8 December 2014


I added Nearer My God to Thee to the handwritten collection of music in my mini filofaxes. It's easy to find on the Internet.

I was surprised to discover that although the famous words of this hymn were composed in 1841 (as a religious poem) they were not set to the music we know them by today until 15 years later.

The poet was Sarah Flower Adams of Loughton, Essex, in England. Here she is:

Her sister Eliza set the poem to music, but Eliza's version did not catch on.

Sarah died young (in 1848) and so did not live long enough to hear her poem become famous when performed to music by Lowell Mason. How very sad!

But Mason, the prolific American composer of hymn tunes, who set it to music in 1856, lived to the age of 80.

Later, other composers - including Sir Arthur Sullivan - produced yet more tunes to which this poem could be sung.

I thought it useful to have Mason's tune in my collection because jazz bands are on rare occasions called upon to play it.

They are also often called on to play What a Friend We Have in Jesus - another hymn that appeared first as a poem. It was written in 1855 by Joseph M. Scriven, an Irishman who had settled in Canada. Fate dealt him severe blows: twice in his life he was engaged to be married and both fiancées died before the marriage could take place.

He wrote the poem as a present to comfort his mother, back in Ireland, with no idea that it would ever be published.

It wasn't until 1868 that Charles Crozat Converse set it to music. Crozat was an American lawyer and composer, who had studied in Leipzig, Germany, and at the Albany Law School in the USA.