Often, the music closest to our hearts is the music we sing with others as an expression of united faith. It is for this reason that Dr. Howard and harpist, Jill Justice, chose to include accompanied solo arrangements of several well-beloved hymns on this recording. These elegant arrangements preserve the simple, heartfelt nature of the hymns while offering the musicians opportunities to interpret their texts through a wide range of expressive gestures. Several of the hymns arranged for this recording originated in England or France and their texts stem from as early as the twelfth century, although the tunes with which they are paired are newer. They were written to serve the needs of diverse churches from the Roman Catholic Church to the Church of England, to the variety of Protestant churches that rose after the reformation of the mid-sixteenth century. Some older hymns were given either new text settings or new tunes to meet the changing needs of worshippers who ventured to American shores.
“Jesus, The Very Thought of Thee” is a musical setting of an extended poem by Bernard of Clairvaux, a twelfth-century Cistercian monk. Clairvaux (1098- 1159) renounced a life of wealth, power, and comfort to join a monastery in his early twenties. So great was his in uence that he convinced his widowed father, all six of his siblings, including his married sister, and thirty young men from his village to follow him into the order. He mediated disputes with nobles, reformed the Cistercian order, and led a crusade. He also left a substantial body of writing, of which the poem “Jesu Dulcis Memoria” is part. The work was translated into English in the 1830s. English hymnist, John B. Dykes composed more than three hundred hymn tunes designed to compliment speci c texts. His tune, entitled “St. Agnes,” was composed to t the text of “Jesus, The Very Thought of Thee,” the English translation of Clairvaux’s twelfth-century poem. It has since become one of the most beloved hymns sung in English-speaking countries.
The early seventeenth-century was a fruitful period in British history, as new territories were annexed to the empire, important works, such as the bible were translated into English by King James I, participation in worship was growing as a result of the Reformation, and its theologians, poets, and playwrights were among the foremost thinkers of their time. It is the period of William Shakespeare and John Donne, for example. Revered among the circle of high-born theologian/ poets is John Herbert (1594-1633). Born to a well-connected family and educated at Cambridge, Herbert hoped to earn a position at the court of King James. After his ambitions were thwarted by the king’s death, however, he resolved to take holy orders and to serve the Church of England. He counted Lord Frances Bacon and John Donne among his closest friends. Throughout his short life he composed religious poetry which he collected in a work entitled The Temple, which was published by a friend shortly after Herbert’s death. “Let All the World In Every Corner Sing” is now one of the best-known poems in this volume. It speaks to the expansionist philosophy of the United Kingdom as well as to the desire for an increase in religious literacy among the common people. Yet, it did not nd a place in English hymnals until 1935. The British composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) brought the text to the attention of musicians by setting ve poems by John Herbert in his song set entitled Five Mystical Songs. It was shortly after the premiere of Vaughan Williams’ work that the publisher John McCutchan paired it with the tune heard in this recording, “All the World.” In his writing, Herbert describes the poem as “an antiphon,” which implies an alternation between the brief chorus and the longer verses. “All the World” carefully preserves Herbert’s poetic structure. While other tunes have since supplanted “All the World” in many hymnals, this tune remains a familiar setting of the Herbert text.
Isaac Watts (1674-1748) was an English minister, theologian, author, and one of the most literate men of his day. His youthful precocity convinced many who knew him to sponsor his education despite his family’s humble circumstances, and many of his mentors hoped he would become an in uential pastor within the Church of England. Instead, Watts embraced the non-conformist tendencies taught him by his father. Yet, he numbered scholars and clergymen of many faiths among his lifelong friends and is entombed in Westminster Abbey. His voluminous writings include more than eight hundred hymns and spiritual song texts, many of which remain popular throughout Britain and the United States. His hymn, “I Sing the Mighty Power of God” is sung to a tune that was introduced to English hymnals long after Watts’ death. “Forest Green” is a traditional English folksong often sung to a text called “The Ploughboy’s Dream.” Ralph Vaughan Williams, an important collector of hymns and folksongs, introduced this tune to accompany the popular advent text, “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem,” and it remains the most popular melody for that text in England today. The uplifting character of “Forest Green” lends itself well to Watts’ text and, especially in the United States. It is usually associated with “I Sing the Mighty Power of God.”
“Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” is a hymn text composed by the English pastor and hymnist, Robert Robinson (1735-1790.) Trained in the traditional practices of the Church of England, Robinson became skeptical of the doctrine of infant baptism, favoring the idea of baptizing adult believers instead. In addition to pastoring several thriving churches throughout his life, he composed a number of beloved hymns. His texts soon traveled to the British colonies and gained popularity in the New England states. In the United States, his text is often paired with the American folksong, “Nettleton,” rst published in a collection of tunes by John Wyeth. Its original authorship is uncertain, however. Since its composition, “Come Thou Fount” has emerged as one of the most iconic hymns to be sung in American protestant churches.
“How Firm A Foundation” is another hymn that, while originally composed in England, seems to have gained greater popularity in early American churches. Information about its authorship is scant, however. It was originally published in a 1787 collection of hymns by the English pastor, John Rippon (1751-1836.) Rippon lists the author of the hymn merely as “K” and historians assume that this abbreviation refers to Robert Keen, the precentor at the church where Rippon preached. But other possible attributions have been suggested as well. While historians guess that the original tune for the text may have been “Geard,” also composed by Keen, the tune in popular use today is entitled simply “Foundation” and is occasionally attributed to George Keith, an American publisher and hymnist. The hymn was published in several American hymnals in the 1830s.
Many musicians develop a strong attraction to the romantic histories and stirring melodies of Welsh folksongs and hymns, which continue to be popular in worship services throughout the English-speaking world. Our interest in these pieces causes us to question how nineteenth-century Wales developed as such a treasure trove of beautiful hymns, and the answer is found in a moving story of efforts by the common people to worship in ways that were meaningful for them.
The nineteenth century saw something of a religious resurgence in Wales. Although part of the United Kingdom, and therefore expected to retain the Church of England as its state religion, Wales has always maintained a sense of independence from England on many issues, religion among them. Neglected by the Church of England in the eighteenth century, the Welsh became less inclined towards regular church attendance than they had been in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Anglican Church leaders hoped to rectify the situation and, in the early nineteenth century, began to restore crumbling churches in Wales and attempted to integrate church practices with traditions of Welsh culture. Although their efforts achieved moderate success, other religions, such as Calvinism, had already cultivated strong roots in Wales and had achieved popularity with the people. The Church of England referred to these religions not sponsored by the government as “non-conformist.”
By the mid-nineteenth century, there were more religious non-conformist in Wales than there were members of the Church of England, and ratios of church attendance among Anglicans and non-conformists alike were much higher than they had been in centuries. Services in Welsh non-conformist churches were held in Welsh, and the opportunity to participate in services they could understand attracted large numbers of middle- and labor-class worshippers. In an effort to further increase its own membership, Church of England of cials granted permission for Anglican services to be held in Welsh, and all churches in Wales discovered a sudden need for memorable, easy-to-learn hymns, for both non-conformist and Anglican services, in the Welsh language. The inclusiveness of the church environment encouraged both professional and local amateur poets and musicians to express their spiritual thoughts and desires through the creation of congregational hymns. In an atmosphere of worship in which all could participate, the people of Wales nurtured the production of some of the most beautiful hymns still sung in many of our own worship services. In this recording, Dr. Howard presents three of his favorite Welsh hymns, and these are also favorites of many listeners and faithful congregational singers.
Roland Hugh Prichard (1811-1887) was an amateur church musician who served as precentor for his local church due to the quality of his singing voice. He composed hymns in the evenings after working all day in a Welsh textile factory. In 1844 he published a collection of hymns for children which included his gentle tune “Hyfrydol.” Although this memorable melody has been paired with a number of texts, worshippers in the United States often hear it paired with “Jesus What a Friend for Sinners,” by American minister, evangelist, and hymnist, John Wilbur Chapman (1859-1918.)
The text, “Look Ye Saints the Sight is Glorious” was composed by the proli c Irish hymnist, Thomas Kelly (1769-1855). Educated at Trinity College, Kelly was supposed to study law, but, instead, he took holy orders and became a rather unconventional evangelist. Throughout his life he published, and presumably composed several hundred hymns. “Look Ye Saints” is set to the powerful tune “Bryn Calfaria” which is still a popular melody in Wales and England today. Its Welsh composer, William Owen of Prysgol, (1813-1893) was an amateur musician who composed hymns when not working in a quarry. He was particularly interested in the temperance movement, and several of his hymns gained in popularity due to their association with this trend.
“O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus” is a hymn by S. Trevor Frances meant to be sung to the Welsh tune “Ton y Bodel” or “Ebenezer” by Thomas John Williams (1869-1944). Although little information about either the poet or composer is available, we know that both were proli c hymn writers.
During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, when it became common for people in all sectors of society to hear live music performed in concert settings or in opera houses, composers were eager to incorporate the passion, drama, and power of opera and solo song into worship practices, and Dr. Howard has chosen several of his favorite sacred compositions to include in this recording. All of these works utilize the most innovative compositional techniques of their time, and all reflect the idea that a single human voice can deliver theatrical renditions of ancient stories, and move the hearts of listeners in effective and unique ways.
French composer Charles Gounod (1818-1893) is most remembered for his operas. But the composer was devoutly religious and studied theology extensively. He even considered entering the priesthood before choosing full-time composition as a career instead. His religious interests inspired him to turn his creative gifts to the composition of some memorable sacred works meant for soloists. The most famous of these is the “Ave Maria” setting he composed with J. S. Bach’s “Prelude No. 1” from The Well-tempered Clavier serving as accompaniment. Gounod wrote several of his sacred pieces while he and his family lived in England to avoid the wars taking place on French soil, and these are set to popular English texts. Although some are associated with Protestant hymnody, Gounod was careful to set texts that would be appropriate for Christian worship in many churches. “The King Of Love My Shepherd Is” set to a metrical restatement of Psalm twenty-three, by H. W. Blake, demonstrates both the composer’s love of hymnody and his talent for writing dramatic music. The initial vocal phrase bears striking similarities to a hymn tune by John B. Dykes, “Dominus Regit Me,” written to t Blake’s text for the purposes of congregational singing. In fact, Gounod sets the rst two stanzas of Blake’s poem as a simple hymn that might be sung in any country church. Yet, as the accompaniment increases in intensity and as the vocal line takes on a much more complex character urging the piece to a stunning climax, we hear the composer’s gifts for operatic composition. A good dramatic work never moves far from its central theme, however, and Gounod ends his piece as simply as he began it, as a congregational hymn. The accompaniment even plays a standard “amen” chord progression so familiar to listeners from the tradition of hymn singing, reminding us of the text’s origin as a song of worship.
“The Lord’s Prayer” by Albert Hay Malotte (1895-1964) is one of the most popular sacred pieces in the repertoire, and has been recorded by classical and popular artists alike. Although best remembered for this sacred setting, Malotte worked primarily as a performer and composer in the budding lm industry. He played the organ for the accompaniment of silent lms and later composed stock music and songs for Disney productions. Malotte also taught piano and organ and owned his own music publishing company. “The Lord’s Prayer” was composed for, and dedicated to Malotte’s colleague, American baritone, John Charles Thomas (1891- 1960). Like Mallotte, Thomas studied and performed both classical and popular music, enjoying a career with the Metropolitan Opera as well as with musical theater companies and the radio and recording industries. The son of a Methodist minister, Thomas always maintained an interest in sacred music. Malotte’s piece showcases not only Thomas’ virtuosic classical vocal technique and range, but his gift for reaching audiences through the accessible medium of popular and Broadway song. The composer sets the text clearly, allowing listeners to hear each of the familiar words. The dramatic climax near the conclusion, followed by the subdued nal phrase brings the song to a satisfying close.
Mary Frances Allitsen (1848-1912) found herself facing a dilemma experienced by many women of her time. She was considered too gentri ed to work, but was too impoverished not to seek employment as long as she remained unmarried. She supported herself as a singing teacher and as a composer during a time when occupations such as these were unusual for women in England. Allitsen, born Mary Frances Bumpus, was discouraged by her family from pursuing a formal education in music. Thus, she was largely self-taught, studying composition in the evenings after her long days teaching her voice and piano students. In addition to a few short pieces for piano or orchestra, she composed more than fty songs, set mostly to texts of nineteenth-century Romantic poets. She was lauded for the grace, passion, and dramatic quality of her songs. Without a doubt, her most famous work is her dramatic setting of Psalm twenty-seven, “The Lord Is My Light,” composed in 1897. The virtuosity of the accompaniment and the operatic nature of the voice part demonstrate Allitsen’s thorough knowledge of the repertoire of her time.
“The Penitent” by poet, organist, and composer, Beardsley Van de Water (1862- 1906) is another very dramatic composition. It is a sort of modern solo cantata in which one singer serves as narrator as well as portraying all the other characters. Setting the biblical text nearly word-for-word, Van de Water creates a work recounting the familiar parable of the prodigal son. Much of the text is set in a declamatory fashion in order to tell the story clearly. Those portions in which the characters express deep emotions, however, are set as small, aria-like passages that allow the singer to move listeners with virtuosic skill.
Moses Hogan (1957-2003) is one of America’s best-known arrangers of African- American spiritual songs, and it is largely due to his efforts that listeners are familiar with these extraordinary pieces through their performance in concerts and recitals. A native of New Orleans, Hogan was trained in music from an early age and earned degrees in piano performance from the Oberlin Conservatory and from the Juilliard School of Music. Throughout his life, he worked as a composer, conductor, and performer, always combining his respect for classical music with his love of the spirituals of his youth. He created sensitive and exultant arrangements of spiritual songs, previously heard only in work or church settings, for choir or accompanied soloist, allowing them to reach audiences around the world. His arrangement of “Give Me Jesus” is reverent and full of hope, featuring quiet, re ective moments and triumphant climaxes.
© 2017, Jamie Weaver, Ph.D.