Saturday, December 22, 2007

Henry Smart

Henry Thomas Smart (1813-1879) was a London organist and editor of several Presbyterian hymnals. Though he also wrote an opera, an oratorio, and a secular cantata that were all successful in their day, he is now mainly remembered by church musicians, particularly for his tune Regent Square. Wikipedia claims that his setting of the Evening Service has enjoyed a recent revival. Smart came from a musical family; his father (also named Henry) was a noted violinist. His uncle George Thomas Smart (1776-1867), a composer, conductor, organist, and personal friend of Beethoven and Weber, also composed a hymn tune (Wiltshire) which is in some Lutheran books; it is also his only tune that Cyberhymnal has. As for Henry Jr., Cyberhymnal acknowledges 18 of his hymn tunes as having some historic significance. At least 13 tunes by Smart appeared in 20th-century Lutheran hymnals.

The irony of this tune is that it is vastly underused, while at the same time 20th-century Lutheran hymnals paired it with six different hymns. To put it another way, it is a well-loved tune in a few circles, but unknown in others. It deserves to cultivated and made familiar to every Lutheran congregation. With a noble, sweeping melody that oddly reminds me of a theme from a Schumann symphony, Smart's Bethany is impossible to confuse with Lowell Mason's tune of the same name (Think "Nearer, my God, to Thee").

But it is also hard to forget, hooking its barbs on the memory so that, since I attended a church whose hymnal paired it with "What a Friend with Jesus" and "I will sing my Maker's praises," my mind has linked this tune to both texts - in spite of the popularity of pairing Converse with the one and my own preference for singing the other to Sollt' ich meinem Gott. The other texts paired with Bethany include "God the Father, Son, and Spirit"; "Praise the Rock of our salvation"; "Holy Father, Thou hast taught me"; and "Winter reigns o'er many a region." If you like Galilean, I think you will love this tune.

This tune has reared its head only twice in Anglophone Lutheranism: an early-20th-century American book and a late-century Australian one, each time paired with Henry Downton's mission hymn, "Lord, her watch Thy church is keeping." My first impression was that the tune's obscurity was unsurprising; but after playing and singing through it a few times, I realized it is a key example of everything Henry Smart's hymn tunes have going for them. Key, I say, because of its very obscurity; with neither sentimental attachment nor hostile associations to get in the way, one can objectively assess the fine line this tune walks. Typical of Henry Smart hymns, it avoids the opposite but equally tempting ditches of shmaltzy subjectivity and pomp(ous ass) and circumstance. As modest in its dignity as in its emotiveness, it simply gives the text a beautiful space in which to create its own kind of beauty. And in that it deserves the appreciation of hymn-singing Lutherans.

The Service Book & Hymnal of 1958 brought this tune (also known as Smart) to bear on Henry Alford's hymn "Forward! be our watchword." This hymn in metre visualizes the march of the church's pilgrim army, following Jesus to the promised land of heaven. In other words, it is typical pietism, and boring at that. I'm sad to say Smart erred structurally in trying to jam three of Alford's stanzas into each repeat of his tune. The tune's effectiveness dissipates as the ear begs to know when, or if, it is going to end. Also, because it consists of twelve phrases in through-composed succession, it will elude the grasp of the congregation trying to learn it, sing it, and remember it.

Again, SBH is the lone Lutheran hymnal to use this tune, pairing with John Keble's hymn "Lord, in Thy name Thy servants plead." This is a hymn that goes right to the heart of farmers and country folk, with lines such as "The former and the latter rain, The summer sun and air, The green ear and the golden grain, All Thine, are ours by prayer." I am amazed at how little-known this tune is. When there are so many CM-metre hymn tunes that are boring, arbitrary, and same-sounding, here is one that goes its own way, and an interesting and unpretentiously lovely way to boot.

"For the beauty of the earth"; "God of mercy, God of grace"; and "What our Father does is well" have all gone to this lovely tune. I am especially pleased with the part-writing (see, for example, SBH hymn 444). Today's hymn arrangements tend to be ungrateful to part-singers, and many of yesteryear encourage part-singing to an excessive degree, either by leaving the melody exposed during "grand unison" phrases or by including imitative passages. Heathlands, on the other hand, is put together with transparency and grace, the inner voices shining through the melody like rays of light through a stained-glass window.

This tune is fairly well-utilized among 20th-century Lutheran hymnals. It has paired up with such texts as "Hasten the time appointed"; "Lead on, O King eternal"; "Rejoice, rejoice, believers"; and especially "The day of resurrection." Its popularity is no mystery. In spite of its relatively wide melodic range, it is a brilliant tune, built for fast absorption by the memory and radiant with joyous energy.

The Common Service Book sets Christopher Wordsworth's evening hymn "The day is gently sinking to its close" to this tune. Unusual among the Wordsworth hymns I know, this text suffers from the Romantic bent to prolix bloviation. In a similar way, Smart's tune deviates from his norm, sounding like one of the poorer tunes by Barnby or Sullivan: sugary, theatrical, and soloistic. As pretty as it sounds, it does not have the character of congregational song.

I have previously remarked on Frederick Faber's hymn "Hark! Hark, my soul! Angelic songs are swelling," as paired with Joseph Barnby's tune Angels of Jesus. I hardly need to add anything to those comments except that Pilgrims would have to be a much better tune to redeem Faber's text. Together with Angelic Songs by James Walch (which was actually set to a different text, "O Zion, haste, your mission high fulfilling," in all five Lutheran hymnals that used it), this hymn is the cause of three worthless tunes being inflicted on Anglophone Lutheranism - besides the untold damage the words themselves have done to Lutherans' thinking and spirituality.

Regent Square
In England, this tune is a bigamist, wedded about equally to the hymns "Angels from the realms of glory" and "Light's abode, celestial salem." In Anglophone Lutheranism, however, the first pairing is universally recognized, while the second appears in only one hymnal. Nevertheless, Regent Square has moved on from bigamy to promiscuity, consorting with each of the following hymns in at least one Anglophone Lutheran hymnal of the last century: "Christ, Thou art the sure Foundation"; "Jesus took the babes and blessed them"; "Lord, dismiss us with Thy blessing"; "One Thy light, Thy temple filling"; "Precious Word of God from heaven"; "Saints of God, the dawn is brightening"; "Savior, like a Shepherd lead us"; "Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle"; "Speed Thy servants, Savior, speed them"; and "Zion stands by hills surrounded." Whew!

What more needs to be said? To use a phrase I have used before, this tune is Smart's "bid for immortality." Inseparable from "Angels, from the realms of glory" and yet, at the same time, willing to step out with any other text that comes a-wooin', it has both the staying power of a favorite Christmas carol and the versatility of a go-to tune. The fact that it this isn't Smart's only masterpiece is beside the point. This tune alone guarantees that his works will endure for many ages to come. The rest is gravy!

Rex GloriƦ
Here is a big dollop of the just-mentioned "gravy." At least seven Lutheran hymnals in the 20th century joined this powerful, noble tune to the Ascension hymn, "See, the Conqueror mounts in triumph." One of the great formative moments in my thinking as an organist was hearing Michael Holman of Fort Wayne's historic Zion Lutheran Church play this hymn on or around Ascension day. When I, as a church organist, want to achieve a grandiose effect, I punch Holman's rendition of "See, the Conqueror" into my mental iPod.

Nevertheless, like Regent Square, this hymn isn't a one-hit wonder. It brings the same memorable effect to "God has spoken by His prophets"; "Hail, Thou Source of every blessing"; "Lord, Thy glory fills the heavens"; "Rise, Thou Light of Gentile nations"; "Son of God, eternal Savior"; and "Through the night of doubt and sorrow."

St. Leonard
Henry Hiles has a tune by the same name, in CMD metre. The tune St. Leonard's by A. Cyril Barham-Gould (mind the apostrophe-ess) only adds to the confusion over this tune by Henry Smart. I wish I could say two of them are crap, but actually they're all nice tunes. The one by Smart is, once again, as attractive as a Common Metre tune can be and more interesting than most are. CSB pairs it with the hymn "O for a faith that will not shrink."

St. Pancras
Not to be confused with St. Pancreas, a non-existent tune suggesting a really grisly side of the cult of holy relics, this tune (without an e) is named after a church where Smart played the organ. CSB pairs it (the tune, not the organ) with "Come Thou now, and be among us," a hymn for the dedication of a church sanctuary translated by John M. Neale from the 11th-century Latin. It's a nice enough tune, though its structure does very little to aid one in learning it quickly. Once again, the part-writing is quite lovely, without giving an impression of being written for the choir rather than the congregation.

Found in four 20th-century Lutheran hymnals, this tune for "Stars of the morning, so gloriously bright" provides a strong, and strongly contrasting, alternative to O quanta qualia. It's the kind of melody that would sound really cool on your church's carillon system, or in a solo arrangement with the melody on a trumpet stop. Jubilant and dignified at the same time, I reckon it would work well with a lot of hymns.

Bonus: George T. Smart's tune Wiltshire.
This tune shares its opening notes and its overall style with Joseph Haydn's tune Brownell, though it lacks the latter tune's depth. Nevertheless, Wiltshire is the better choice for use in congregational song. SBH pairs this tune with the hymn "Through all the changing scenes of life," Tate & Brady's paraphrase of Psalm 34.

Conclusion: Thirteen tunes by Henry Smart and one by his Uncle George have been plucked out of the English Protestant tradition and adapted to Lutheran use. With only a few exceptions, these are excellent choices, well-adapted as vehicles for Lutheran hymnody. Smart's music rarely strays into subjectivity on the one hand or stiff ceremoniality on the other, but effortlessly holds a middle course of modest charm, a distinctive wit, and sparkling energy. It may be worthwhile - it may even be "smart" - to seek out other works by this composer.

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