Barnby was a professional musician, at the heart of the musical life of London, both sacred and secular. He is remembered for his highly sentimental partsongs, but it was he who conducted the first performance in an English church of Bach’s St Matthew Passion, in Westminster Abbey on Maundy Thursday 1871, and for many years he regularly conducted the St John Passion in St Anne’s Soho. He edited a number of hymn books and in 1869 he wrote in a preface a vigorous defence of the way he wrote his hymn tunes, claiming the right to compose in the idiom of his day, as much admired composers had done in earlier times. It is clear that there was some resistance to his kind of music in church at first. It is also clear from another preface written ten years later that it had by then evaporated. The words were written in 1883 by Dorothy Frances Gurney at the request of her sister who wanted a hymn for her wedding, to be sung to the tune ‘O strength and stay’. The ideas are still suitable for a wedding, though some couples might not express their thoughts for their future in those terms. Barnby adapted his tune from an anthem he wrote for a royal wedding in 1889. The melody has a simplicity that is perhaps a little sullied by the harmony.
from notes by Alan Luff © 2001