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'To make a good one better': translating the Bible

WH Monk and 'Hymns ancient and modern'

Music score of hymn 222 with short Biblical quotation at head: for those at SeaHymns ancient and modernA supporter of the High Church movement known as Tractarianism, or the Oxford movement, the church organist and composer William Henry Monk (182389) was appointed choirmaster and then organist at King’s College London, where he set high standards for choral worship.

In 1851 he took on an additional post as professor of music at the School for the Indigent Blind and in the following year became organist at the church of St Matthias, Stoke Newington. As editor of theTractarian Society for Promoting Church Music’s journal, Parish choir, from 1846 to 1851, he championed the importance of both choir and congregational singing and in 1857 he was asked to act as music editor of what was to become one of the most important and widely used Anglican hymnals, Hymns ancient and modern.

The first edition of Hymns ancient and modern was published in 1861 and was an immediate success. It included fifteen of Monk’s own compositions, of which perhaps the best known is ‘Eventide’, set to Henry Francis Lyte’s words ‘Abide with me’. Monk included a number of melodies specially written for Hymns ancient and modern by other composers, such as ‘Melita’ (shown here), which was the work of John Bacchus Dykes, set to the words ‘Eternal Father, strong to save’, written by William Whiting.

Each hymn was headed by a short Biblical quotation, chosen to reflect the theme of the hymn. Monk favoured simple, austere melodies, seeking to avoid, both in his own work and in his selections for inclusion in Hymns ancient and modern, the sentimentality that characterised much mid-Victorian hymn-writing.

Monk was appointed professor of vocal music at King’s in1874.

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