Sunday, June 18, 2017

Samuel Longfellow


Samuel Longfellow (1819 - 1892), a Unitarian pastor, hymnwriter, and hymnal editor was born today in Portland, Maine, and lived most of his life in New England.  He is probably best known for two Unitarian hymnals he edited with his close friend Samuel Johnson: A Book of Hymns for Public and Private Devotion (1844) and Hymns of the Spirit (1864). Both of these collections include several texts by Longfellow and Johnson, as well as poets whose verse had not previously been sung (such as John Greenleaf Whittier) or had not previously appeared in an American collection (such as Nearer, my God, to thee) Most of the material was edited to make it conform to Unitarian belief.
Longfellow and Johnson met as students at Harvard Divinity School and remained friends for the rest of their lives, carrying on a long and affectionate correspondence. When Johnson died in 1882. Longfellow spent the next year writing a memoir of his friend. A biographer of Longfellow's would later describe his friendship with Johnson as the most significant relationship of his life. The exact nature of the relationship remains unclear, but it's possible that Longfellow was thinking about it in a rather sad poem called "Love" (1851), which concludes:
 
To love, nor ask return,
To accept our solitude,
Not now for others' love to yearn
But only for their good;
To joy if they are crowned,
Though thorns our head entwine,
And in the thought of blessing them
All thought of self resign.
 
Is this the lament of a man who has decided that his feelings will never be returned in the way he wants? We will probably never know for sure.
 
Today's hymn was written toward the end of Longfellow's life, just a few years before the photograph above (from 1890), and on the occasion of the dedication of the new Cambridge Hospital, in the Massachusetts town where he was then living, and working on a three-volume biography of his brother, the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

O Lord of life, our saving Health,
Who mak’st thy suffering ones our care;
Our gifts are still our truest wealth,
To serve thee our sincerest prayer.


As on the river’s rising tide
Flow strength and coolness from the sea,
So through the ways our hands provide,
May quickening life flow in from thee;


To heal the wound, to still the pain,
And strength to failing pulses bring,
Till stumbling feet shall leap again,
And silent lips with gladness sing.


Bless thou the gifts our hands have brought!
Bless thou the work our hearts have planned,
Ours is the hope, the will, the thought;
The rest, O God, is in thy hand.

 
Samuel Longfellow, 1886; alt.
Tune: ELY (L.M.)
Thomas Turton, 1844

The final stanza here has often been taken out of this hymn and used separately in many hymnals as an offertory response, but that actually changes its meaning. In that usage, the text is consecrating the offerings of the people for the work of the church.  However, the complete hymn has a different theme and meaning: that we can be healers through the gifts of God, flowing though us. This idea feels quite modern, even though the language is archaic.



Nine Years Ago: Samuel Longfellow

Eight Years Ago: Samuel Longfellow

Six Years Ago: Samuel Longfellow

Four Years Ago: Samuel Longfellow

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Feast of Corpus Christi


The Feast of Corpus Christi, commemorating the Blessed Sacrament, is observed either on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, or on the following Sunday (generally for convenience).

The feast dates from thirteenth century Belgium, where Juliana of Liege had long believed that such a commemoration should be observed outside Maundy Thursday, during Lent. When she became prioress of the religious community where she lived, she was able to spread her idea more widely through her contact with her (male) confessor, and eventually it was adopted by Pope Urban IV in 1261. It is not part of the Protestant tradition because it was suppressed during the Reformation.

Bread of heav'n, on thee we feed,
for thou art our food indeed.
Ever may our souls be fed
with this true and living bread,
day by day with strength supplied
through the life of Christ who died.


Vine of heav'n, thy love supplies
this blest cup of sacrifice.
'Tis thy wounds our healing give;
to thy cross we look and live.
Thou our life! O let us be
rooted, grafted, built on thee.


Josiah Conder, 1824; alt.
Tune: NUTBOURNE (7.7.7.7.7.7.)
Theodore Aylward, 1869

Said to be the most widely-used of Conder's texts (though we have previously seen others here - click on his tag below), this one first appeared in his collection Star of the East (1824) and later in his Congregational Hymn Book (1836).



Nine (Liturgical) Years Ago: Here, O my God, I see thee face to face

Five (Liturgical) Years Ago: Sweet Sacrament divine

Two (Liturgical) Years Ago: Ave verum corpus - Saint-Saens (video)

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Feast of Pentecost

This hymn for Pentecost has been sung since the ninth century in one form or another. The translation here is by Bishop John Cosin and has been sung at every British royal coronation since that of Charles I in 1625. (my own preferred English translation, and more about the text, is here).





Nine (Liturgical) Years Ago: Joy! because the circling year

Eight (Liturgical) Years Ago:  O prophet souls of all the years

Seven (Liturgical) Years Ago: Above the starry spheres 

Six (Liturgical) Years Ago: Hail thee, festival day

Five (Liturgical) Years Ago: Hail festal day! through every age

Four (Liturgical) Years Ago: O God, the Holy Ghost

Three (Liturgical) Years Ago: Spirit of grace and health and pow'r

Two (Liturgical) Years Ago: Come, O come, thou quick'ning Spirit

One (Liturgical) Year Ago: Our blest Redeemer, ere he breathed

Sunday, May 7, 2017

And Comfort Still


Psalm 23 will be read today in many churches, and probably sung as well.  Here at the blog, as I always say, we have not yet run out of hymns derived from those well-loved verses.

You are my Shepherd, you know all my needs,
And I am blest;
By quiet streams, in pastures green, you lead
And make me rest.
My soul you save, and for your own Name’s sake
You guide my feet the paths of right to take.

Though in death’s vale and shadow be my way
I fear no ill,
For you are near, your rod and staff my stay
And comfort still.
My table you have spread before my foes,
My head you will anoint, my cup o’erflows.

The goodness and the mercy that have e'er
Upon me shone
Shall surely follow me through all the way
Till life is done;
And ever my Creator's house shall be
My dwelling place through all eternity.

The Psalter, 1912; alt.
Tune: SANDON (10.4.10.4.10.10)
Charles H. Purday, 1857



Nine (Liturgical) Years Ago: My Shepherd, you supply my need

Eight (Liturgical) Years Ago: Since God is my Shepherd

Seven (Liturgical) Years Ago: Thou art my Shepherd

Six (Liturgical) Years Ago: I shall not want: in deserts wild

Five (Liturgical) Years Ago: Beside the still waters

Four (Liturgical) Years Ago: My Shepherd, you will hold me

Even more paraphrases and adaptations can be found by clicking the "Psalm 23" tag at the very bottom of this post.

Friday, May 5, 2017

T. Tertius Noble

Thomas Tertius Noble, born today in 1867, in Bath, England, would eventually come to be known as the dean of American organists later in life. He showed an early interest in music, and once begged to be removed from a boarding school that did not have a music program. At age 12 he was appointed to be the organist of All Saints Parish in Colchester, where the rector had provided him with some musical instruction. Many years later, in an address at the General Theological Seminary in New York, he described the conditions there:

I was almost 13, I could not play the organ very well.  It was an awful, old organ.  It had four stops, and its mechanism rattled so loudly you could hardly hear the music.  For three years I worked there.  I got up at 6:30 summer and winter, and I was in the church practicing by 7:00. (...) Learning on this organ was difficult, but very good for me.

In 1889 he graduated from the Royal College of Music in London, where his teachers had included Charles Villiers Stanford (for composition) and John Frederick Bridge (for harmony). He was then hired there as a teacher himself, and then in 1892 he was appointed organist at Ely Cathedral. Six years later, he started at York Minster, where he remained for the next thirteen years, until he was recruited to be organist-choirmaster at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in New York in 1913.

A fair amount about his time in New York has been covered here already (links below). Since unfortunately I have used up the internet sound files of his hymn tunes (only four available at the moment),  you can hear one of his settings of the Magnificat from YouTube.



Roman Catholic readers may understand why a Magnificat is always appropriate in May, but Anglicans and Episcopalians like them year-round.



Nine Years Ago: T. Tertius Noble

Eight Years Ago: T. Tertius Noble

Monday, May 1, 2017

Saint Philip and Saint James


This anonymous text for today's double feast was first published in A Book of Church Hymns (1865), which was generally known as Bosworth's Church Hymns, and shortly thereafter in The Year of Praise (1867) which was compiled by Henry Alford for Canterbury Cathedral. Like Alford, I've left out the final rather generic doxological stanza of the original.

O Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth,
The Life -- the Crown of all
Who here on earth confess your Name;
O hear us when we call!

We bring to mind with grateful joy
Your servants, who of old
Withstood the trials of the world
And now your face behold;

Who sought on earth the joys of prayer,
And that communion knew
Which saints and angels share above
With those who seek it too.

Vouchsafe us, Lord, we pray, that now
To us it may be giv'n,
Like them to live and die in you,
And with you, rise to heav'n.

Anonymous, 1865; alt.
Tune: GERONTIUS (C.M.)
John Bacchus Dykes, 1868



Eight Years Ago: Saint Philip and Saint James

Seven Years Ago: Joseph Addison

Five Years Ago: Saint Philip and Saint James

One Year Ago: Saint Philip and Saint James

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Their Glorious Risen Savior


The Easter story of two disciples on the road to Emmaus who met a stranger and asked him to eat with them is a lesson that doesn't come up on Easter Sunday morning, but sometimes later in the season.  In Luke 24:13-35, we hear this further story of the resurrected Jesus, which brings us to today's hymn.

Hallowed forever be that twilight hour
When those disciples went upon their way,
The deepening shadows o'er their spirits lower,
The tender griefs that come with close of day.

A gentle stranger tarried by their side,
And asked them sweetly why they were so sad?
"Did you not hear our Friend was crucified?"
They answered, "How can we again be glad?"

And when the little village came in view,
They said "Abide with us, for it is late,"
So he went in, and sat down with the two,
And took the bread, and blessed it, ere he ate.

Their watching eyes were fastened on his face;
They caught the look which captured them of old,
Only it wore diviner, loftier grace:
Their glorious, risen Savior they behold!

They felt reward for all their bitter pain,
When, lo! he vanished softly from their sight!
But they could never be so sad again.
Who had the memory of that blessed night.

Martha Perry Lowe, 19th cent.; alt.
Tune: ST. WULSTAN (10.10.10.10)
Ivor Atkins, 1916

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Our Easter Tribute Bring


The coming of spring has often been associated with the resurrection of Jesus in Easter hymns, some of which we have seen here before. This year, the Second Sunday of Easter also coincides with Earth Day celebrations around the world, which makes this text particularly appropriate.

See, the land, bright Easter keeping,
Rises as our Maker rose.
Seeds, so long in darkness sleeping,
Burst at last from winter snows.
    
Earth with heav'n above rejoices;
Fields and gardens hail the spring;
Hills and woodlands ring with voices,
While the wild birds build and sing.
    
Here, while heav'n and earth rejoices,
We our Easter tribute bring - 
Work of fingers, chant of voices,
Like the birds who build and sing.

Charles Kingsley, 19th cent.; alt.
Tune: SUSSEX (8.7.8.7.)
English folk melody;
arr. Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1906
 
Charles Kingley (1819-1875) was a priest in the Church of England as well as a novelist, poet, historian, and social reformer.
 
The final stanza here, calling for an active response to the resurrection, might also be interpreted in our time as a call to action on environmental issues.  Another hymn by Kingsley, perhaps the one that best survives to our time, From thee all skill and science flow is also particularly resonant this weekend.
 

 
 
 
Nine Years Ago: Earth Day
 
Eight Years Ago: Adin Ballou
 
 


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Anna Laetitia Waring

Welsh poet Anna Laetitia Waring was born today in 1823 (some sources say 1820) in the small town of Plas-y-Felin, near Neath, where she spent her early life. Her family were Quakers, but in 1842 she joined the Church of England, reportedly due to her interest in the Anglican sacraments. She also learned Hebrew so that she could read those scriptures in the original.

Never married, she and her family moved to Bristol around 1850, where she took an interest in prison reform, visiting prisoners and volunteering with the Discharged Prisoners' Aid Society.

She began writing hymns while still in her teens, but her first collection, Hymns and Meditations, was not published until 1850 (perhaps thanks to her improved access to publishers), consisting of nineteen texts. Another collection, Additional Hymns (1858) was eventually incorporated into later editions of her first book with some other texts for a final total of thirty-nine hymns. In 1911, the year after Waring's death, Hymns and Meditations was reissued again with a new section written by her friend Mary S. Talbot titled In Remembrance of Anna Laetitia Waring which included some of her secular poetry and brief biographical information, little of which had been available before.  Also, like many of the women who wrote hymns over the centuries, we have no portrait or photograph of Waring.

Today's hymn appeared in her first collection under the heading "I will fear no evil, for thou art with me. (Psalm 23:4)".  It's not a paraphrase, but was certainly inspired by that psalm - the Presbyterian Handbook to the Hymnal (1935) calls it "steeped in the spirit of the psalter."  A chart at Hymnary.org shows that this text became even more popular in the twentieth century, appearing in at least 495 hymnals to date, by their (incomplete) count.

In heavenly love abiding, 
No change my heart shall fear.
And safe in such confiding, 
For nothing changes here.
The storm may roar around me, 
My heart may low be laid,
But God is round about me;
How can I be dismayed?

Wherever God may guide me,
No want shall turn me back.
My Shepherd is beside me, 
And nothing can I lack.
With wisdom ever waking, 
Our path is ever clear.
We know the way we’re taking,
We walk without a fear.

Green pastures are before me,
Which yet I have not seen.
Bright skies will soon be over me, 
Where threat'ning clouds have been.
My hope I cannot measure,
My path to life is free.
My Savior has my treasure,
And ever walks with me.

Anna Laetitia Waring, 1850; alt.
Tune: NYLAND (7.6.7.6.D.)
Traditional Finnish melody

In his Dictionary of Hymnology, John Julian writes of Waring's work: "Her hymns are marked by great simplicity, concentration of thought, and elegance of diction."

Samuel Miller Waring (1792-1827), an uncle of hers, had followed the same path of Quakerism to Anglicanism and also wrote hymns and poems, some collected in Sacred Melodies (1826).



Nine Years Ago: Anna Laetitia Waring

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter Sunday



Happy Easter!

We usually think of gospel songs as general in theme or subject, but given the great volume of them that were produced in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, many were also written for particular occasions such as Christmas and Easter. Of course, this is true of hymns in general as well. We've seen several of the Christmas gospel songs over the years here, but not so many of those written for the Easter season (with one main exception, which is still often sung today).

Naturally, with approximately eight thousand songs to her credit, Fanny Crosby must have written some for Easter, and here's one.

Jesus Christ is risen today,
He is ris'n indeed!
Jesus Christ is risen today,
He is ris'n indeed!

Who, captive led captivity,
Who robed the grave of victory,
Who broke the bars of death,
Who broke the bars of death!


Refrain:
Hallelujah, hallelujah,
Hallelujah, Amen.
Hallelujah, hallelujah,
Hallelujah, Amen.


Let every mourning soul rejoice,
And sing with one united voice;
The Savior rose today,
The Savior rose today.
Refrain

Let all that fill the earth and sea
Break forth in tuneful melody,
And swell the mighty song,
And swell the mighty song.
Refrain

Fanny Crosby, 1869; alt.
Tune: UNITED VOICE (L.M. with refrain)
Chester G. Allen, 1869



Eight (Liturgical) Years Ago: Christ is risen! Alleluia!

Seven (Liturgical) Years Ago: The strife is o'er, the battle done

Five (Liturgical) Years Ago: Jesus Christ is risen today

Four (Liturgical) Years Ago: Lift your voice rejoicing, Mary

One (Liturgical) Year Ago: Christ Jesus lay in death's strong bands