A Composer's Notepad ::

Danby : Portrait of the Artist as a Harmonizer of Hymn-Tunes

Sometime in 1999 I discovered a hymn-tune called “Danby” in the Pilgrim Hymnal; for the most part, I was simply taken with what an attractive tune it is, but I was also intrigued, for I found it in a Vaughan Williams harmonization, which I have never seen in the English Hymnal. As it appears in the Pilgrim Hymnal, it is a setting of Samuel Longfellow’s “’Tis Winter Now.” Sometime in November, while Maria and Mom were busy working on a mural at the church, I occupied myself at the piano, and spontaneously produced a simple arrangement for voice, trumpet and organ. A parishioner who is absent most of the year, teaching in Michigan, comes home every Christmas, and he plays trumpet with fine tone, and good musicianship. So the occasion was simply, to have something new and attractive for the Christmas Eve candlelight service.

I wrote an introduction, brief interludes between verses, a codetta, and simple trumpet counterpoints for two verses; I allowed Vaughan Williams’ harmonization to stand during two of the four verses. The goal of the piece was simply to bring the tune to the parishioners’ attention, so they should no longer be ignorant of this gem which lay buried in the unused portion of the Hymnal (a Hymnal containing a number of “undiscovered” nuggets). I didn’t concern myself with thoughts of publication, though in the back of my mind was the thought that, eventually, I should probably have to write my own harmonization.

In December of 2000, an e-mail came advising that an organist who had reviewed a list of my works was mighty interested in this arrangement of Danby. On reflection, it became apparent that Vaughan Williams needed to be allowed some copyright space, and I should compose my own harmonization. I wrote the new harmonization the night of February 14, 2001.

Karl Henning
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