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Divine music


I have been playing the Vaughan Williams hymnal. Created by a man who was known as “an atheist or an agnostic for his entire adult life”, it is some of the most beautiful sacred music on earth.

How the young Vaughan Williams came to fill the Anglican hymnal with some of its most singable and blissfully melodic songs is told by James Day in the introduction to the Trinity Cambridge CD –

. . .he was somewhat surprised one day in 1904 when an Anglican clergyman unknown to him, the Rev. Percy Dearmer (1867 – 1936), arrived out of the blue and asked him to edit the music of a new hymn-book that he and some colleagues were compiling. It would, Dearmer added, occupy him for a few weeks and cost about £5. (It actually took up two years and cost him £250 out of his own pocket in expenses.) On being told that a musician with whose views he was decidedly out of sympathy would be offered the job if he refused, Vaughan Williams quickly accepted.

He had already started collecting English folk-songs. He set some of the hymns to these, naming the music after the villages where he had collected the songs – Herongate, Monk’s Gate, Kingsfold, and King’s Lynn. He was determined they would be easy for a congregation to sing. They are – and no matter how dreary the hour, their music lifts me.

Vaughan Williams composed the music for some of the most popular hymns, though this was not revealed until years later. We owe him the music for Down Ampney and For All the Saints.

Brilliant Rev. Dearmer! He knew that love of music is not far from love of the divine.