Sunday, June 30, 2013

Edward J. Hopkins

Composer Edward John Hopkins, born today in 1818, is known for his long tenure (fifty-five years!) as organist and music director at the Temple Church in London.   His first organist position was at a church in Surrey, in 1834, and after a few other posts he came to the Temple Church in 1843.

He described the choir he found there on arrival: 

When I first went (to the Temple) there were only two ladies and two gentlemen in the choir, and they used to sing in the organ gallery. The curtain would be drawn aside for a few minutes, the singers would sing, and everyone would turn west to look at them; then the curtain was banged to with a rattle of brass rings. What queer ideas they had of music and organists in those days.

As it happened, others at the church were also interested in improving the choir, though it would be another year before Hopkins was given control over the choir and the music.  Before long, the Temple Church and its choir of boys and men was known as a model for other churches in the choral services which were becoming popular in the Church of England. In 1869 Hopkins even published The Temple Church Choral Service Book, which remained in print for many years.

Few of Hopkins's hymn tunes are familiar today, but this one seems usable to me.  The text is a partial paraphrase of Psalm 77, one of the appointed psalms for today in the Revised Common Lectionary.

Thy deeds, O God, will I relate
And on thy wonders meditate;
Thy way, O God, is just and right,
None other is like thee in might.

Among the nations thou hast shown
Thy wondrous power and made it known;
Thou art the God that mightily
Redeemed and set thy people free.

At sight of thee the waters fled,
The quaking clouds their torrents shed,
The lightnings flashed, the thunder pealed,
The trembling earth its fear revealed.

Thy way, O God, was in the sea,
But, though thy paths mysterious be,
Thy people thou didst safely keep
As shepherds lead their wan'dring sheep.

The Psalter, 1912; alt.
Edward J. Hopkins, 1844

Now, Hopkins and his choir would have been more likely to sing Psalm 77 to Anglican chant, perhaps to one of the several chants also written by Hopkins (one of which you can see and listen to here).

On Sunday, May 8, 1898, Hopkins marked his final service at the Temple Church.  All of the music sung by the choir that day was composed by him.  Nearly three years later he died, only two weeks after the death of Queen Victoria.

Five Years Ago:  Edward J. Hopkins

Three Years Ago: Edward J. Hopkins

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