Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Henry Smart

English composer Henry Thomas Smart was born today in 1813 in London. His father was a well-known violinist who taught him much about music in childhood, but young Henry was also fascinated by mechanical objects. When his uncle procured a regular seat for Henry at Covent Garden, the boy was as interested in the instrments themselves as in the music they produced.  It it perhaps for this reason that he became an authority on pipe organs and organ building as well as a prominent (though self-taught) composer.

As a young man his late mother's relations pushed him into a career in the law, but after four years he found a loophole in his employment agreement 
that enabled him to leave the profession. He became a church organist for several parishes in London, and also began composing sacred music of various types, including anthems, chants and service music, organ music, and of course, hymn tunes. He also wrote some secular music: an opera (Bertha), a cantata for women's voices (The Fishermaidens), and about 140 part-songs and trios. He was the music editor of some hymnbooks, including The Choral Book (1858) and the Presbyterian Psalter and Hymnal (1877).

In Handbook to the Church Hymnary (1927), James Moffatt writes that Smart's hymn tunes "are of great purity and excellence," but they have not been included in modern hymnals to the same degree that they were in earlier times. In my own opinion, many of them are worthy of another look, as they generally rise above the tunes of several of Smart's Victorian contemporaries. Today's tune, HEATHLANDS, first appeared in Psalms and Hymns for Divine Worship (1866) and went on to many other hymnals, sometimes matched to texts such as For the beauty of the earth and God of mercy, God of grace (neither of which we probably sing it with today).

Every morning mercies new
Fall as fresh as morning dew;
Every morning let us pay
Tribute with the early day;
For thy mercies, God, are sure;
Thy compassion doth endure.

Let our prayers each morn prevail,
That thy gifts may never fail; 
And, as far as east from west,
Lift the burden from each breast;
Feed us with the Bread of Life;
Fit us for our daily strife.

As the morning light returns,
As the sun with splendor burns,
Teach us still to turn to thee,
Ever blessed Trinity,
With our hands our hearts to raise,
In unfailing prayer and praise.

Greville Phillimore, 1863; alt.
Henry T. Smart, 1867

Sir George Smart, composer of the tune WILTSHIRE (published in 1795, and which still survives in some places today) was Henry Smart's uncle. The book Women Composers (1902) by Otto Ebel lists another musical relative of his, sister Harriet Anne Smart, "the author of a number of hymns and other vocal music." I have not yet discovered any of these tunes, but given my interest in women who wrote sacred music, you can be sure that I am still looking.

P.S. (October 27) While putting away my reference materials for writing this post, I somehow saw a passage which gave me Harriet Smart's married name (Callow).  It turns out that I had previously unearthed one hymn tune by Harriet Ann Callow named SOLITUDE, from the Scottish Hymnal (1898). Now I had another clue to look for more, and then discovered that, credited as "H.A. Callow," her SOLITUDE also appeared in 3 American hymnals (as listed on Still more to find.

Eight Years Ago: Henry Smart

Seven Years Ago: Henry Smart

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