Sunday July 26, 2020
Tunes and texts: Women in the Chapel Hymnal
The chapel hymnal is unique in that is not published as a denominational hymn book. It contains tunes from a variety of faiths: Episcopalian, Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian and Catholic. It has a table of contents which lists the numerous hymn indexes, a sample order of service, chants and prayers. Studying the index of authors, I discovered there are many women who wrote hymn poetry but less than a half a dozen who composed the tunes. This week I’m featuring one of these tunes written by a woman.
There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy (Hymn #80) is one of twelve hymns in The Love of God section. In 1875, Lizzie Tourjee was only a high school senior from Newton, Massachusetts when she wrote this tune for her high school graduation. Her father, Eben Tourjee, the founder of New England Conservatory and first dean of the college of music at Boston University, named the hymn tune Wellesley after the college, Lizzie’s destination after high school, and included it in the Methodist hymnal of 1878. Lizzie married a Boston industrialist, raised two sons and spent her life as a music teacher and organist until she died in 1913. Lizzie chose the text for her tune from a 13-stanza poem by Frederick Faber. Born in Yorkshire England into a Calvinist family, Faber became an Anglican minister then later converted to Roman Catholicism. He understood the power of hymn singing and encouraged the practice in the Catholic services he officiated. Faber’s poem, written in 1854, has been set to more familiar tunes including In Babilone and Beecher, both usually rather grand and triumphant. Wellesley has a gentle and inward looking quality especially in this piano rendition by Hannah Ray. This arrangement would make a wonderful prelude to a Sunday morning service at the chapel. I look forward to hearing our talented pianists (two of the five pictured above) play each Sunday next summer. Thinking of them!