Tag Archive | Lowell Mason

Nearer, My God, To Thee, Last Song Played As the Titanic Sinks

Nearer, My God, To Thee is commonly believed to be the last song the Titanic played as the ship sank.

The popular hymn was written by Sarah Flower Adams and is loosely based on Jacob’s dream in Genesis 28:11-19. This hymn is considered by hymnology students to be the finest hymn ever written by a woman composer.

Titanic In Dock

Sarah was born in Harlow, England on February 22, 185. Her father, Benjamin Flower, was a newspaper editor and man of prominence. Sarah was active on the stage in her younger days. She won rave reviews portraying Lady MacBeth in London. She worked closely with her sister, Eliza Flower, who was an accomplished musician. Sarah married railway engineer, William Bridges Adams, in 1834. The couple lived in Loughton, Essex, England, where a blue plaque is now dedicated to the public.

Sarah and Eliza worked created many hymns with William Johnson Fox for his hymnal “Collection Hymns and Anthems”. It is said Sarah wrote quickly and editors found little to change, many of her songs were praising God. Her longest work is “Vivia Perpetua, A Dramatic Poem” written in 1841. While working together Rev. Fox said he wished he could find a song to conclude his sermon on Jacob and Esau. Eliza recommended her sister write the hymn. Sarah spent the next week in prayer and studying the scriptures. The song was published in a 1841 hymnal under the title “Hymns and Anthems.” Sarah and Eliza were raised in the Unitarian Church, but it’s possible Sarah may have converted to the Baptist Faith shortly before her death.

Sarah Adams

Sarah faithfully cared for her sister when she contracted tuberculosis. Eliza died in 1846, but Sarah had developed the consumption by this time. She died on Aug 14, 1848 at the age of forty-three and is buried at the church in Harlow.

The words Sarah wrote are associated with three different tunes. In the United Kingdom, it is usually sung to a tune known as “Horbury.” This tune was written in 1841 by John Bacchus Dykes.

The tune “Propior Deo” was written by Sir Arthur Sullivan of Gilbert and Sullivan fame. This tune is popular in British Methodist traditions.

Lowell Mason, who is known as writing over 1600 tunes such as “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”, “Joy to the World!” and “My Faith Looks Up to Thee”, wedded the lyrics to Sarah’s song with his tune, “Bethany.” Although the lyrics were introduced in 1844, it was after this marriage that the song became popular. This version is the most popular and well known of the three.

Nearer, My God, To Thee” has proven its popularity through the ages.

Titanic, a tragedy

The Confederate army band played this song as the survivors of the disastrous Pickett’s Charge (in the Battle of Gettysburg) returned from their failed infantry assault.

The Rough Riders sang the hymn at the burial of their slain comrades after the Battle of Las Guasima.

Legend says the words of this hymn were the dying words of President William McKinley after his assassination in 1901. The hymn was also played at President William McKinley, President James Garfield and President Gerald Ford’s funerals.

Wallace Hartley, the Titanic’s band leader, was known to like this song and request that the hymn be played at his funeral. Survivor accounts differ among which version or melody was played. Friends of Hartley recounted after the sinking, that he had said if he was ever on a sinking ship he would play Nearer, My God, To Thee.

For more on the Titanic

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

For Good Friday, I thought we would take a look at a song about Jesus death.

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross was inspired by Galatians 6:14: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”

Isaac Watts, the author of the song, had been writing hymns since childhood. During two years of his childhood he wrote a hymn for every Sunday service. By the age of twelve, Watts had learned a number of languages including Latin, Greek and Hebrew.

After returning home from college, Isaac Watts felt a tug towards the ministry and wrote many songs. He preached his first sermon in 1698. A year later he became the assistant pastor of London’s Mark Lane Church. He became that church’s regular pastor in 1702.

The Crown of Thorns

Watts wrote When I Survey the Wondrous Cross in 1707. The inspiration came while he was preparing to serve communion to his congregation.

His brother, Enoch, encouraged him to publish his hymns, which he originally published in 1707. He sold the copyrights to his songs to the publisher, a Mr. Lawrence, for ten pounds. The hymnal, “Hymns and Spiritual Songs”, was an instant success and republished two years later.

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross was originally titled “Crucifixion to the World, by the Cross of Christ”.

Composer Lowell Mason married his tune “Hamburg” to the words in 1824. Mason originally arranged the tune from a Gregorian Chant he’d heard. The tune only consist of five notes and first appeared in 1825 in the “Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society Collections of Church Music.”

Christ on the Cross

Isaac Watts wrote over 600 hymns, including “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.” His songs have a strong and triumphant statement. He is known as the Father of English hymnody.

The fourth verse of “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” is often omitted today. Charles Wesley stated he wish he’d written this hymn over all of the ones he wrote. The theologian, Matthew Arnold, considered this hymn the “finest hymn in the English church.”