Until recently it was thought that St Ambrose, Bishop of Milan (died 397), was the founder of hymnody in the West; however, it is now believed that Hilary, Bishop of Poitiers (c315–366), may have been responsible for this important innovation. Though there are several references to the singing of ‘hymns, psalms and spiritual songs’ in writings of the first three centuries, including two by St Paul (Col. iii: 16 and Eph. v: 18-20), there is no clear indication of exactly what form these took. All the surviving hymn texts from these three centuries are Greek, and one of them, ‘O Gladsome Light’, is still sung at Vespers in the Greek Church. The greatest hymn writer of the Syrian Church from this period was St Ephraim (c307–373).
Hymns became a part of the Benedictine monastic liturgy in the sixth century, but did not become firmly fixed in the Roman rite until the eleventh century. Gregory the Great (540–604) and St Andrew, Archbishop of Crete (699–732), are known to have written hymns; the latter is attributed with the composition of ‘Christian Dost thou see them’.
During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the Reformation in Bohemia gave a very marked impetus to hymn-writing and hymn-tune composition; this was further developed in Germany, France and England during the sixteenth century. In Germany, Martin Luther (1483–1546) wrote a great number of hymns which he set to simple chorale tunes. In writing these chorales, Luther frequently drew upon melodies from Latin hymns of the Roman Catholic Church, pre-Reformation popular German hymns and familiar secular songs. The melodies were originally sung by the tenor but during the seventeenth century it became more usual to find the melody in the treble, as we see today. The first Lutheran hymn book was published in 1524 at Wittenburg. It contained only eight hymns, and other books quickly followed. Besides the Lutheran chorales which were based on earlier material, Luther and his contemporaries also composed a number of very fine original hymns; one of the most popular was Luther's ‘Ein’ feste Burg’, which is still included in the official hymn book of every Protestant body throughout the world. A large number of the hymns from the Lutheran Church were re-harmonised by Bach and the revival of interest in the latter’s music during the nineteenth century led to incorporation of several Lutheran chorales in English hymn books.
In the sixteenth century, the Reformed Churches of The Netherlands, England, Scotland and Switzerland decided to replace the singing of psalms to plainsong by the singing of metrical translations of psalms to tunes suitable for congregational use. The Calvinistic reformers made great use of metrical psalms. In 1538, Calvin published his first psalter in Strasbourg and this was followed in 1542 and 1543 by larger books. The Complete Psalter, which appeared in 1552, contained only melodies but these were harmonised during the following decade and complete harmonised editions were published in 1564 and 1565.
In England, John Day completed and published a metrical psalter in 1562, which was named after the two men who compiled it, Sternhold and Hopkins. The first edition, which contained fifty-six melodies taken from French and German sources, was shortly followed by an augmented and fully harmonised version in four volumes, one for each vocal part. ‘Sternhold and Hopkins’ was the chief book authorised in the Church of England for over a century.
The founder of English hymnody may be regarded as Isaac Watts (1674–1748), whose work in reforming congregational song texts culminated in the publication of his Hymns and Spiritual Songs in 1707. Watts’ collection was as complete and comprehensive a set of hymns as had ever been proposed for English worship and it raised the profile of the hymn sufficiently to overcome the prevailing psalmody. The great flowering period of English hymnody began with the work of the Methodist hymn-writers John Wesley (1703–1791) and his brother Charles (1707–1788). The Wesleys gave great prominence to hymns within their Methodist worship and published many books, the first of which was John Wesley’s Collection of Psalms and Hymns (1737). Instead of using metrical psalm tunes, the Wesleys composed new hymn-tunes to accompany their hymns; these tunes were explicitly written to reflect the sentiments expressed in the words. During his lifetime, Charles Wesley composed over six thousand hymns, including the favourite Jesu, lover of my soul.
The modern hymn book is a collection of hymns drawn from various times and places. Among the most important in use today are Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861, and many subsequent editions), The English Hymnal (1906, revised 1933) and Songs of Praise (1925, revised 1931). This most accomplished recording by St Paul’s Cathedral Choir presents sixteen well-loved hymns from The New English Hymnal. A great number of the hymns, which originate from many different eras and traditions, are given an extra musical dimension by John Scott’s original descants and thrilling brass arrangements.
Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven Praise, my soul
The Scottish hymn-writer Henry Francis Lyte (1793–1847) began a career in medicine at Trinity College, Dublin, but abandoned it when he took holy orders in 1815. During the next eight years he became curate at several parishes including the sailing town of Lymington, where he composed Tales on the Lord’s Prayer in verse. In 1823, Lyte took up an appointment in the Devonshire port of Brixham and it was here that most of his hymns, including Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven, Abide with me and God of mercy, God of grace were written. He remained in Devonshire for several years but died in France at the early age of fifty-four.
The tune ‘Praise, my soul’ was written by the English organist and composer Sir John Goss (1800–1880), who succeeded Thomas Attwood as organist of St Paul’s Cathedral in 1838. Goss had previously studied with Attwood, who himself had been a pupil of Mozart in Vienna. Goss composed several anthems, glees and other hymn tunes, including ‘Humility’ sung to the carol See, amid the winter snow. He was knighted in 1872. The descant sung on this recording was composed by A C Tysoe (1884–1962).
O worship the King Hanover
Sir Robert Grant (1779–1838) based his hymn O worship the King on verse written by William Kethe (died 1594) which appeared in Day’s Psalter (1561). Grant, who became a Fellow of Magdalene College, Cambridge, in 1802, practised as a barrister at Lincoln’s Inn from 1807 and published several literary works including A Sketch of the History of East India Company to 1733. Grant became Governer of Bombay in 1834 and remained in office until his death in Dalpoorie four years later. He also wrote many sacred poems which were edited by Lord Glenelg and published in 1839.
The melody and bass line of the tune ‘Hanover’ are attributed to William Croft (1678–1727), a Warwickshire-born organist and composer who held appointments at the Chapel Royal in 1707 and Westminster Abbey from 1708. Croft wrote many anthems, a Burial Service and a number of hymn tunes including ‘St Anne’ which is sung to the words O God our help in ages past. He died in Bath and is buried in Westminster Abbey.
There is a green hill far away Horsley
Mrs Cecil Frances Alexander (1818–1895) was only twenty years old when she composed the beautiful words of the hymn There is a green hill, a work of exquisite purity and tenderness of youth. Her inspiration is said to have come from a large grass-covered mound just outside her home town of Londonderry which put her in mind of the hill in the Holy Land, beyond Jerusalem’s gates, ‘where our dear Lord was crucified’. During her lifetime, Mrs Alexander wrote over four hundred hymns including Once in Royal David’s City and All things bright and beautiful, two hymns which have remained extremely popular with adults and children alike.
The tune ‘Horsley’ was named after its composer, William Horsley (1774–1858), a London-born organist and composer who was one of the founders of the Philharmonic Society in London (1813). The flowing melody and simple harmonies of his hymn tune complement perfectly the fresh simplicity of Mrs Alexander’s poetry.
Immortal, invisible, God only wise St Denio
During his lifetime, the Scottish poet and preacher Walter Chalmers Smith (1824–1908) wrote much verse including the sacred poem Immortal, invisible, God only wise. Smith studied at Marischal College in Aberdeen and graduated with a Master of Arts degree in 1841. He then entered the Ministry and became a Free Church minister in Glasgow and Edinburgh between 1862 and 1894. A collection of his works was published in 1902.
The version of the tune ‘St Denio’ in use today was adapted from a Welsh song set to a hymn in John Roberts’ Caniadau y Cussegre, a collection of hymns published in 1839. John Roberts (1822–1877), a Welsh Calvinistic Methodist preacher, had a great influence on Welsh musical life, introducing the music of Bach, Handel and Mendelssohn to Welsh choirs and also a number of German chorale tunes.
O for a closer walk with God Caithness
By all accounts, the author of the hymn O for a closer walk with God led a tragic life clouded by mental instability. After receiving his education at Westminster School, William Cowper (1731–1800) studied law and was called to The Bar in 1754. During the next few years he suffered spells of severe depression, and though he was offered several prestigious posts, the thought of taking them up induced such terror in his mind that he tried to take his own life three times. After 1765 Cowper went to live with the Reverend John Newton, Curate of Olney, and between them they composed over 350 hymns. O for a closer walk and God moves in a mysterious way both date from this time and were included in Cowper and Newton’s Olney Hymns published in 1779.
The tune ‘Caithness’ derives from a melody in The Scottish Psalter of 1635, also known as ‘The Old Psalter’ or ‘John Knox’s Psalter’. This psalter, an incomplete version of which was published in 1561 for use in the Anglo-Scottish Church, was brought back from Geneva by the Scottish refugees who had fled there to escape the persecutions of the Reformation. The psalter was completed and issued in Edinburgh in 1564; it appeared in many later editions and served the churches for a century. The early editions contained melodies only but 1635 saw the publication of an edition which provided harmonised tunes.
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty Lobe den Herren
The words to this familiar hymn were written by Joachim Neander (1650–1680) and translated from the German by Catherine Winkworth (1827–1878). Neander also wrote the words of All my hope on God is founded and the tune ‘Unser Herrscher’ which is usually set to the hymn Come, ye faithful raise the anthem. The tune ‘Lobe den Herren’ is derived from the melody to Hast du denn, Liebster found in P Soren’s collection of hymns entitled Praxis Pietatis Melica (1668). It was set to Neander’s ‘Lobe den Herren’ in Catherine Winkworth’s Chorale Book for England (1863), which was the culmination of a revival of interest in the old Lutheran chorales and their tunes, initiated by the publication in 1841 of Frances E Cox’s Sacred Hymns from the German.
Faithful shepherd lead me Pastor Pastorum
Little is written about the author and translator Thomas Benson Pollock (1836–1896) and, apart from this most beautiful hymn, his work does not seem to be represented in the popular hymn books used in our churches today. The 1924 edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern includes several litanies and hymns translated by Pollock from French and Latin, and the Methodist Hymnbook (1933) contains the hymns Spirit blest, who art adored, Jesus, with Thy Church abide and We have not known Thee as we ought, which has been set to Stainer’s tune ‘Credo’.
Philipp Friedrich Silcher (1789–1860) was a German composer best known for his composed ‘folk’ songs, in particular his setting of Heine’s ‘Die Loreley’, and was also an important collector of true folksongs. Like There is a green hill, Faithful shepherd, lead me is a gentle, serene hymn and Silcher’s simple hymn tune ‘Pastor Pastorum’ provides a perfect musical accompaniment to Pollock’s verse. The treble solo in the second verse is one of the most sublime moments on this recording.
Praise to the holiest in the height Chorus Angelorum ‘Somervell’
Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801–1890) was educated at Trinity College, Oxford, and later became a Fellow at Oriel, where he met John Keble. Newman was ordained as an Anglican priest and was presented in 1828 to the vicarage of St Mary’s, Oxford, where his sermons attracted much attention. However, in 1845 he resigned from St Mary’s and converted to the Roman Catholic faith, causing a rift with Keble and isolating him from his Oxford life. In 1865 Newman published his poem ‘The Dream of Gerontius’, from which comes the hymn Praise to the Holiest in the height; the entire poem was set to music by Sir Edward Elgar in 1900. Newman published many volumes of sermons and two novels, both anonymously; he became a cardinal in 1879.
The tune ‘Chorus Angelorum’ appears as ‘Somervell’ in some hymn books after its composer Sir Arthur Somervell (1863–1937), who was a pupil of Stanford at Cambridge University and Parry at the Royal College of Music. Later, he became a teacher at the Royal College of Music and from 1901 he was the Inspector in Music to the National Board of Education; from 1920 until his knighthood in 1929 he was Chief Inspector. Somervell first contributed to Arundel Hymns in 1902 and his complete list of works includes numerous chamber, choral and vocal pieces and a symphony.
Sun of my soul Abends
At the age of fifteen, John Keble (1792–1866) was awarded an Open Scholarship to Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and graduated with a double first there three years later. He was ordained in 1815 and became a Fellow and Tutor at Oriel College. Keble left Oxford in 1823 but was closely bound up with the Oxford Movement which was centred there; the principal aims of this movement were to revive the High Church traditions of the seventeenth century and to defend the Church of England as a divine institution with an independent spiritual status. Keble’s collection of sacred poems for Sundays and Holy Days, The Christian Year, was published anonymously in 1827; it included Sun of my soul, which he had written in Oxford on 25 November 1820, New every morning and Blest are the pure in heart. Keble was Professor of Poetry at Oxford from 1831 to 1841 and from 1836 until his death he was vicar of the country parish of Hursley. Keble College was founded in his memory in 1870.
Sir Herbert Stanley Oakley (1830–1903) was a fine organist and composer of church music; his studies took him to Oxford and Leipzig, and he was Professor of Music at Edinburgh University from 1865 to 1891 and Composer to Her Majesty in Scotland. He received his knighthood in 1876 and died in Eastbourne in 1903.
Ye holy angels bright Darwall’s 148th
The words of this hymn were written by Richard Baxter (1615–1691) and later altered by John Hampden Gurney (1802–1862), Prebendary at St Paul’s in 1857 whose works include Psalms and Hymns for Public Worship (1852). Richard Baxter was a military chaplain during the Civil War and the author of two books which played an important part in the Evangelical tradition of England and America. In 1638 he was made a deacon by the Bishop of Worcester and several years later was offered a bishopric, which he refused. He then suffered a term of imprisonment from 1685/6 and was fined by Judge Jeffreys on the charge of libelling the Church in his Paraphrase of The New Testament (1685). The tune to this hymn is named after its composer, the Reverend John Darwall (1731–1789).
He who would valiant be Monks Gate
John Bunyan (1628–1688) was born in Elstow, Bedfordshire, to a family with gypsy associations. After his army service during the Civil War, Bunyan returned to his Bedfordshire home to preach the Gospel. He became a powerful speaker and was arrested in 1660 for holding unlawful meetings. After his liberation in 1671 under the Declaration of Indulgence, Bunyan became Paster of Elstow Church, where, despite a few interruptions, he remained for sixteen years. In 1675 he was arrested again and sent to Bedford Gaol, which earned him the nickname ‘Tinker out of Bedford Gaol’! It was during his incarceration there that he began to write Pilgrim’s Progress; the first part of this allegorical work was published in 1678 but it was not completed until 1685. Bunyan died in London three years later and was buried in Bunhill Fields. He who would valiant be is taken from the second part of Pilgrim’s Progress and was revised by Percy Dearmer (1867–1936).
‘Monks Gate’ was adapted from an English folk tune by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958), who compiled and edited The English Hymnal of 1906. He began collecting English folk tunes in 1902 and used them to great effect in a number of his compositions. Vaughan Williams wrote many original hymn tunes including ‘Down Ampney’, which is sung to Come down O Love Divine and some of his best-known adaptations of folk tunes are ‘Easter Song’ (All creatures of our God and King), ‘Quem pastores laudavere’ (Jesu good above all other) and ‘Forest Green’ (O little town of Bethlehem).
Angel voices ever singing Angel Voices
Apart from this hymn, the works of Francis Pott (1832–1909), like those of Thomas Benson Pollock, are not well represented in modern hymn books. Pott’s contributions are usually limited to Forty days and forty nights, a collaboration with George Hunt Smyttan (1822–1870), and The strife is o’er, which Pott translated from the anonymous twelfth-century poem published in Symphonia Sirenum, Cologne (1695).
Edwin George Monk (1819–1900), who composed the tune ‘Angel Voices’, was Organist and Master of Music at Radley College before being appointed as Organist to York Minster, a post he held for nearly a quarter of a century. Monk composed many hymn tunes and other church music and was one of the prominent workers in the Victorian musical revival. Like his namesake William Henry Monk (1823–1889), to whom he was not related, E G Monk was an important editor of hymn books.
The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended St Clement
During his lifetime John Ellerton (1826–1893) wrote a large number of hymns and translations, and a glance at the index of almost any hymn book will reveal at least four or five of his works. Ellerton‘s contributions to English hymnody are best represented in Hymns Ancient and Modern and The Methodist Hymnbook (1933), which both include his original hymns The day thou gavest and This is the day of light and his translation from the Mozarabic Breviary of the fifth century of Sing alleluia forth.
Two hymn tunes of Reverend Clement Cotterill Scholefield (1839–1904) have been set to poems by Ellerton; the hymn tune ‘Irene’ is often coupled with Ellerton’s When the day of toil is done and on this recording The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended is set to Scholefield’s more familiar tune ‘St Clement’.
Dear Lord and Father of mankind Repton
John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892), who composed over sixty hymns including Immortal love for ever full and the extremely popular Dear Lord and Father of mankind, once wrote ‘I am really not a hymn writer for the simple reason that I know nothing of music. Only a very few of my pieces were written for singing. A good hymn is the best use to which poetry can be devoted but I do not claim I have succeeded in composing one’. Whittier was born in Massachusetts to Quaker farming parents and after spending several years in Boston as a newspaper journalist and editor he returned home in 1831 to combine journalism with farming. In 1836 Whittier was elected Secretary of the American Anti-Slavery Society. Dear Lord and Father was originally part of Whittier’s religious poem ‘The Brewing of Soma’, which he wrote in 1872; the hymn was first published in 1884 in Horder’s Congregational Hymns.
The composer and music historian Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (1848–1918) began composing at eight years of age and whilst at Eton he took his Oxford degree in music. He continued his studies at Oxford University, became Director of Music at the Royal College of Music in 1894 and was knighted in 1898. Parry was Professor of Music at Oxford between 1900 and 1908 and during this time he received a baronetcy. Parry’s best-known works are Blest Pair of Sirens (1887), Songs of Farewell (1916–1918) and a setting of Blake’s ‘Jerusalem’. The hymn tune ‘Repton’ is taken from a song in his oratorio Judith (1880).
Lord Jesus think on me St Paul’s
The words of this hymn originate from a poem written by Bishop Synesius of Cyrene (c375–c430); the translation from the Greek was carried out by Allen William Chatfield (1808–1896). The poem was set to music by Sir John Stainer (1840–1901), a chorister at St Paul’s from 1847 to 1856 who succeeded Goss as organist there in 1872. Poor sight forced him to relinquish his post at St Paul’s in 1888 and on his resignation he received a knighthood. Stainer became Professor of Music at Oxford the following year and was Principal of the Royal School of Music. Like Somervell he was elected Chief Inspector in music to the National Board of Education. His most popular work is probably The Crucifixion (1887) and his best known tunes include ‘All for Jesus’, ‘Love Divine’ and ‘Author of Life Divine’. The tune ‘St Paul’s’ was written in 1874 whilst Stainer was organist at the cathedral. Stainer also made arrangements of folk tunes—e.g. The First Nowell and Good King Wenceslas.
Now thank we all our God Nun danket
Martin Rinckhart (1586–1649) studied theology at Leipzig University and after his ordination became Minister of the Lutheran Church in his home town of Eilenburg in Saxony. Rinckhart was a prolific writer and composer but much of his work was either lost of destroyed. Opinion is divided as to the date of composition of the hymn Nun danket; what is clear is that it was used at the Thanksgiving Services in 1648 following the signing of the Peace of Westphalia, which marked the end of the Thirty Years’ War. The hymn became immensely popular in Germany and was sung at many ceremonial occasions including the completion of Cologne Cathedral (before World War II) and at the laying of the foundation stone of the new Reichstag Building in Berlin by Emperor William in 1884. Catherine Winkworth (1827–1878) translated the hymn and included it in her Chorale Book for England (1863).
The German composer and theorist Johannes Cruger (1598–1662) published several theoretical works and collections of Lutheran hymns with music. Many of his settings are still in use including Jesu, meine Freude and Nun danket alle Gott. The melody of the tune Nun danket used on this recording is taken from Cruger’s collection Praxis Pietatis Melica (1644); the harmony is chiefly from the chorale ‘Let all men praise the Lord’ in Mendelssohn’s Lobgesang (‘Song of Praise’, 1840).
Sarah Langdon © 1999