The author of our opening hymn was identified simply as “K” when “How firm a foundation” was first published in 1787. The text’s remarkable popularity may account for the large number of tunes associated with it. In every previous edition of our Hymnal, a different tune was used. The tune appointed in this edition is LYONS, although in the Supplemental Tunes section in the back of the Hymnal, the more primitive and familiar FOUNDATION is available (and we sometimes sing it). Like many tunes based on folk melodies, FOUNDATION uses a pentatonic (five-note) scale, which means you can play it using just the black keys on the piano. (Try it, kids!)
This Sunday, we’ll sing this confident and reassuring text to the sturdy and only slight less energetic tune, LYONS. While the Hymnal states that it is based on a work by J. Michael Haydn, more recent research argues that it was the work of Joseph Martin Kraus (1756-1792), a German composer who settled in Sweden (sometimes known as “The Swedish Mozart”) and who was best known for his music for the stage.
Note that much of the text in this hymn is printed within quotation marks, indicating that the words are addressed to the congregation from God. Two stanzas from the original are omitted in our Hymnal. Following the first stanza, this text once appeared:
“In every condition, in sickness, in health,
in poverty’s vale, or abounding in wealth;
at home and abroad, on the land, on the sea,
As thy days may demand, shall thy strength ever be!”
And before the final stanza were these four lines:
“E’en down to old age all my people shall prove
my sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love;
and when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn,
like lambs they shall still in my bosom be borne.”
The Sermon hymn — “Lead us, heav’nly Father” — was written for the children of the London Orphan Asylum by James Edmeston (1791-1867), a London-born architect and surveyor who somehow found time to write over 2,000 hymns, often writing one a week for his Sunday morning family devotions.
The tune DULCE CARMEN has also been falsely attributed to J. Michael Haydn. It first appeared in plainchant notation in two voice parts in An Essay on the Church Plain Chant (1782).
The closing hymn is (with slight alterations) from John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, from the chapter entitled “Mr. Valiant for Truth.” The tune ST. DUNSTANS was composed by noted liturgiologist, linguist, pastor, and musicologist Charles Winfred Douglas (1867-1944). He composed this tune — especially for use in a 1917 hymnal with Bunyan’s text — while returning to his home in Peekskill from New York City. He later commented on the hymn:
Bunyan’s burly song strikes a new and welcome note in our Hymnal. The quaint sincerity of the words stirs us out of our easy-going dull Christianity to the thrill of great adventure. The ballad-like rhythm requires special musical treatment incompatible with a mechanical regularity of measures. The tune is, therefore, in free rhythm, following the words. It should have a quality of sturdiness which always reminds the writer of St. Paul valiantly battling through manifold disaster in “the care of all the churches.