The conventional model of the flow of hymn tunes across the Atlantic is that music went from the United Kingdom to America in the years before the American Revolution and that American tunes came across to Britain in the 1860s and 1870s with the arrival of the Chicago evangelist Dwight Moody and the musician Ira Sankey. While there is some truth to this broad outline, America had a great impact on religious music in Britain between 1770 and 1860 as well. This influence is hardly documented in the literature on mainstream denominations, but can be detected in the presence of and references to American hymn-tunes in some popular sources in England, Scotland and Wales during this period.1 In fact, almost as soon as American composers began to write music for hymns and psalms in the second half of the eighteenth century, their music was published, disseminated and sung in Britain.
The arrival of the first American tunes imported into Britain coincided with what is now known as the West Gallery period of British church music. At the time, country churches in Britain lacked organs and the music was provided by a choir and band who sat in the galleries at the west end of the church. In some places there was only a bass viol to pitch the singing while in others the band included fiddles and woodwind instruments. Often the musicians who accompanied the choir were the same people who played for the dancing on Saturday night. Isaac Watts had produced the first major collections of hymn texts suitable for singing by 1720 and this was followed by an explosion in the production of texts and tunes by ordinary people who lacked wealth and higher education. The books of music, “note books,” were expensive as each page had to be engraved. Also, the nationally available books did not contain the work of many local composers. To get around this problem most singers and instrumentalists copied their music into manuscript books, many of them homemade. It is there that we find the music they actually played and sang, much of which was never formally published. For example we know of an anthem produced by a miner’s wife in the far South West some time before 1820, which is in other manuscripts, but was not published until the 1890s. These manuscript books contain much of the evidence for American influence on British religious music.
One of the paths of musical exchange between the United States and Britain was the succession of American evangelists who traveled to England in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In 1766, Samson Occom, a Native American minister from Connecticut, visited England and Scotland on a preaching tour and to raise funds for what would become Dartmouth College. Another American preacher, Zadoc Priest, a New England Methodist who died young in 1796, is reputed to have visited Cornwall. The most influential of these early visitors was Lorenzo Dow, another New Englander, who came to England and Ireland in 1799, 1803, and 1818. He enthused many Methodists with his stories of camp meetings and the chorus songs for which they were famous. This led to the first British camp meeting, held at Mow Cop in Cheshire, and the founding of the Primitive Methodist Church in 1809. Their early hymnbook, A Collection of Hymns for Camp Meetings, Revivals etc., contains texts for chorus songs, a form not previously found in British hymnody or psalmody. It seems likely that many of the tunes sung to these texts were American chorus songs, although some would probably have been British in origin.
The first American tune that I can find in British books is William Billings’s tune “Consolation” (Hymn Tune Index [HTI] 4008).2 First published in Boston in his Singing Master’s Assistant in 1778, a mere four years later, it appeared as “Stillman” in John Rippon’s A Selection of Hymn and Psalm Tunes, which was published in London. By the very early 1800s the flow had become noticeable to contemporary British musicians although it is hard to trace in published books of music. About 1803, and no later than 1804, William Miller, son of the composer Edward Miller of Doncaster, published his sacred tune book, David’s Harp, which was compiled for Methodist musicians. In his preface he has much to say about the science of music and the errors of his predecessors, and writes:
It is to be lamented that, lately among the Methodists, a light, indecorous style of music has frequently been introduced, diametrically opposite to the Genuine tones of Sacred Harmony.
Many persons, destitute of scientific knowledge, and merely possessing a tolerably good ear, think themselves qualified to compose hymns, set them to music, and have them performed in their chapels; but these compositions only expose their authors to ridicule, by the meagre style of their poetry, and the frivolity and indecency of their music.
A number of these effusions of folly and ignorance have lately been brought over from America, which expose an important part of the worship of God to the merited censure of the judicious, and to sorrow of the truly pious, while some of the best hymns and most appropriate tunes in the English language are laid aside, and nearly forgotten.
The sentiments of Miller’s preface accord with those in his father’s books, published around the same time, but the references to Methodism and American tunes are his alone. We can therefore surmise that the imported tunes he disliked were brought in and used by Methodists.
Jeremiah Ingalls’s fuging tune “New Jerusalem” (HTI 7206a; The Sacred Harp [SH] 299) was exceptionally popular in Britain. It first appeared in the American tunebook Vermont Harmony in 1796. In 1811 it was published in London by Thomas Walker and David Smith in their Walker’s Companion to Dr. Rippon’s Tune Book under the name “Zadock.” This is the name by which it is usually found in English manuscripts, including Robert White’s book of about 1820 and the Padstow Carol Manuscripts, where it is set to “While shepherds watched…”3 The tune appears under other names in English manuscripts; in the 1846 Longforth Manuscript from Hullavington in Wiltshire it retains its original name and in the carol manuscripts at Foolow, in Derbyshire, the tune is called “Mortals Awake,” as it is set to the eponymous text by Samuel Medley.
The West Gallery researchers Paul Gailiunas, Judy Whiting, and Win Stokes have drawn attention to the presence of thirteen New England tunes in Joseph Featherston’s 1811 manuscript from the lead mining area of Upper Weardale in County Durham.
|Tune Name||HTI No.||Words||Composer||Date|
|Greenfield||4278a||Psalm 46||Lewis Edson||1782|
|Greenwick [sic]||4741||Daniel Read||1785|
|Funeral Tune||6035||Oliver Holden||1792|
|Exhortation (Second)||8108a||Eliakim Doolittle||1800|
|Roslin Castle||9253||Elisha West||1802|
|Schenectady||11114||Psalm 45||Nehemiah Shumway||1805|
All of these tunes except “Roslin Castle” can be found in every edition of The Easy Instructor published between 1809 and 1813. Featherston was a lead miner and we know that some of his relatives were mining in the United States and Nova Scotia at the time so it would seem possible that a Durham exile sent one of these editions (or copies taken from it) home from New England. Paul Gailiunas has also found “Ballstown” and “Greenwich” in another later manuscript from nearby Greenside in County Durham. There are arguments about whether the origins of “Roslin Castle” lie in Scotland or America but the others are all major New England fuging tunes, though some appear transcribed in non-fuging form. Many of them survive to this day in the shape note tradition (eight of the thirteen are included in The Sacred Harp, 1991 Edition).
Richard Williams’s manuscript comes from Llanddausant on Anglesey. It is difficult to date but appears to be from the 1840s or 1850s and contains some as-yet- unidentified tunes with American names such as “America,” “New York,” and “Philadelphia.” Williams seems to have liked the work of Daniel Read and includes his “Greenwich” (HTI 4741; SH 183), “Lisbon” (HTI 4609a; SH 467), and “Sherburn” (HTI 4622a; a version of Read’s “Sherburne,” which appears on p. 186 in The Sacred Harp, here missing the final “e”), as well as Abner Ellis’s “Refuge” (HTI 11106).
Daniel Read’s work is found in manuscript books from all corners of England and Wales. In addition to Durham and Anglesey, the Richard Edwards Manuscript, a compilation spanning 1820–1850, from Gwnnws, near Aberystwyth, contains his “Winter” (HTI 4629; SH 38t) with the title “Staughton,” under which it was published by Thomas Walker in London in 1800. His “America” (HTI 4624) and Samuel Holyoke’s “Egton” (HTI 10489) have been found in an 1830s manuscript which appears to come from the Ipswich area. “Staughton” and “America” are also included in an 1820s manuscript from Elm Street Chapel in Manchester. Paul Guppy, the leader of a West Gallery choir in Lancaster, tells me that Read’s “Russia” (HTI 4789; SH 107) appears in one of the Wyresdale Manuscripts from Lancashire.
Edwin Macadam, an Oxford Sacred Harp singer, recently pointed out the presence of “Worcester” (HTI 4077a; SH 195), Abraham Wood’s 1778 fuging tune, in a hymnbook produced in Glasgow in the nineteenth century. It seems to have arrived there in 1814, when it was published in James Steven’s influential Selection of Sacred Music Vol. 4 and was later included in each of a series of cheap hymnbooks produced well into the late nineteenth century by Steven, Robertson, Brown, and Mitchison. The contents of these books are an eclectic mixture. They supplement the well-known Scottish tunes with pieces from English nonconformist sources and from America. As time went by the number of American tunes increased; by the 1840s and 1850s they included Billings’s “Amherst” (HTI 3360a), Read’s “America” and “Sherburne,” Lewis Edson’s “Lenox” (HTI 4280; SH 40) and “Peterborough” (HTI 10186), as well as later tunes called “Summerfield”and “Washington,” both of which the compiler describes as American.
One of the American pieces imported to Britain was William Billings’s “David’s Lamentation” (SH 268). Originally from The Singing Master’s Assistant of 1778, it is found in several English manuscripts under the title “King David’s Anthem.” The song also appears in three manuscript books—one anonymous, one by Henry Whitaker and one by Moses Heap—in the collection of the Larks of Dean, “Dean Layrocks” in the local vernacular. The Larks of Dean were a choir of textile workers and farmers, based at Goodshaw Baptist Chapel in Lancashire, who collected, wrote and sang sacred music for much of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.4 Jean Seymour, a West Gallery choir leader from East Lancashire, informs me that the date of the first of these is uncertain but that the others seem to be from the 1840s. “King David’s Anthem” also appears in the 1850s Dinning Manuscript from Hexhamshire in Northumberland.
“Green Street” (SH 198) is another song which appears in United Kingdom manuscripts. It is labeled “From America” in Anne Dodson’s 1844 manuscript. Sheila Girling Macadam, another Oxford Sacred Harp singer, has found it in a manuscript of about the same date from North Wales where it bears the same label. Its origins have been the subject of debate for some while but recent work by Fynn Titford-Mock, Warren Steel, Wade Kotter, and others has shown that it was written in America, probably in the 1830s, by George Coles, a Worcestershire Methodist who emigrated from Britain in 1818 and was based at Greene Street Methodist Church in New York.
Judging by the sources to which I have access, the major period for the importation of American tunes for West Gallery musicians was from 1810 to 1850. Most of the tunes I have identified are fuging tunes from New England. These were strongly influenced by the style popularized in England in the late 1740s and early 1750s by James Evison, William Knapp, William East, Michael Beesly and others, so they were a good fit within the West Gallery tradition. The work of church music reformers such as Jonathan Grey, Matthew Camidge, and Edward Miller had made this style unfashionable in Britain by 1810, so the importing of American tunes may well have been an attempt to refresh and retain the old interesting style and reject the new plainer fashion. I have yet to find any American tunes from Pennsylvania and the frontier in English sources.5
Interestingly, almost all of the British books and manuscripts in which I have found these tunes have connections to Methodism or Calvinism. The absence of these tunes in Anglican sources is unsurprising given the Church’s lack of enthusiasm for hymns and its desire for somber music that followed the classical rules of harmony. The link with Methodism is rather more difficult to understand. John Wesley disliked fuging tunes and wrote strongly of his disapproval. This is reflected in a passage from the minutes of the 1805 Methodist Conference:
Let no pieces, as they are called, in which Recitatives by single men, Solos by single women, Fuging, or different words sung by different voices at the same time, are introduced, be sung in our Chapels.6
Perhaps the appearance of fuging tunes in Methodist manuscripts is linked to the splits in Wesleyan Methodism that occurred around that time, resulting in the burgeoning of the Independent Methodists, Primitive Methodists, Bible Christians, United Methodists, and other offshoots.
After the West Gallery period, the flow of American tunes into Britain shifted dramatically in character. In the 1860s and 1870s, the steady flow of early American fuging tunes was replaced with a flood of recent gospel hymns. Moody and Sankey sold five million copies of their Sacred Songs and Solos, which funded the Moody Church and Bible Institute in Chicago. It was said to be impossible to pass an English chapel without hearing the American gospel tunes of Sankey, Bliss, Black, Lowry, McGranahan and their contemporaries. Indeed Sankey said: “Our best words come from England; the music which best suits our purpose comes from America.”7
This music too was received in some circles with the same disdain that William Miller had shown three generations earlier, tempered with a grudging admiration for their effectiveness. In 1885, John Spencer Curwen wrote in his Studies in Worship Music:
There has been plenty of debate over these American gospel song tunes. Are they legitimate church music … ? The taste formed on Bach … finds these American pieces hopelessly insipid, not to say vulgar. Their structure is, indeed, extremely slight. The frequent employment of march rhythm is also distasteful to the ear. …
Without doubt these songs touch the common throng; they match the words to which they are sung, and carry them. The American Gospel Hymn is nothing if it is not emotional.8
Despite the success of American gospel music in Britain, early American tunes still continue to cross the Atlantic. “The Indian Philosopher”/“Ganges” (HTI 8879a), first published in Northampton, Massachusetts, in 1798, was included in the 1936 Methodist Hymn Book under the name “Hull.” More recently, in the 1960s, commercial recordings of “Amazing Grace” by Judy Collins, the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, and others popularized the words and the tune “New Britain” (SH 45t) in the United Kingdom. Though this hymn-text of John Newton’s had disappeared from British hymnals by the 1830s, it now appears in most modern mainstream British hymnals.
Although this subject deserves more research, the very fragmentary nature of the sources make such work difficult. My conclusions are based on the small sample of sixty or so manuscripts about which I have information. From this sample, however, it would appear, that most of the American tunes entered West Gallery books and manuscripts following a similar pattern. They were imported between 1810 and 1850; they came from New England rather than the South or West; they were fuging tunes or arrangements of fuging tunes; and they were used by Methodists and Non-Conformists rather than by Anglicans. Though there is much more work to be done, it is clear that early American hymns had a significant presence in Britain.
I would like to express my thanks to Tim Eriksen, Paul Gailiunas, Chris Gardner, Paul Guppy, Wade Kotter, Edwin Macadam, Sheila Girling Macadam, Jean Seymour, Warren Steel, Win Stokes, and Judy Whiting for sharing their research, which form a large part of this article.
- An exception to the lack of documentation of American influence is the literature on Primitive Methodism. [↩]
- Nicholas Temperley’s “The Hymn Tune Index” (HTI), a database of “all hymns printed anywhere in the world with English-language texts up to 1820, and their publication history up to that date,” is accessible online at http://hymntune.library.uiuc.edu/. Searching by HTI number yields a results page providing the melody of the given tune (represented in a form of numerical notation) along with its meter, mode, author, and number of sources for the tune through 1820. Clicking on the “Find Citations” button pulls up a list of these sources. [↩]
- It has been suggested that the name “Zadock” derives from a Cornish visit by Zadoc Priest. This may be true but Priest died in 1796, the year the tune was first published. This does not preclude his having brought the tune to Britain, as we know that some tunes migrated before they were published, but it seems unlikely. [↩]
- Today, Goodshaw Baptist Church is the venue for an annual Sacred Harp singing, held on the Saturday before the third Sunday in May. [↩]
- The reasons for this are unclear. It cannot be for lack of appeal as much of the music of the American frontier was a development of styles popular in Primitive Methodist and other British circles. The lack of frontier tunes in English sources may have more to do with the weakness of family ties between Britain and the non-Quaker communities in these areas which were settled largely by Scots-Irish, German, and internal American migrants. [↩]
- Transcribed in William Myles, “A Chronological History of the People Called Methodists … from 1729, to … 1812 (London: [Methodist] Conference-Office, 1813), 271. The term “fuging,” spelled “Fagaing” in this source, was altered to “fuguing” in Valentine Ward’s A Miniature of Methodism (London: John Mason, 1829), 92, and to the present spelling in John Spencer Curwen, “Methodist Psalmody,” The Congregationalist 7 (1878): 600. [↩]
- Ira D. Sankey, quoted in John Spencer Curwen, “The Music of the Moody-Sankey Meetings,” in Studies in Worship Music, Second Series (London: J. Curwen and Sons, 1885), 39. [↩]
- Curwen, “The Music of the Moody-Sankey Meetings,” 39–40. [↩]