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Abide with me and other favourite hymns

Vernacular hymns, etymologically songs of praise, are a particular feature of the worship of the Protestant Reformation, assuming various forms over the centuries, as Christian beliefs and practices have undergone changes. The German hymns of Martin Luther, chorales, some derived both in text and melody from earlier Catholic Latin hymns, came to form an idiosyncratic and essential element in Lutheran worship, while extremer Reformers, following Calvin in Geneva, favoured versions of the Psalms, the pattern adopted in the Sternhold and Hopkins English metrical Psalter of 1562, which included 65 melodies from the Genevan Psalter. Succeeding generations brought additions to the repertoire of popular hymns, enjoying varied success. George Wither, in 1623, managed to ensure that his The Hymnes and Songs of the Church, a collection to which Orlando Gibbons contributed, should be bound together with all copies of the metrical psalms, but his attempts, with his own feeble verses, were frustrated by the Stationers’ Company, which had its own monopoly to protect. Collections of hymns were published later in the seventeenth century by Playford, and in 1700 came Tate and Brady’s Supplement to the New Version of the Psalms, a compilation that included a small number of hymns. Nahum Tate, the librettist of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and poet laureate, survives as a hymnodist in his While shepherds watched, and with Nicholas Brady in As pants the hart, Through all the changing scenes of life, and Have mercy, Lord, on me.

The eighteenth century brought the significant Hymns and Spiritual Songs of Isaac Watts, author of some of the most popular hymns still sung. His influence was apparent in the hymns of Charles Wesley, and the form of popular worship fostered by the Wesleys, with its strong emphasis on singing, as Methodism developed, challenging the established Church. Some of these hymns found their way into Anglican worship, in spite of traditional objections to any alteration of the liturgy as established by law and enshrined in The Book of Common Prayer. The result in the nineteenth century was the flourishing of the Anglican hymn, now drawing on Protestant and Catholic sources. A suitable Anglican compromise between the two was reached in 1861 with Hymns Ancient and Modern, a collection that won the widest currency, and, while Tractarian in original inspiration, nevertheless managed to cater for a wide range of theological opinion. The English Hymnal of 1906, edited by Percy Dearmer, with music edited by Vaughan Williams, might have displaced Hymns Ancient and Modern had it not been seen as too ‘Catholic’, in spite of its address to ‘all broad-minded men’. Songs of Praise, published in 1925, won less favour, discarding, as it did, elements of popular Victorian repertoire in favour of new melodies.

The present anthology of English hymns opens with All people that on earth do dwell by William Kethe, from Daye’s Psalter of 1500-01, sung to the tune of the Old Hundredth from the Genevan Psalter, a melody harmonized by John Dowland for Ravenscroft’s Psalter in 1621. This is followed by Dear Lord and Father of mankind, with words by the American Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier, author of the ballad Barbara Frietchie, and music taken from Hubert Parry’s Judith. George Herbert’s King of glory, King of peace is set to the Welsh hymn-tune Gwalchmai by the Victorian J.D.Jones, and Athelstan Riley’s Ye watchers and ye holy ones uses the melody Lasst uns erfreuen from the Cologne Geistliche Gesangbuch of 1623. Let all mortal flesh keep silent has a text derived from the Greek Liturgy of St James by the Victorian hymnodist Gerard Moultrie. The impressive melody, Picardy, is from a French traditional carol.

The Welsh hymn tune St Denio is familiarly associated with Immortal, invisible, God only wise, by the Scottish minister Walter Chalmers Smith, a Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland. It is followed by All my hope on God is founded with a text by Robert Bridges, translating a hymn by Neander. The melody Michael, by Herbert Howells, recalls the tragic death of the composer’s nine-year-old son in 1935 from polio. The Lord’s my shepherd, a version of Psalm 23 from the Scottish Psalter of 1650 has a tune by the nineteenth- century Jessie Irvine, daughter of a Scottish minister. Tell out, my soul, the words based on the Magnificat by Timothy Dudley-Smith, Bishop of Thetford from 1981 until his retirement in 1991, is set to the tune Woodlands by Walter Greatorex, who taught at Gresham’s School, Holt, from 1911 until his death in 1949, doing little, it seems, to encourage the musical ambitions of Benjamin Britten, a pupil at the school. Christ is made the sure foundation is an adaptation of the seventh-century Latin office hymn Angularis fundamentum by John Mason Neale. It is sung to the tune Westminster Abbey, adapted from Henry Purcell.

Come down, O Love divine is a translation by the Victorian clergyman and theologian Richard Frederick Littledale of Bianco da Siena’s fifteenth-century Discendi, Amor santo , sung to a tune by Vaughan Williams, Down Ampney, and Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation, is a version by Catherine Winkworth and others of the Lutheran Lobe den Herren by the German Pietist theologian, poet, and composer, Joachim Neander, whose hymns largely followed the metrical patterns of the Genevan Psalter, allowing their performance with music drawn from there or with melodies of his own composition. The melody here is taken from the Stralsund Gesangbuch of 1665. Jerusalem, intended by its writer William Blake for quite other purposes, is now traditionally coupled with the rousing music of Hubert Parry, written in 1916.

The words of Abide with me are by the Scottish clergyman Henry Francis Lyte, whose Poems chiefly Religious was published in 1833. The well-known melody Eventide is by William Henry Monk, musical editor of Hymns Ancient and Modern, a Tractarian organist and choirmaster. Alleluya, sing to Jesus has words by Bristol-born William Chatterton Dix, his second name proclaiming his father’s literary interests. The tune Hyfrydol (Good Cheer) was written by the Welsh hymn composer Rowland Huw Prichard, born in Bala in 1811, but later employed in Holywell, where he died in 1887. Ye holy angels bright has words by the seventeenth-century divine Richard Baxter, with nineteenth-century additions by John Hampden Gurney. The eighteenth-century tune Darwall’s 148th is by John Darwall, Vicar of St Matthew’s, Walsall, and a contributor to Tate and Brady’s psalter. My song is love unknown, with words by Samuel Crossman, a Puritan sympathizer, who recanted after the Restoration, to become Dean of Bristol Cathedral. The hymn was published in 1664 in his The Young Man’s Meditation. The tune is the work of the twentieth-century English composer John Ireland.

The hymn Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty! is by Bishop Reginald Heber, briefly, from 1823, Bishop of Calcutta. The tune Nicaea is by one of the most dramatic of Victorian hymn composers, John Bacchus Dykes, precentor of Durham Cathedral, sixty of whose hymns were accepted for the first edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern. Glorious things of thee are spoken has words by John Newton, who after an early adventurous career eventually settled as a curate at Olney, publishing with the poet William Cowper the Olney Hymns. It used to be sung to the tune of Haydn’s Emperor’s Hymn, but when this seemed unsuitable it was coupled with the tune Abbot’s Leigh by Cyril Taylor, Precentor of Bristol and Salisbury Cathedrals. O for a thousand tongues to sing by Charles Wesley is here sung to the tune Arden, followed by Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven, another example of Victorian hymnody, with words by Henry Francis Lyte and music by Sir John Goss, a pupil of Mozart’s pupil Attwood, whom he succeeded as organist of St Paul’s Cathedral, and composer to the Chapel Royal. O praise ye the Lord has words by Sir Henry Williams Baker, with the tune Laudate Dominum by Henry John Gauntlett, an organist and pupil of Samuel Wesley, whose hymn tunes may be numbered in hundreds.

Keith Anderson

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