Tuesday, August 30, 2016

George Frederick Root

Composer and lyricist George Frederick Root (1820-1895), born today in Sheffield, Massachusetts, made his mark in secular songs as much as in songs for Sunday Schools and churches. In Biography of Gospel Song and Hymn Writers (1914), author J. H. Hall writes that by age thirteen, Root could play as many instruments as he was years old.

His early career was as a teacher of music in several schools, and he did not compose much before 1850. Over the next ten years, however, he wrote songs (sometimes both texts and tunes but more often tunes only) which became very popular and by 1860 he went into the music publishing business with his brother and a friend as Root & Cady.  The successful firm lost thousands of dollars when their building and inventory burned in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

The text of today's hymn (which was apparently originally sung to a melody known as Lord Ellin's Daughter) was shown to Root by his wife, who suggested he write a tune for it. He was not entirely pleased with the result, thinking it too simplistic, and though it was not immediately published, it eventually appeared in many hymnals (at least 552 according to Hymnary.org).  As told in Ira Sankey's Story of the Gospel Hymns, Root said "In after years I examined it in an endeavor to account for its great popularity - but in vain." Many writers of congregational song have been similarly baffled when texts or tunes they thought ephemeral became widely sung.

My days are gliding swiftly by;
And I, a pilgrim stranger,
Would not detain them as they fly,
Those hours of toil and labor.

For, oh! we stand on Jordan’s strand;
Our friends are passing over;
And, just before, the shining shore
We may almost discover.

We’ll gird our loins, my kindred dear,
Our distant home discerning:
Our waiting Lord has left us word,
Let ev’ry lamp be burning.

Should coming days be cold and dark,
We need not cease our singing:
That perfect rest naught can molest,
Where golden harps are ringing.

Let sorrow’s rudest tempest blow,
Each cord on earth to sever:
Jesus says, Come, and there’s our home,
Forever, oh! forever.

David D. Nelson, 1835; alt.
Tune: SHINING CITY ( with refrain)
George F. Root, 1855

David D. Nelson (1793-1844) was born in Tennessee and lived for many years in the South, serving as a surgeon in the War of 1812 and later pastoring Presbyterian congregations in Kentucky and Missouri before moving to Illinois (due at least in part to his anti-slavery views: "I will live on roast potatoes and salt before I will hold slaves," he once declared).

This hymn was reportedly a favorite of Henry Ward Beecher and later appeared in the Plymouth Sabbath School Collection of Hymns and Tunes (1865) which was published by William B. Bradbury but compiled from songs used at Beecher's Brooklyn church. Today, I am told this remains a well-loved hymn still sung at the Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims, where they proudly celebrate Beecher's legacy (including his immense contribution to congregational singing in this country).

Eight Years Ago: George Frederick Root

Seven Years Ago: George Frederick Root

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Ira David Sankey

Evangelist and composer Ira David Sankey was born today in Edinburg, Pennsylvania (near the Ohio border) in 1840.  In his autobiography, he recounts how singing was a part of his life from his earliest memories:

"... it was one of my chief joys to meet with other members of our family around the great log fire in the old homestead, and spend the long winter evenings singing with them the good old hymns and tunes of the church, which was the only music we had in those days."                                                                                                        
Church attendance provided him with another place to sing, and by the time he was in high school he was leading the choir at a Methodist church in New Castle.  He campaigned for the installation of an organ, which had been considered "wicked and worldly" and eventually succeeded ("Only one or two of the old members left the church during the singing."). After he traveled to Ohio for a musical convention where he met composer William B. Bradbury, his father was unsure about his chosen occupation:

"I am afraid that boy will never amount to anything; all he does is run about the country with a hymn-book under his arm."

Following military service in the Civil War, Sankey returned home, married Fanny Edwards, a member of his choir, and joined his father working for the newly-established Internal Revenue Service, which may have temporarily assuaged his father's misgivings.  But Ira met evangelist Dwight Moody in 1870 at a YMCA convention in Indianapolis, and when he joined Moody's organization a few years later his subsequent career could have been characterized as "running about the world with a hymn-book under his arm!"  Sankey became the song leader for the internationally-acclaimed revivals that Moody led. Moody had recognized Sankey's talents immediately and knew that the power of congregational singing would be key to the success of his work.

They introduced gospel songs to millions over the course of their careers, believing that style was most conducive to their message. Sankey compiled the songs that they used into a popular series of hymn-books titled Gospel Hymns, and these volumes were later combined into one.  The profits from these books enabled Sankey to build a new YMCA building and to buy a lot for his church in his home town, among many other contributions.

Most of the songs used by Sankey and Moody were contemporary works, written and composed by popular names of the day such as Fanny Crosby, Philip P. Bliss, William Howard Doane, Lucy Rider Meyer, Robert Lowry, George C. Stebbins, and many others.  However, they also used older texts that would have been known to their audiences, often adding new tunes that were more in keeping with the music of their revival events (as the retuned hymns movement does today).  This eighteenth century text by Philip Doddridge (with additional stanzas added some years later by Augustus Montague Toplady) was sung to a new gospel tune (and with an added refrain) by Sankey.

Grace, ’tis a charming sound,
Harmonious to my ear;
Heaven with the echo shall resound,
And all the earth shall hear.

Saved by grace alone!
This is all my plea;
Jesus died for humankind,
And Jesus died for me!

Grace first inscribed my name
In God’s eternal book;
’Twas grace that brought me to the Lamb,
Who all my sorrows took.

Grace led my roving feet
To tread the heavenly road,
And new supplies each hour I meet,
While pressing on to God.

Grace taught my soul to pray
And made my eyes o’erflow;
’Twas grace which kept me to this day,
And will not let me go.

O let thy grace inspire
My soul with strength divine
May all my powers to thee aspire,
And all my days be thine.

Philip Doddridge, 1740 (st. 1, 3, 5); alt.
Augustus Montague Toplady, 1776 (st. 2, 4); alt.
Tune: CHARMING GRACE (S. M. with refrain)
Ira David Sankey, 19th cent.

On YouTube you can see a video by a singer named Dave Willetts who portrays Sankey (alongside an unidentified actor as Moody) and leads a choir in some of his songs.

Seven Years Ago: Ira David Sankey

Five Years Ago: William Hiley Bathurst

Three Years Ago: William Hiley Bathurst

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) is commemorated today, the anniversary of his death, on various calendars of saints.  He entered monastic life in France at the age of twenty-two and rose in the ranks to head two different communities during his life, and founded many others.  His spiritual influence was said to be exceptionally strong, as four of his brothers, his uncle, and his father all eventually became monks, as well as the son of the King of France and many other men that he encountered. He refused to see his married sister when she tried to visit him, and after the death of her husband she too joined a convent. In Romance of Psalter and Hymnal (1889), author Robert Ethol Welsh writes: "Mothers hid their sons, wives their husbands, companions their friends, lest they should fall under his fascinating influence."

The sacred poetry attributed to him has been translated into several languages and adapted into hymns that appear across many denominations. Usually, the hymns are shorter sections of longer poems.  We have seen some of his familiar hymns here before, notably O sacred head and Jesus, the very thought of thee.

His devotion to the Passion of Christ (seen explicitly in the poem from which O sacred head was derived) is sometimes expressed in images of himself holding either a cross or a sponge on a pole (representing one of Jesus' seven last words, "I thirst"). I believe that the stained glass above might include a stylized sort of sponge, as well as a book representing his writings.

Today's hymn, no doubt also taken from a longer poem of Bernard's, is only documented as appearing in The College Hymnal (1876), which was prepared and published for use at Yale University, but it probably appeared in other hymnbooks. Unfortunately, the translator is not identified in the Yale collection.

O Christ, in whom our love shall find
Its rest and perfect end,
O Jesus, Joy of humankind,
And our eternal Friend:

May every soul your love return
And strive to do your will;
And, keeping your commandments, learn
To love you better still.

Grant us, while here on earth we stay,
Your love to feel and know;
And when from here we pass away,
To us your glory show.

Bernard of Clairvaux, 12th cent.; tr. unknown; alt.
Tune: ST. BERNARD (C.M.)
Tochter Sion, 1741; arr. John Richardson, 19th cent.

John Richardson (1816-1879) was a Roman Catholic organist in England who arranged or harmonized this German tune, and probably named it to accompany a translated text of St. Bernard (not necessarily this one).

Eight Years Ago: Bernard of Clairvaux

Six Years Ago: Bernard of Clairvaux

Monday, August 15, 2016

Saint Mary the Virgin

The Feast of Saint Mary the Virgin on August 15 is also celebrated in some churches as the Assumption (or Dormition) of Mary.  Today's hymn is by William Chatterton Dix (1837-1898), a "committed High Church Anglican," according to the new book by Carl P. Daw Jr., Glory to God: A Companion (2016).  The hymn has also certainly been sung by Roman Catholics, as it appeared in the St. Alban's Hymnal (1921) and probably some others.

Every generation, Mary, calls thee blessed,
Lady, first of women by the Church confessed.
Since Saint Gabriel's message fell upon thine ear,
Filling thee with gladness and with holy cheer.

Blessed then and always, Christ's dear Mother thou,
Mary, highly favored, God is with thee now.

Graced by God the Spirit, gone to take thy place,
Hail thou Queen of Heaven, hail thou, full of grace
Virgin, yet a mother, clothed in sunlight now,
Mary, Israel's Lily, earth's dear mother thou.

Mary, Star of ocean, light within the gloom,
Since the Holy Flower chose in thee to bloom;
Though so far above us, Mother, thou art ours,
In the world's hard conflict, in death's lonely hours.

Unto our Creator, joyful songs we sing,
Unto Christ our Brother, thankful hearts we bring,
To the Holy Spirit, bow we and adore,
As doth faithful Mary, now and evermore.

William Chatterton Dix, 19th cent.; alt.
Tune: HERMAS ( with refrain)
Frances Ridley Havergal, 1871

The tune HERMAS, by Frances Ridley Havergal (1836-1879), is her most well-known composition, and probably the only tune of hers that people might recognize, though she wrote several more.

P.S. The painting above, The Assumption of Mary (1835), is by French painter Charles LeBrun, once called "the greatest French artist of all time" by King Louis XIV.

Eight Years Ago: Ye who claim the faith of Jesus

Seven Years Ago: Hail, holy Queen!

Six Years Ago: Sing, sing, ye angel bands

Five Years Ago: Virgin born, we bow before thee

Four Years Ago: Let today above all other

Three Years Ago:  Hail, Queen of heav'n, the ocean star

One Year Ago:  Behold her open grave, adorned

Friday, August 12, 2016

Sir Frederick Arthur Gore Ouseley

Born into Great Britain's upper classes on this day in 1825, composer Frederick Arthur Gore Ouseley grew up the son of the ambassador to Russia and godson to the Dukes of Wellington and York. His musical talents were obvious from an early age, and he wrote an opera (L'isola disabitata or, The Uninhabited Island) when he was eight years old.

His lifelong interest in Anglican church music was sometimes seen by his social peers as odd, but he persisted, founding the College of Saint Michael and All Angels in 1856. This was a choir school which gained a sterling reputation for excellence, and the library, started with Ouseley's own collection was renowned well into the twentieth century. When the school closed in 1985, the books were transferred to the Bodleian Library at Oxford.

Ouseley's anthems and hymn tunes are not well known these days, though they turn up now and then. Today's tune was first published in the influential Hymns Ancient and Modern in 1861.

Where is your God, my soul?
Is God within your heart,
Or ruler of a distant realm
In which we have no part?

Where is your God, my soul?
Only in stars and sun?
Or have the holy words of truth
God's light in every one?

Where is your God, my soul?
Confined to Scripture’s page?
Or does the Spirit check and guide
The spirit of each age?

O Ruler of the sky,
Come rule within my heart;
O great Adorner of the world,
Your light of life impart.

In you have I my help,
As all my forebears had;
I’ll trust you when I’m sorrowful,
And serve you when I'm glad.

Thomas Toke Lynch, 1855; alt.
Tune: ABERYSTWYTH (Ouseley),(S.M.)
Frederick A. Gore Ouseley, 1861

This text by Thomas Toke Lynch (recently discussed here) is another hymn from The Rivulet, his controversial collection. You can see how some of its ideas were not exactly in line with much of the theology of his day (particularly the third stanza).  "Adorner of the world" is a name of God that I have not encountered before.

Eight Years Ago: Joseph Barnby

Seven Years Ago: Frederick A. Gore Ouseley

Six Years Ago: Joseph Barnby

Four Years Ago: Frederick A. Gore Ouseley

Three Years Ago: Joseph Barnby

Another Birthday Today: Katharine Lee Bates

Saturday, August 6, 2016

John Brownlie

Scottish scholar John Brownlie was born today in 1859, in Glasgow. After attending the university there and the Free Church College (now the Edinburgh Theological Seminary), he was licensed by the Presbytery of Glasgow in 1884. He served as both associate minister and later senior minister of the Free Church in Portpatrick, where he spent most of his life.

Brownlie believed that the Orthodox churches of "the East" had much to offer the "Western" churches of his day and he is best known for his hymn translations, mostly from Greek sources (though he also translated Latin texts from the Roman Catholic tradition).

In the supplement to the Dictionary of Hymnology (1907) by John Julian, Brownlie's hymns are said to show "all the beauty, simplicity, earnestness, and elevation of thought and feeling which characterize the originals." The following year, Brownlie was awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree by Glasgow University (his alma mater) for his accomplishments in hymnology.

Here on the blog we have already seen his Advent hymn The King shall come when morning dawns, a text for which no Greek original has been traced, apparently an original text by Brownlie. Today's hymn in Brownlie's translation is from Hymns of the Russian Church (1920), and is based in part on well-known scripture verses Matthew 7:7-8. In the introduction to the book (worth a read), Brownlie explains how the Russian Orthodox Church and the Greek Orthodox Church are one and the same, and how these hymns descended from Greek originals. From the introduction's concluding lines about the hymn texts offered:

"May they be as a gift from a deeply suffering Church to many sad hearts in our own land -- saddened by the events of the cruel war from which we have just emerged... If the comfort which many of them breathe should help to soothe the wounds of our sorrow, the Church from which is proceeds will only be continuing the office which she has so nobly fulfilled to her own suffering people during the past six centuries, and which she herself so sorely needs in these days of oppression and bloodshed."

Ask, and your prayer with arrow's speed
Shall bear to God your present need;
And for your help from heaven shall bring
Love's best, and gracious offering.

Seek, and the grace of God most kind
Your thirsting soul shall surely find;
Light shall break forth, and treasures rare
Shall sparkle round you, everywhere.

Knock, and the gate of God shall spring
Wide, for your soul's free entering,
And in the bliss by pilgrims shared,
You shall receive a place prepared.

Rest in your God, in quietness rest,
God is your Friend, and loves you best;
Heaven has a store, its wealth endures,
Have faith in all God's grace secures.

Greek (date unknown)
tr. John Brownlie, 1920; alt.
Tune: HEBRON (L.M.)
Lowell Mason, 1830

Brownlie also wrote Hymns and Hymnwriters of The Church Hymnary (1899), a companion to The Church Hymnary (1898), a popular book in the Presbyterian and Free churches of Scotland.

It's interesting to note that Brownlie's work in translating Eastern hymns can be seen as a continuation of the work of John Mason Neale, who died today on Brownlie's birthdate in 1866 (and who is commemorated tomorrow on the Episcopal calendar of saints).