1823 — 1963 — 2023 : William Henry Monk, Abide with me, football and rugby

In 2022 we celebrated the anniversaries of Ralph Vaughan Williams, Doreen Carwithen, and Caleb Simper. No doubt Vaughan Williams’ Lark Ascending will reappear in Classic FM’s Hall of Fame at Easter this year (it has appeared every year since the start of the Hall of Fame in 1996, and has topped the list multiple times). Those interested in church music will have spotted certain anniversaries coming up in 2023.

Indeed, the year has started with an anniversary already. Amazing Grace was written by John Newton, a parish priest of St. Peter and St. Paul, Olney, and a former slave-trader. It was used to illustrate a sermon on New Year’s Day 1773. It is not known if there was any music to accompany the text originally, so it may have been chanted by the congregation. The tune by which it is best known became joined to the words in 1835, when it was published in William Walker’s The Southern Harmony. It first appeared under its well-known title in Sankey’s Gospel Hymns II in 1877, and has been recorded multiple times since.

One of my favourite recordings of the hymn is by André Rieu and his Johann Strauss Orchestra. The University Library has a copy of André Rieu : my music, my life by Marjorie Rieu ; translated by Diane Webb, classmark M950.c.201.824. A paperback copy is also available.

Among the church music anniversaries this year, Max Reger was born in 1873, William Byrd died in 1623 and Harrison Oxley was born in 1933. However one particular anniversary that caught my eye was the birthday of William Henry Monk. He was born in London on 16th March 1823. In 1859 he became the editor of Hymns Ancient and Modern. The first edition was published in 1861 and contained 273 hymns. It became one of the best-selling hymnals ever. Monk composed a number of hymn tunes. Many were published for the first time in Hymns Ancient and Modern. These included the tunes, All things bright and beautiful, and Ascension (Hail the day that sees him rise), and arrangements of Adeste Fideles (O come all ye faithful) and Winchester Old (While shepherds watched).

His best known tune however was Eventide, which is usually associated with Abide with Me. It was composed by Monk (reputedly in just 10 minutes, though there is a rather more romantic version of the story here) after realising at a committee meeting of Hymns A&M that the well known words had no tune to go with them. Lyte, the lyricist had composed (or at least arranged) a tune but this had never become popular (looking at it, you can understand why!), and other than one printing in The Evangelical Hymnal with Tunes, it had failed to capture the imagination of the hymn-singing public.

Lyte’s original less than popular tune
Grave of William Monk in Highgate Cemetery

Lyte (whose 230th anniversary it is this year) wrote the words in 1847 while he lay dying from tuberculosis. He died just three weeks after writing it. Monk lived rather longer. He became an organist and choir director at King’s College, London, and at the then newly built church at Stoke Newington. As well as hymns and anthems, he became a Professor of vocal studies at King’s College, London, taught at the National Training School for Music and Bedford College, and was instrumental in incorporating Anglican chant in church services. He passed away on 1st March 1889, and is buried on the eastern side of Highgate Cemetery in north London.

In 1927, Sir Frederick Wall, then Secretary of the Football Association decided that Abide with me should be sung prior to the kick-off of the FA Cup Final. Prior to that date, Irving Berlin’s Alexander’s Ragtime Band had been sung at the start of the event. King George V and Queen Mary liked the hymn and supported Wall’s decision, and possibly because of this royal connection Abide with me remained popular, and became a tradition of the event. Football supporters will be interested in the result of the 1927 game. Cardiff City won 1-0 against Arsenal. [Editor, who is Welsh, is of course very interested in this. It is notable as being the only time that the FA Cup has been won by a non-English club. Ironically when Wall stepped down as Secretary in 1934, he became a director of Arsenal].

Two years after its appearance in the FA Cup, Abide with me was introduced at the Rugby League Challenge Cup Final, and has been sung every year since.

There is another football related anniversary in 2023 with the 60th anniversary of Gerry and the Pacemaker’s recording of You’ll never walk alone. The song from the musical Carousel was widely sung in football grounds across the country at the time of its release, but it was taken to the hearts of Liverpool fans, and swiftly became inextricably linked with the club, even appearing as its motto on the club shield.

Hymns by other writers have also been adapted for sporting events. Gustav Holst re-arranged the middle section of Jupiter, the bringer of jollity from his Planets suite, to fit Sir Cecil Spring Rice’s words I vow to thee, my country. The work was re-arranged again in 1991, when it was re-worded as World in union for the Rugby World Cup.

Do come and have a look at our small exhibition celebrating the hymns and anthems of William Henry Monk. On now until April.



About mj263

Music Collections Supervisor at Cambridge University Library. Wide musical interests. Often to be found stuck in a composer's archive, or enthusing about antiquarian music.
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