This is not the first New College Hymn Book. Largely the brainchild of the Rev’d Hereford Brooke George, Fellow, Hymns for Use in New College Chapel first appeared in 1900, and was issued again in a revised edition, a volume of some 220 hymns, in July 1911. Both times the compilers stated clearly their high-minded principles: they sought to reject ‘hymns expressing extreme theological views’, and in their selection ‘desired to satisfy a cultivated literary and musical taste’.
Now, over a century later, and after many years’ use of other books, the College has once again seen fit to commission a bespoke hymnal. This has given us the opportunity of producing a book which combines the very best of the old with a representative amount of more recent material, both high-quality texts and fine, modern tunes. We hope that our criteria of selection have been every bit as exacting as those of the Rev’d George and his fellow editors over a century ago.
No body of English verse has suffered more at the hands of well-meaning adapters and revisers than those texts which are sung in church as hymns. Whatever else is achieved by such changes, it is fair to say that it is rarely an enhancement of expression or any literary improvement. Accordingly we have made every effort to seek out and use poets’ original versions, except where early revisions have become sanctified by long usage. In this way we hope both to respect our authors’ own intentions, and to save unwary worshippers from the embarrassment and frustration of discovery in mid-hymn that they are singing all the ‘wrong’ words!
Likewise, in our treatment of the music in this book, we have endeavoured to respect as far as practically possible the origins of each tune, and to provide concise but accurate reference to those origins and any major alterations to which the music has been subject. Our model in this work has, naturally, been Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose editorial scholarship in The English Hymnal of 1906 has never been surpassed – though rather more information is available to the editor of 2021, for example in the provenance of tunes from the various ‘metrical psalters’ that appeared across Europe during the Reformation. Indeed, so pervasive a presence is Vaughan Williams in this book that his harmonisations and transcriptions of folk melodies are acknowledged simply by the initials RVW. Any unattributed harmonisations are by the music editor. Venerable traditions of congregational singing in sister Churches are represented, with the inclusion of some Lutheran melodies that have not so far appeared in an Anglican book, a ‘Genevan’ melody presented not at the top of the texture but in the tenor voice, as would originally have been the case, and three recent tunes from the Episcopal Church of the United States; and several office hymns of the Roman rite are also included, mostly in neumatic notation with an underlaid accompaniment on five-line staves. Lastly, there is a small collection of newly-composed or previously unpublished tunes, all by musicians closely associated with New College.