The Hymn Tune Index: Everlasting Praise 1

By Temperley, Nicholas | Musical Times, Summer 1998 | Go to article overview

The Hymn Tune Index: Everlasting Praise 1


Temperley, Nicholas, Musical Times


NICHOLAS TEMPERLEY introduces an important new research tool for cataloguing hymnody...

HYMN TUNES are notoriously difficult to trace to their origins. Neverthless, efforts to do so have been made for at least two hundred years. A landmark in the study of German hymnody was Johannes Zahn's annotated edition of over eight hundred tunes, Die Melodien der deutschen evanglischen Kirchenlieder;l a modern equivalent, Das deutsche Kirchenlied, is now in progress. In the British tradition, research has been more piecemeal. In earlier decades The Musical Times often carried articles about the origins of individual tunes; so, more recently, has the Bulletin of the Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland. Some of the most exhaustive work has been done in hymnal companions by such scholars as Maurice Frost, James T. Lightwood, and Millar Patrick. Frost's English & Scottish psalm tunes c.1543-16772 is still a useful edition of the earliest British tunes.

American research on this subject has also been reported chiefly in hymnal companions and individual articles. It has been largely independent of British scholarship, despite the fact that Americans used British tunes almost exclusively until 1770, and heavily from that time onwards, while there has been a growing import of American hymn tunes into Britain since about 1800.

In my early work on British and American psalmody and hymnody 1 was frustrated by the absence of any comprehensive reference work on the tunes of English-language hymns. Beginning in the late 1970s, I began to prepare one myself, first on index cards, and later on a computer database at the University of Illinois in Urbana. The result (so far) is The hymn tune index (HTI), to be published this year by OUP It covers all known printed sources of Englishlanguage hymn tunes from 1535 to 1820. There are 2,544 of these sources extant, the vast majority published in the British Isles and North America; of these, 1,744 are what we call 'prototype' sources (new selections of hymn tunes) and the other 800 are later reprints of existing tune selections. Most of these sources have been assembled in original, microfilm, or photocopy at the University of Illinois. All are described in a full bibliography that forms part of the HTI. The 159,123 tunes in them have been indexed, sorted, and processed in a computer database. They have yielded 19,784 different tunes. These numbers are, I hope, a sufficient explanation of why we set a cutoff date, at the point in time where the quantity of sources began to be unmanageable (actually, at the year 1820). To carry the process up to the present time would take several lifetimes of work.

Again, it was for practical reasons that we confined our work to printed sources. They do, after all, form the main means of dissemination of hymn tunes (other than oral transmission). Moreover, one can hope to find virtually all known printed sources, and to identify and date them in a definitive way, whereas manuscript sources are innumerable and difficult to control. Any bible, prayer book, or hymnal may have a few tunes written in the flyleaf by an owner, who rarely took the trouble to date his or her work.

An early decision was to combine British and American tunes in a single database. They are so intimately connected throughout their histories that no other course seemed reasonable. It was necessary to go back to the beginning - to the first printed source of tunes associated with English-language hymns, Miles Coverdale's Goostly psalmes and spiritual songes (dated 1535 by Robin Leaver's recent research). Only in this way could we be sure of catching the earliest printing of every tune. And even then, of course, many tunes had pre-histories before they became English-language hymn tunes, whether as German hymn tunes or popular songs, French psalm tunes, or (later) Handel arias, Haydn symphony themes, or Anglo-American folk songs. In the published HTI we present any known pre-history as a footnote, while the history of the hymn tune itself is given in full detail, showing each prototype source of the tune up to 1820, with the text, tune name, composer attribution, key, and musical setting that it carried in each source.

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