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The hymn—a word derived from the Greek hymnos—has been defined as ‘a term of unknown origin applied from Ancient Times to a wide variety of songs in honour of gods, heroes or notable men’ (see the article on ‘Hymn’ in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, London, 1980).
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 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
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
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
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
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
Faithful shepherd lead me Pastor Pastorum
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’
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
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
He who would valiant be Monks Gate
‘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
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
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
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
Now thank we all our God Nun danket
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