He is best known for 14 operatic collaborations with the dramatist W. S. Gilbert. He composed the music for The Lost Chord in 1877 at the bedside of his brother Fred during Fred's last illness. The lyric had been written as a poem by Adelaide Anne Procter.
He also wrote more than 70 hymn tunes and anthems.
His best-known hymn tune is St Gertrude, (Onward, Christian soldiers).
The words were written by James Drummond Burns (1823-1864), a Scottish Presbyterian minister. Inspired by the story of Samuel, the child given by his mother Hannah to Eli to serve in the temple, the poem was published in 1857. The modern hymn Here I am, Lord is based on the same story.
The tune Samuel was published in 1874. It is one of Sullivan's best; sadly, it’s not often sung today.
Hushed was the evening hymn,
the temple courts were dark;
the lamp was burning dim before the sacred ark;
when suddenly a voice divine
rang through the silence of the shrine.
The old man, meek and mild,
the priest of Israel, slept;
his watch the temple child, the little Levite, kept;
and what from Eli’s sense was sealed
the Lord to Hannah’s son revealed.
O give me Samuel’s ear,
the open ear, O Lord,
alive and quick to hear each whisper of thy word,
like him to answer at thy call,
and to obey thee first of all.
O give me Samuel’s heart,
a lowly heart, that waits
where in thy house thou art, or watches at thy gates;
by day and night – a heart that still
moves at the breathing of thy will.
O give me Samuel’s mind,
a sweet unmurmuring faith,
obedient and resigned to thee in life and death,
that I may read with childlike eyes
truths that are hidden from the wise.
The words were written as a poem in 1849 by Edmund Hamilton Sears. He had been pastor of the Unitarian Church in Wayland, Massachusetts but had to retire from full-time active ministry in 1847 on account of ill health. Writing during a period of personal melancholy, and with news of revolution in Europe and the United States’ war with Mexico fresh in his mind, Sears portrayed the world as dark, full of “sin and strife”, and not hearing the Christmas message.
In 1850, Sears’ lyrics were set to Carol, a tune written for the poem at his request, by Richard Storrs Willis (1819-1900), an American who had studied in Germany and was a personal friend of Felix Mendelssohn. This tune is still associated with the carol in USA and other parts of the world.
Edmund Hamilton Sears
In 1874, Sullivan adapted a traditional English melody to create Noel, the tune most familiar for this hymn in UK and the Commonwealth. The arrangement provided here is Sullivan’s, with a descant by Sir David Valentine Willcocks (1919-2015) for the last verse. We have also provided one verse of the tune Carol.
It seems that many hymnals omit either verse 3 or verse 4, perhaps because they both convey a similar message of melancholy and hope. But there still is strife in the world, and there are many who feel the weight of life’s crushing load, so all five verses are included here.
It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold:
“Peace on the earth, goodwill to men,
From heaven’s all-gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.
Still through the cloven skies they come,
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heavenly music floats
O’er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains,
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever o’er its Babel sounds
The blessed angels sing.
Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.
And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!
For lo!, the days are hastening on,
By prophet bards foretold,
When with the ever-circling years
Comes round the age of gold
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendours fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.
For each hymn we have provided a set of verses together with an electronically generated sound-track. The sound track does not provide any words - just the tune.
The selection of hymns to be included was subject to certain limitations, notably the restrictions of copyright. This meant that many modern hymns were excluded, and the exclusion even applied to some updated versions of traditional hymns. Some publishers have made a few minor changes to make hymns more "inclusive" and have then claimed copyright over the revised text. So in most cases the ORIGINAL texts have been used, even though these may not be the versions that appear in modern hymnals.
In deciding what tunes to be used, this has largely been the Webmaster's personal choice. It is a mixture of familiar tunes and tunes that are not well-known, but deserve to be better known. The webmaster has included some personal favourites (and excluded some pet hates!). The soundtracks provided go with the words provided - if there are four verses, the tune is repeated four times. Where possible tunes have been provided with descants or alternative arrangements.
Wherever possible, there is an explanation of who wrote the words or tunes, the circumstances under which they were written, when (and sometimes why). Many hymns include references to verses appearing in the King James Version of the Bible; more modern translations were not then available! In some cases we have tried to explain these scriptural references or other instances where words have changed their meaning over time.
This selection of "Sing-along Songs of Praise" was originally a series of blog posts written during the COVID Lockdowns of 2020. It was intended to allow people to sing hymns in the safety and privacy of their own homes at a time when hymn-singing in church was not allowed (even if the church building was open!).
When hymns are sung as part of a church service, it is normally the case that the hymn books are set aside at the end of the hymn and the next part of the service continues. There is no time to sit and reflect on the meaning or the beauty of words and/or music. This collection allows you to take your time, to read, listen sing along, reflect, and to repeat a hymn again if you wish.
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