Hymn of the Week: October 10
by Mary Ongjoco Chapman,
Director of Music,
The Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion, University City
Proper 23B – October 10, 2021
Alleluia! Sing to Jesus! – 1982 Hymnal #460
Words: William Chatterton Dix (1837-1898)
Music: Hyfrydol, Rowland Hugh Prichard (1811-1887)
If one were to, say, schedule the hymn tune Hyfrydol for Sunday worship, many worshipers would know which tune was to be sung. Or at least have an idea of what that tune was. The practice of naming hymn tunes was developed to help identify a particular tune, which could then be applied to different texts. In fact, we may be familiar with some of the hymn composers, such as Ralph Vaughan Williams, Samuel Sebastian Wesley, Ludwig van Beethoven, some guy named Johann Sebastian Bach.
But what about the lyricists? Who were they?
Let me introduce you to William Chatterton Dix (1837-1898). Dix was the son of a Bristol surgeon named John Dix, who also wrote several publications (one such publication was a biography of Thomas Chatterton, a poet from Bristol who was an influence on Romantic artists such as Shelley, Keats, Woodsworth, and Coleridge – though he died at the age of seventeen). In honor of Chatterton, Dix Senior bestowed the poet’s surname as his son’s middle name.
Young William was a student at the Grammar School, trained for a mercantile career, then became manager of a maritime company in Glasgow, where he spent most of his life. Throughout his life, however, he penned several hymns, some of which are still found in many modern hymn books. The hymn tune named for him sets his words in As with Gladness Men of Old (1982 Hymnal #119), and the hymn tune Greensleeves is a setting of his text which has become one of the most beloved Christmas hymns.
When William was about the age of twenty-nine, he suffered from an unexpected illness, leaving him bed-ridden and severely depressed for several months. It was about this time that he was writing the lyrics to What Child is This? (1982 Hymnal #115), though it was not published until 1871. His near-death experience brought about a spiritual renewal during his recovery, and it was then that he wrote Alleluia! Sing to Jesus! and As with Gladness Men of Old.
Below is a video of Hyfrydol, sung by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge (Stephen Cleobury, conductor).