The Music of the Church

Adult Sunday School – Providence Reformed Presbyterian Church

Spring 2002



Class #9  (6/30/2002) – THE LATE NINETEENTH CENTURY                     


NOTE: Unless otherwise noted, all hymn and page numbers refer to the 1961 Trinity Hymnal.


I.          Problems with hymnody of late 1800s – early 1900s


A.      Contributing factors (Pastor Meyers)

1.       Frontier theology

a.       Trained clergy did not want to go West.  Wanted to stay near learned institutions of the East (Princeton, Harvard).  Too effete to go West and get hands dirty.

b.       Laymen and poorly trained clergy filled the void, resulting in loss of Old Testament based, Psalm based, Biblical, Reformation theology and hymnody.

2.       Revival culture; Theology of Charles G. Finney (very Arminian).  Focus on emotion, decisions

3.       Enlightment, leading to Romantic focus on self, feelings, subjectivity 

4.       Fascination with death

5.       Feminization of church and culture

a.       As the church lost its OT, Biblical, Reformation theology, it lost its appeal to men.  Religion became an affair for women and children.  This affected the hymnody (sappy hymn texts and tunes).  Pastors tended to relate more to the women.

6.       All this led to hymnody (texts and tunes) which were self-focused, feelings based, subjective, not based on objective character and works of God

7.       For further reading:

a.       Nathan Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity

b.       Ann Douglas, The Feminization of American Culture


B.      Musical problems (Bill Hoover)

1.       Chromaticism – over-use of sharps, naturals, and flats not in the original key

a.       Often two parts simultaneously drop down a half step then return (see #24)

b.       Much weaker harmonically than movement from one strong chord to another

c.        The chromatic chord does not take advantage of the “harmonic series,” in which each note of a major chord resonates with the others

2.       “Galloping” songs - #727 - repetitive rhythm, harmony, melody, text

3.       One solution - Use Metrical Index of Tunes to find another tune of same meter.

a.       Example:  Hymn 430 has meter (see top right of hymn).  (Meter is number of syllables in each line of the hymn.)  Index shows several tunes for, including munich (#267) and passion chorale (#178), both good.

b.       Meters are listed in numerical sequence, except for the following:

1)       C.M. – Common Meter (

2)       L.M. – Long Meter (

3)       S.M. – Short Meter (

c.        “D” means double.  Hence means

d.       While editing the English Hymnal of 1906, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) wrote his own (better) tunes to replace schmaltzy ones, including these:

1)       “At the name of Jesus” (#124) – RVW wrote king’s weston tune

2)       “For all the saints” (#281) – RVW wrote sine nomine (“No Name!”) tune

3)       “God be with you” (#632) – RVW wrote randolph tune

We use the RVW tunes for all these hymns, as found in the 1990 Trinity Hymnal.