Hymn of the Month

By A.C Bridges, January 1977 ARP Magazine

Praise the Lord: Ye Heavens Adore Him

In almost every hymnal there is a sizeable group of hymns ascribed to “Anonymous”, for the hymns have been in use a long time and the author is unknown.  This is true of our hymn-of-the-month, “Praise the Lord: Ye Heavens Adore Him”, found as No. 16 in the TRINITY HYMNAL and as No. 3 in THE HYMNBOOK.  However, only the first two of the three stanzas are marked “anonymous,” for the author of the third stanza is known.

Even though the title of the original hymn was given as, “Hymn from Psalm 148, Haydn,” it is a very free rendering of the Psalm.  Psalms 146-150 have been called the “Hallelujah” Psalms for each begins with “Hallelujah” or “Praise the Lord.”  In this Psalm, and in this free paraphrase of it, heaven and earth are called upon to unite in a grand anthem of praise and adoration.

In the 148th Psalm itself it is interesting to see how even the sun, moon, and stars, sea monsters, fire and hail, snow and clouds, and stormy winds, and other creatures are called upon to praise their Creator.  In the hymn we are reminded that as men with souls we are to remember that His promise does not fail and that in Him is Salvation.  The third stanza has been called a doxology which is worthy of a place beside the famous doxology, “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow.”

The first two stanzas of this hymn which have been incorrectly attributed to a clergyman, John Kempthorne, whose son declared that his father did not write it, were first published in THE FOUNDLING HOSPITAL COLLECTION.  However they were found in a four-leaf folder attached to copies of “PSALMS, HYMNS, AND ANTHEMS OF THE FOUNDLING HOSPITAL,” 1796.  Various dates have been given for its publication though, and some thing it was probably written after 1801.

The Foundling Hospital was an orphanage in London founded in 1739 by Thomas Coram to care for deserted and orphaned children.  Coram had been an English seaman and merchant captain but in later life devoted his time and fortune to the support of this institution in which a chapel was maintained and the children trained in singing.  Musical concerts were given as benefit performances for the support of the institution, and the famous composer, George Frederick Handel, became greatly interested in the enterprise and gave a benefit concert in the chapel, composing an anthem for it entitled, “Blessed Are They That Consider the Poor.”

When the chapel was completed in 1750 Handel gave the organ for it.  It is said that it was quite the thing for fashionable Londoners to visit here especially on Sundays.  At the morning service the children all sang, led by trained voices, and at dinner they could be seen dressed in their quaint and distinctive costumes.  Thus, these stanzas were found in the Collection in use at the institution.

The third stanza was added much later and appeared in Hall’s MITRE BOOK (1836) and in CHURCH HYMNAL (1852) with the verses from the Foundling Hospital Collection.  Its author, Edward Osler, was born at Falmouth, England in 1798 and prepared for the medical profession.  Osler gave several years to the practice of medicine and then turned to religious and literary work.  He worked for the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and later became editor of the Royal Cornwall Gazette, a position he held until his death in 1863.  He contributed fifteen psalm verses and fifty hymns to PSALMS AND HYMNS ADAPTED TO THE SERVICES OF THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND and the MITRE HYMN BOOK.  Osler was quite a talented person in the field of surgery, as an author of books on scientific and religious subjects, and in the field of hymnology.

The hymn-of-the-month is found in many Protestant hymnals but is found in only a few collections to the tune “Faben” to which it is set in our hymnals.  Its composer was John Henry Willcox who was born in Savannah, Georgia and died in Boston in 1875.  He was a graduate of Trinity College, Hartford (1849) and later became an organist in Boston.  Not only was he a talented organist but an expert in organ construction.  He wrote much music for the Roman Catholic Church service.  One author says that this tune is one of a large group of tunes that enjoyed great popularity toward the end of the nineteenth century and that its pattern of rhythm and melody are so simple and consistently developed that it is easily sung.

THE HYMNBOOK has a note at the bottom of the page that the alternative tune for the hymn is “Hyfrydol,” found as No. 123 in that collection.  This tune is also found in the TRINITY HYMNAL as No. 145 and 432.  “Hyfrydol,” composed by Rowland Hugh Prichard (1811-1887) is on of the beautiful Welsh hymn-tunes of which we have several in our books.  Its composer was a man of humble station.  On weekdays he worked as a loomtender’s assistant, but on Sundays he led the singing in the church of which he was a member.  In 1844 he published CYFAILL Y CANTORION (The Singer’s Friend), a book composed primarily of his own original settings, and later he also published a booklet written for children.

This later alternative tune would need to be sung again and again, but the writer believes it would become a favorite soon.  If only our congregations would become interested enough in church music so that we might have congregational rehearsals or learning sessions the chief purpose of which would be to learn more of the hymns and tunes in our books!  And then there is he ever-present need of keeping in mind the words we are singing!  May we sing with the spirit and with the understanding also!

(Today this hymn is found in the Trinity (Revised) #17.)


1 thought on “Hymn of the Month”

  1. Very nice–this has been one of my favorite hymns since I was young! I remember there being a number of articles highlighting a Psalm or hymn of the month in the older issues of the church magazine. It’s great to read them again–keep up the good work!

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