Take my life and let it be

Take my life, and let it be

First of all, many thanks for all your feedback on our last post. We love hearing from you, so do please keep it coming.

This post looks at ‘Take my life, and let it be’ by Frances Ridley Havergal (1836-79), to the tune NOTTINGHAM, probably by Wenzel Müller (1767-1835).

Take my life, and let it be

Frances Havergal

Frances Ridley Havergal was born into a family both strongly Anglican and musical. Her clergyman father later became a composer in his own right, and her brother was a noted organist. Frances’ fine voice allowed her to sing as a concert soloist, but poor health meant that this career could only be intermittent. Instead she travelled and devoted her time to private study, learning Greek, Latin and Hebrew, and memorizing long sections of Scripture. It is not often that we can pinpoint the creation of a hymn to a particular date, but such was the later fame of ‘Take my life, and let it be’ that Frances was compelled to explain its provenance. On a short visit to a Areley House, Worcestershire, with ten others, all either unconverted or uncommitted Christians, she prayed ‘Lord, give me all this house’. By the last day of her visit – 4th February, 1874 – every one of the ten had pledged themselves as a committed Christian, inspiring her to write the lyrics that same night.

Wenzel Müller, an Austrian best known for working in musical theatre, is the most likely candidate for composer of NOTTINGHAM. The tune is first found in what used to be known as Mozart’s Twelfth Mass in G. The misattribution to Mozart was confirmed by his cataloguer, Ludwig von Köchel, in 1862, provoking a century-long academic disagreement on the true composer. However, recent research suggests it be credited to Müller, though Mozart’s name is still appended in most hymn books. And why ‘Nottingham’? The Twelfth Mass was certainly performed there, and it is possible that Havergal’s text was first put to Müller’s tune by a musician of that city. That is a relatively recent pairing, as for the first hundred years of the hymn’s life the most published tune for it was HENDON, by the Swiss composer Henri Cesar Malan. But while it is often still sung to this – particularly in the United States – and several other melodies, NOTTINGHAM takes the prize for the perfect juxtaposition of text and tune: gentle and calming, yet resolute and affirming.

Rob Charles takes us through the organ stops at All Saints, Oystermouth:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPNk8LXrZag

And here’s a Newcastle congregation singing to a piano arrangement:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gf11rReeWIs

As with other posts in this series we’re pleased to present an original and exclusive descant for choirs, with an alternative harmonisation for organists. It’s free to download and use, so please do so, and let us know how you get on. We’d be delighted to receive any audio or video of your attempts!

Nottingham descant

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