Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] Mercer-Taylor, Peter. “Mendelssohn in Nineteenth-Century American Hymnody.” 19th-Century Music 32 (Spring 2009): 235-83.

The mid-nineteenth century American phenomenon of arranging European art music as hymn tunes—as represented by a case study of adaptations of Felix Mendelssohn’s music—reveals a conceptual shift in how Americans engaged with European classical music. As a broad classical music culture in America became more viable around the 1850s, arrangers of Mendelssohn’s tunes (among others) stuck more closely to the original sources, participating in the consolidation of a musical canon. The practice of adapting music by classical composers as hymn tunes began in London in the early nineteenth century and soon spread to America through Lowell Mason. Despite drawing criticism for their faithless adaptation, many publications intent on reforming American hymnody with arrangements of European tunes soon appeared, including Thomas Hastings and William Bradbury’s The Mendelssohn Collection in 1849. Many earlier hymn arrangements of Mendelssohn tunes modify them significantly in order to conform to hymn styles or to simplify the music for American performers. However, many arrangements depart from their source material much more than just “simplification,” demonstrating a greater degree of creative collaboration between composer and arranger. Some arrangements, such as Lowell Mason’s Howell, bear little resemblance to their source material at all, and others add significant amounts of newly composed material to the source tunes. The sources for these hymn adaptations come from sacred and secular vocal music as well as instrumental music. There is also a mix of well-known works (Elijah for example) and lesser-known works in earlier adaptations, suggesting an unfamiliarity with the classical repertoire. However, hymn adaptations appearing after 1855 only draw from Lobgesang, Elijah, and St. Paul, representing an emerging awareness of and faithfulness to the European canon. These Mendelssohn hymn adaptations ultimately show the extent of cross-pollination between Western high art music and vernacular music in nineteenth-century American culture.

Works: Thomas Tastings and William Bradbury (editors): Sweetzer (236-38), Suabia (253-55), Alleppo (256-57), Spinola (258-60); Charles Wesley (text): Hark! The Herald Angels Sing (247-48); Lowell Mason (editor): Baltic (256), Howell (257-59); Benjamin F. Baker and I. B. Woodbury (editors): Kimball (256); Charles Hackett (editor) Bonn (256); John Bodine Thompson and William Hinchman Platt (editors): Thomas (257); Isaac B. Woodbury: Barons (258-59); Charles S. Robinson: Mansfield (258-60)

Sources: Felix Mendelssohn: Volkslied (236-38), Defend Us Lord From Shame (253-55), Festgesang (247-48), Christus (256), Elijah (256), Frühlingslied (256), Athalie (256-57), Lobgesang (257) Three Motets (257-59), Lied ohne Worte, Op. 19b, No. 4 (258-60), Psalm 42 (258-60)

Index Classifications: 1800s

Contributed by: Matthew Van Vleet

Except where otherwise noted, this website is subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
Musical Borrowing and Reworking - - 2024
Creative Commons Attribution License