks and write more than a thousand vocal compositions, including gospel songs, anthems, and solo songs. You can see about half of the book titles and several of his tunes at his Cyber Hymnal page. He eventually became a publisher himself as president of the Praise Publishing Company. He died in 1921, only four years after marrying his third wife (who had been the widow of John Sweney), while working on one last tune.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Saint Matthias

The feast day of Saint Matthias is celebrated today in some churches while others commemorate him on May 19 in order to move the occasion out of Lent, when it would generally fall (though not this year). In the Eastern Orthodox Church, his day is August 9.

Very little is known of Matthias from the New Testament, which only mentions him once by name, at the very end of the first chapter of Acts. He was one of the large group of disciples who followed Jesus from the time of his baptism to his ascension, and after that occasion he was chosen to replace Judas as one of the twelve apostles. Various contradictory accounts of his later life, ministry, and death have been told, and other scholars have attempted to identify him in the earlier New Testament accounts, often choosing different people.

There was also a lost Gospel of Matthias, only known to have existed by accounts of it in other writings, but it was later declared to have been written in the second century (by "heretics") and not by the apostle himself.

Today's hymn for the day by John Mason Neale first appeared in his Hymns for Children (1842), but was included in the much more widely-used Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861) and Church Hymns (1872).

Christ is gone up, but ere he passed
From earth to heav'n to reign;
He formed one holy Church to last
Until he comes again.

The twelve apostles first were made
His ministers of grace,
And they their hands on others laid
To fill in turn their place.

First called to know the Church's grace,
By apostolic hands,
To take dishonored Judas' place;
Matthias with them stands.

So, age by age, and year by year,
Christ's grace is handed on,
And still the Church he loved is here,
Though he himself has gone.

May all who seek, unite with us
In mission strong and bold;
Bring wand'rers in and let there be
One Shepherd and one Fold.

John Mason Neale, 1842; alt.
from George F. Handel, 1749; adapt. ?

The tune SOLOMON is an adaptation by an unknown composer of a tune by George Frederick Handel from his oratorio Solomon (1749), specifically, the aria What though I trace each herb and flower. Handel's birthday, incidentally, was yesterday, and while he wrote no hymn tunes as we know them, several tunes in our hymnals are derived from melodies from his operas, oratorios and orchestral works.

P.S. The wooden statue of the saint is by the German sculptor Tilman Riemenschneider and dates from the early sixteenth century.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Fruits of Peace and Joy

It's been a rough winter here this year, as well as in many other places, and I'm really looking forward to spring. We have some time before it's here, but in the meantime, we can think about sprouting seeds and growing plants.

Almighty God, your Word is cast
Like seed upon the ground,
Now let the dews of heaven descend
And righteous fruits abound.

Let not our selfishness and hate
This holy seed remove:
But give it root in every heart,
To bring forth fruits of love.

Let not our unimportant cares
The rising plant destroy,
But let it yield a hundred-fold
The fruits of peace and joy.

Oft as the precious seed is sown,
Your quick'ning grace bestow;
That all whose souls the truth receive
Its saving power may know.

John Cawood, 1815; alt.
Jeremiah Clarke, 1709;
harm. William H. Monk, 1868

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Thy Best Name of Comforter

O Breath of God, breathe on us now,
And move within us while we pray:
The Spring of our new life art thou,
The very light of our new day.

O strangely art thou with us here
Neither in height nor depth to seek:
But ever shall thy voice be near
Spirit to spirit, thou dost speak.

Christ is our Advocate on high;
Thou art our Advocate within.
To plead the truth, and make reply
To every argument of sin.

Be with me when no other friend
The mystery of my heart can share;
And be thou known, when fears transcend,
By thy best name of Comforter.

Alfred H. Vine, 1895
Thomas Tallis, 1560

We have a long way to go until Lent this year (which is fine with me), another whole month before Ash Wednesday. In the meantime, a hymn to the Holy Spirit is never out of place.

It's been nearly a year since I last used TALLIS' CANON for another text, but it's a good, familiar tune that people sing well. I don't know that I'd sing it as a round in this particular case, but it's always a possibility.

P.S., the window above is in the Latin chapel of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Feast of the Presentation

We come round again to our fourth Feast of the Presentation here at the blog. The story is told in Luke 2:22-40, how Jesus was brought to the temple forty days after his birth, there to be recognized by Anna and Simeon as the fulfillment of ancient prophecy.

The Song of Simeon, which begins in verse 29, also known as the Nunc dimittis, has been a part of Christian liturgy for hundreds of years. It is often sung in various musical settings, but today's version was set as a hymn by Martin Luther, and adapted from a translation by Catherine Winkworth.

In peace and joy I now depart,
According to thy will;
For full of comfort is my heart,
So calm and still.

For thou in mercy unto all
Hast set this Savior forth;
To Christ's dominion thou dost call
The whole wide earth.

Christ is the Hope, the saving Light,
That earthly nations need,
And those who know thee now aright
Will teach and lead.

Martin Luther, 16th cent.
tr. Catherine Winkworth, 1869; adapt.
Edmund S. Carter, 1874

The weather in many parts of the country today has probably cancelled many midweek observances of the day (including ours here in CT) but here you have four hymns for the occasion to consider without going outside in the cold.

Three Years Ago: O Zion, open wide thy gates

One Year Ago: O Jerusalem beloved