Wednesday, March 2, 2016

"This, after all, is music of the heart" - Thomas Moore's "Hark! The Vesper Hymn is Stealing" (1818)


In the previous post I have discussed one song, "All That's Bright Must Fade" with an "Indian Air", from the first volume of Thomas Moore's Popular National Airs (1818). This collection of international national airs with "new poetry" also included other pieces that would become popular standards, for example "Oft in the Stilly Night", "Those Evening Bells" and "Flow on thou shining River". But the most successful song from this volume was surely "Hark! The Vesper Hymn is Stealing" (pp. 54-58), a timeless classic that is sung until today, not only in Britain but also in North America and even in Germany:

Here he claimed to have used a "Russian Air", but with an additional part - the last eight bars starting with "Farther now, now farther stealing" - composed by Sir John Stevenson. The beautiful lyrics are about hearing the vesper hymn from "o'er the waters soft and clear". First it "bursts upon the ear" and, in the end, "like waves retreating to the shore, it dies along". 
Hark! the vesper hymn is stealing
O'er the waters soft and clear;
Nearer yet and nearer pealing,
Now bursts upon the ear.
Jubilate Jubilate Jubilate Amen.
Farther now, now farther stealing,
Soft it fades upon the ear.
Farther now, now farther stealing,
Soft it fades upon the ear.

Now, like moonlight waves retreating
To the shore, it dies along;
Now, like angry surges meeting,
Breaks the mingled tide of song.
Jubilate Jubilate Jubilate Amen.
Hush! again, like waves retreating
To the shore, it dies along.
Hush! again, like waves retreating
To the shore, it dies along. 
The reviewer of the Quarterly Musical Magazine (Vol. 1, 1818, pp. 225-9, here p. 228) was very impressed by the whole collection and particularly liked the "Vesper Hymn": 
"The melody steals upon the ear and upon the fancy with sweetness beyond description, while the hymn sustained by the under parts in the finest style of such compositions [...]". 
He also added an interesting report about an audience's reaction to this song (dto.): 
"Since the above was written, we were present at a public concert where this harmonized air was sung [...] The audience, which happened to be exceedingly select and critical, were more affected by the simple strain, than by any other part of the performance [...] One hearer, not less eminent in science than warm in his feeling, as he wiped the tears from his eyes at the conclusion, whispered to the writer - 'this, after all, is music of the heart'". 


At first there is the question: where did Mr. Moore find this so-called "Russian air"? Original Russian tunes where not that difficult to get at that time. The collection arranged by Ivan Prač had been published in different editions since the 1790s and it was well known in Western Europe (see ed. St. Petersburg, 1806, at the Internet Archive). Only two years earlier Benjamin Beresford, the editor and translator of German songs, had compiled an anthology with the title The Russian Troubadour (London, 1816, available at the Internet Archive). But the tune can't be found in these collections nor - as far as I know - in any others. In fact Moore apparently very rarely took melodies for the Popular National Airs from printed sources. At the moment I know of only one case (see From Calcutta to Tübingen - Thomas Moore's "All That's Bright Must Fade" (1818)). 

Until today the tune is often attributed to Russian composer Dimitri Bortniansky (1751-1825). It seems to me that this rumour came up in Germany in the 1880s. An edition of sheet music by publisher Zumsteeg looks like its earliest occurrence (see Hofmeister, December 1880, p. 377). Bortniansky's choral music had become quite popular in Germany at that time (see Wikipedia) and therefore it may have been not unreasonable to assume that he had also written this particular "Russian" tune. But this is wrong and misleading. In the 1940s Bortnianky's music was investigated thoroughly and nothing even "remotely" similar to this melody came to light (see Hymnal 1940 Companion, p. 131).

But there is a good possibility that this was not an Russian tune at all. The reviewer of the Quarterly Musical Magazine (here p. 228) noted some suspicious similarities of Moore's air to a song published about a decade earlier, "Hark to Philomela Singing" by one William Knyvett (c. 1807): 
"There appear to be some conflicting interests in the property of this melody. Mr. W. Knyvett has published a glee, as his own composition, which begins note for note with the Russian air, and little notes thrown into the accompaniment bear the same similitude. The coincidence between the first strain of 'Hark to Philomela singing', and 'Hark the VEsper Hymn is stealing", is too great to have been the mere effect of similarity of thought". 
Mr. Knyvett (1779-1856; see Wikipedia; see also Quartely Musical Magazine and Review 1, 1818, pp. 472-6) was a popular singer and composer. His song appeared first in 1807 and was received well by the critics: 
  • William Knyvett, Hark to Philomela singing. A Glee for 4 Voices with an Accompaniment for the Piano Forte, Burchill, London, n. d. [1807] (available at the Internet Archive; see the reviews in The Cabinet, 2, 1807, p. 254 & Monthly Magazine 24, Part II, 1807, p. 281
Hark! to Philomela singing,
Sweetly warbling in the vale;
Hark! the village bells are ringing,
Softly murm'ring on the gale.

By that stream, so gently flowing,
Stands our poor, though happy, shed;
Winds that ever kindly blowing,
O'er its unprotected head.

There in tranquil ease and pleasure,
Each revolving year we dwell;
Blest with every heart-felt treasure,
In our poor and humble cell. 
Now we can look at the first part of the tune. It is of course not identical but in fact quite similar to the opening bars of Moore's "Russian" melody: 

It is not that difficult to understand why Mr. Knyvett believed to recognize his own tune. And it seems that he or his publisher made attempts to reclaim their rights to this melody. It also seems that Moore's publisher Power got a little bit nervous and it must have been very embarrassing for him that Mr. Moore, his best investment, was accused of plagiarism. Therefore he asked him to shed some light on the origin of this "Russian air". 

Moore's answers were somewhat weak and not convincing at all (all quotes from Croker 1854, pp. 89-91). He claimed that the Duchesse de Broglie, the daughter of the legendary Madame de Staël, had brought this tune to his attention: "It was she who danced to it five or six years ago, and called it a Cossack Dance [...] it was in a private society I saw her dance that tune about seven or eight years ago [...]...she had heard it in France as a Cossack Air, and always considered it as such". 

In fact he was not even sure when exactly he had heard it first. Was Thomas Moore really a plagiarist, at least with this tune? I am not sure. This could have been a kind of unconscious assimilation of a musical idea and it is easily possible that he once had heard Knyvett's song. To be true I am very skeptical about the story of the "Cossack Dance". But on the other hand it sounds so strange that it could be true. 

Moore - who clearly was surprised of this accusation of plagiarism - decided to sit out the problem and advised Mr. Power that he had "nothing else to do than to assert stoutly that it is a Russian Air, and let Knyvett prove that it is not". He couldn't even resit a dig at Mr. Knyvett: his "originality is a ticklish subject, and he had better not make a stir about it". Nothing more happened, as far as I know and by all accounts Mr. Moore won this dispute.

But even if Moore had borrowed some ideas from Knyvett's song: there is a great difference in quality between these two pieces. "Hark! to Philomela singing" was in fact a decent song that even won some popularity over the years. It was reissued in the '20s (see Copac) and also still performed at that time, for example at concert at the New College Hall in Oxford in 1827 (program, p. 7). But Moore was as a songwriter in a class of its own. What he - in cooperation with Mr. Stevenson - made of this particular musical idea sounded way better and much more impressive. They created a simple but beautiful and very effective tune that immediately touched many listeners. And it fit perfectly to his lyrics. It is easy to understand why his song became a timeless classic. 

By the way, even the lyrics of the two songs have some touching-points. Both have some water playing a role and both start with the exclamation "Hark" - of course many songs at that time did - but Knyvett's more sentimental text with clichés like the "our poor, though happy, shed" lacks the cogency of Moore's pointed description of a musical and religious experience. Interestingly he has also recycled one of his own earlier ideas. His Lalla Rokh had been published the previous year and here we can find a short couplet that looks like a possible starting-point and perhaps initial inspiration for the text of his "Vesper Hymn" (here 3rd ed., 1817, p. 156). He only exchanged "Syria's thousands minarets" with a catholic church: 
But hark! the vesper call to prayer,
As slow the orb of day-light sets,
Is raising sweetly in the air,
From Syria's thousands minarets
No matter where Moore found this tune and what was originally his inspiration - Mr. Knyvett's song, the mysterious "Cossack Dance" from Paris or these lines from his own Lalla Rokh - his new song became immensely popular. In England it was regularly reprinted and also republished in new arrangements, both instrumental and vocal (see Copac). 


Of course the "Vesper Hymn" immediately found its way to North America where Moore was also very popular. Already the following year the text was reprinted in a newspaper, the Philadelphia Register (17.4.1819, p. 270), together with the one of "Oft in the Stilly Night" under the title "New Songs. By Moore". In fact the American music fans didn't have to wait too long. The same year the "Vesper Hymn" was also published as sheet music by Riley in New York (see catalog UMich, Wolfe 8759). More editions followed soon, for example by Blake in Philadelphia (c.1821, at the Internet Archive) and by Willig in Baltimore (c.1823?, at Levy Sheet Music). 

Later the text was also regularly reprinted in songsters, for example in the Souvenir Minstrel (1833, p. 31-2), The New England Pocket Songster (c. 1846, p. 82), Beadle's Dime Song Book (No. 9, 1859, p. 29) and Hyland's Mammouth Hibernian Songster (c.1901, p. 119). Towards the end of the century we can find the song in nostalgic songbooks like the popular Franklin Square Song Collection (here Vol. 2, 1884, p. 17). But I must admit that I was surprised to see it wasn't included in two of the most important and most representative collections of this kind, Helen Kendrick Johnson's Our Familiar Songs (1889, at the Internet Archive) and Henry Reddall's Songs That Never Die (c.1894, at the Internet Archive). 

The song also became a standard in songbooks for schools. This happened to many popular oldies but the "Vesper Hymn" may have been particularly well-suited for this purpose: first because of its religious content and also because of its comparatively simple and easily singable tune. Even school choirs made up of kids who couldn't sing should have been able to perform it effectively. Here I can again only list some relevant publications: 
  • H. F. Sefton, Three-Part Songs. For the Use in the Public Schools of Canada, Toronto, 1879, pp. 122-4 
  • J. P. McCaskey, Favorite Songs and Hymns for School and Home, New York, n. d. [c. 1899], p. 25 
  • Hollis Dann, Assembly Songs for School and College (Girls' Voices), New York, c. 1912, pp. 19-20 
  • Charles Levermore, The Abridged Academy Song-Book for the Use in Schools and Colleges, 1918, No. 77, p. 195 
Sefton also included some of Moore's more secular old standards: "Oft in the Stilly Night", "The Last Rose of Summer" and "Meeting of the Waters". These were in fact three of his most popular songs. McCaskey was the editor of the Franklin Square Song Collection. Here he more or less recycled that repertoire and also offered half a dozen more of Moore's classics. This shows how popular these songs still were in North America at that time. Mr. Dann apparently fell for the German disinformation about the composer and gave credit to Bortniansky. Mr. Levermore only called it a "Russian melody" but forgot to mention Thomas Moore. 

Moore's "Vesper Hymn" was also very quickly - in fact immediately after its publication - adopted by editors of hymn-books. It found its way into the churches and became a standard there, too. In this respect it was more successful than all of Moore's "Sacred Songs". None of them managed to win a greater popularity in religious circles. Already in 1819 - only a year after its original publication - the song appeared in book of anthems and hymns and since then it was included in a considerable number of hymnals. Again some examples may suffice: 

  • Old Colony Collection of Anthems. Selected and Published Under the Particular Patronage and Direction of The Handel and Haydn Society in Boston, Vol. 2, Boston, 1819, pp. 189-194 (see also 3rd ed., 1823, pp. 192-3
  • Templi Carmina. Songs of the Temple, or Bridgewater Collection of Sacred Music, 10th Edition, Improved and Enlarged, Richardson & Lord, Boston, 1822, p. 209 
  • Michael Bentz, Die Neue Harmonie, oder eine Sammlung von Kirchen-Musik [...]. The New Harmony, or A New Collection of Church-Music [...], Printed for the Author, Gettysburg, 1827, No. 132, pp. 146-7 
  • Samuel Dyer's Anthems and Set Pieces, 3rd ed., Auner, Philadelphia, 1835, p. 145 
  • The Harmonicon. A Collection of Sacred Music, Consisting of Psalm and Hymn Tunes [...], 2nd ed., Dawson, Pictou, 1841, p. 172 
  • Lowell Mason, The Modern Psalmist. A Collection of Church Music [...], Wilkins & Carter, Boston, 1839, p. 285 
  • D. H. Mansfield, The American Vocalist. Tunes, Anthems, Sentences, And Hymns, Old and New: Designed for the Church, The Vestry, or the Parlor [...]. In Three Parts. Revised Edition, Ditson, Boston, 1849, p. 229 
  • Asa Fitz, The Harmoniad and Sacred Melodist. Comprising a Fine Collection of Popular Songs and Hymns, For Social and Religious Meetings, Marsh, Boston, 1857, pp. 159-60 
  • Church Harmonies: A Collection of Hymns and Tunes for the Use of Congregations, Universalist Publishing House, Boston, 1877, p. 46 
In a Critical and Descriptive Index of Hymn Tunes (1889, p. 44) the "Vesper Hymn" was described as "familiar, beautiful and effective". The tune also took on a life of its own and was combined with other texts, at first still in Ireland. The Reverend Walter Burgh included the "Hymn Of A Released Spirit", to be sung to the the melody of Moore's song, in his Hymns, Poems, And Psalms With Reference to the Most Approved Music (p. 327). 

Much later, in 1889, in the Hymn And Tune Book for The Church and the Home (No. 163/4, p. 65) the tune was published with two texts: "Now, on sea and land descending" by Samuel Longfellow and "Tarry with me, O my Father" by Caroline S. Smith. Another one can be found in a booklet with 25 Additional Hymns for the 6th edition of the Chapel Hymnal (1900, No. 163): "Saviour! breathe an evening blessing" by James Edmeston. Again, these are only some few examples. The tune is still part of the repertoire today and is apparently sung more often to other texts than to the original one (see the list at


"Hark! The Vesper Hymn is Stealing" became equally popular in Germany and this is another interesting story. Already in the 1820s some of Moore's songs from the Irish Melodies were translated into German. Johann Friedrich Jacobsen's influential Briefe an eine deutsche Edelfrau, über die neuesten englischen Dichter (Altona 1820) included for example the earliest German translations of "The Last Rose of Summer" and "The Minstrel Boy" (pp. 536-7). But they were read as written poetry. The original music was difficult to get. 

Only Professor Thibaut in Heidelberg, jurist, music theorist, conductor of an ambitious choir and a great admirer of international Volkslieder, had acquired the first eight volumes of the Irish Melodies and referred to this collection in the second edition of his Ueber Reinheit der Tonkunst (1826, p. 88). By the way, he also owned copies of Thomson's Scottish Airs, Parry's Welsh Melodies and Horn's Indian Melodies (see Verzeichnis, pp. 41-3). These original editions were exceedingly rare in Germany at that time and he must have paid a fortune for all these "Prachtausgaben". Thibaut also translated some of these songs into German and performed them with his choir. But they were never published and can only be found in his manuscript Alte Nationalgesänge (1820-40, see RISM). 

The Popular National Airs had to wait a little bit longer until they were taken note of in Germany. In 1829 a booklet with the title Kleine Gedichte von Byron and Moore. Englisch und Deutsch von C. v. d. K. came out. It included a couple of texts from that collection (pp. 278-93), but not yet the "Vesper Hymn". The first German adaptations of this piece only appeared in 1832. At least I am not aware of any earlier publications. That year a very curious collection of music was published. Here we can find a translation of this song, but not with the original tune. Instead it was combined with melody by Beethoven: 
  • "Die Vesper, nach Thomas Moore", in: Ein- und mehrstimmige Gesänge mit und ohne Begleitung des Pianoforte frei nach Shakespeare, Byron, Thomas Moore etc zu Compositionen von L. v. Beethoven, Breitkopf & Härtel, Leipzig, n. d. [1832], pp. 24-26 
Hört vom Strand die Vespersingen,
Heil'gen Klang im Hafen wehn!
O hört es nah und näher dringen,
'Hie die schwanken Lüftchen gehn,
Wie die schwanken Lüftchen gehn!
Jetzo will es gleich verklingen,'
Still es stirbt, es will vergehn,'
Es will vergehn, gar verklingen,
Still es stirbt und will vergehn.
Jubilate, Jubilate, Amen.

Kaum erloschen wie die Wellen,
Am Gestad, im Mondeslicht.
'O hört es wachsen, hört es schwellen,
Wie sich Fluth und Ebbe bricht,
Wie sich Fluth und Ebbe bricht.
Gleich der Woge wird's zerschellen,
Still, nur stil, sonst hört's ihr nicht,
Sonst hört ihr's nicht, wird's zerschellen,
Still, nur still, sonst hört ihr's nicht.
Jubilate, Jubilate, Amen. 
Responsible for this project was one Christian Friedrich Schmidt (1780-1850; see Briefe an Goethe - Biographische Informationen), a jurist, at that time Geheimer Regierungsrat in Weimar. But he also happened to be an amateur musician who played the piano and had just founded a Liedertafel. Schmidt - who preferred to remain anonymous - wanted to combine Beethoven's music with poems by Shakespeare. In fact he did. But to the four pieces based on texts by Shakespeare he added two more: one by Byron and one by Moore. 

From the latter's repertoire Schmidt selected the "Vesper Hymn" and I assume it was his own translation. As the tune he then used the Adagio from Beethoven's Sextett in Es-dur, op. 81b, written in the 1790s but only published in 1810 (see Beethoven-Haus, Bonn, op. 81b; catalog, C249/17; Nottebohm 1868, pp. 78-9; see a later edition, Bonn 1846, p. 15). This worked quite well and sounded nearly as convincing as the original version: 

His idea was not unreasonable. In fact Moore himself had already borrowed music by Beethoven for some of his Sacred Songs (1816). Schmidt's arrangement proved particularly successful and it became a favourite for choirs. 30 years later the Allgemeine Zeitung München reported that this piece was often sung in concerts (3.1.1861, p. 45): 
"Das [...] ist nun ein seit 1832 sehr bekanntes und beliebtes in Concerten hundertmal gesungenes Adagio für vier Singstimmen, mit unterlegtem Text nach einem Gedicht des Thomas Moore [...] es wurde, wie schon bemerkt, sehr oft seit dieser Zeit gesungen und stets mit demselben schönen Erfolg". 
The year 1832 also saw the publication of a small, rather obscure book with translations of modern British poetry: Ausgewählte Poesien von Lord Byron, Thomas Moore, Walter Scott und anderen in teutschen Übertragungen. The authors also remained anonymous but the greatest part of the texts - including a translation of the "Vesper Hymn" - were from the pen of Hermann Kurtz (later Kurz; 1813-1873; see Wikipedia). He would later become a popular poet and writer but at that time was busy studying theology at the seminary - the Stift - in Tübingen. 

Some years earlier he had learned a little bit English and he became interested in poetry from Britain: McPherson's Ossian, Moore, Scott and Byron were among his favourites. At first only as an exercise Kurtz together with some friends had started to translate some of their poems and songs. After some years they had produced a considerable number of texts and decided to have them printed. Apparently only a dozen copies of this book were sold (see Heyse, in Kurz, GW I, pp. XV-XVI).

In Tübingen young Hermann Kurtz also became friends with Friedrich Silcher, Musikdirektor at the university. Silcher had already published successful collections of German "Volkslieder" but in 1835 he started to compile a new series with foreign songs, the Ausländische Volksmelodien. This anthology was for the greatest part based on Thomas Moore's Popular National Airs (see in this blog: "Melodies of Different Nations": Anthologies of International "National Airs" in Britain 1800-1830 - Pt. 2). In fact Silcher must have been among the first German musicians who managed to get hold of copies of Moore's expensive collection and he was the first who made some of the tunes available in Germany. 

Hermann Kurtz - at that time he was already living in Stuttgart as a freelance writer - became a major contributor and enthusiastic collaborator who apparently also advised him on interesting sources (see Bopp, pp. 102-3). He provided him with translations or new German texts for the tunes from the Popular National Airs and the Irish Melodies. For the first volume he wrote the lyrics for seven of the nine songs, among them future standards like "Stumm schläft der Sänger","Des Sommers letzte Rose", "Der Himmel lacht und heit're Lüfte spielen" and "Das Mondlicht scheint in Fülle". It seems that Kurz had not enough time at hand when Silcher put together the second volume in 1837. There he included his arrangement of the "Vesper Hymn" which he decribed as "einfach schöne Hymne". As the German text he used Kurtz' early attempt from the Ausgewählte Poesien
  • No. 5: "Horch! die Wellen tragen bebend. Russischer Vespergesang", in: Friedrich Silcher, Ausländische Volksmelodien, mit deutschem, zum Theil aus dem Englischen etc. übertragenem Text, gesammelt und für eine oder zwei Singstimmen mit Begleitung des Pianoforte und der Guitarre gesetzt, 4 Hefte, Fues, Tübingen, 1835-1841, here: Heft 2, 1837, pp. 6-7 
Horch! die Wellen tragen bebend
Sanft und rein den Vesperchor,
Näher jetzt und näher schwebend,
Schwillt er mächtig zu dem Ohr.
Jubilate, jubilate, jubilate, amen.
Ferner nun und ferner bebend,
Sanft entschwindet er dem Ohr,
Ferner nun und ferner bebend,
Sanft entschwindet er dem Ohr.

Wie die Mondlichtwelle kehret
Von dem Strande, stirbt's entlang;
Wie die Flut sich wild empöret,
Braust der wogende Gesang.
Jubilate, jubilate, jubilate, Amen.
Horch! jetzt wie die Woge kehret
Von dem Strande, stirbt's entlang.
Horch! jetzt wie die Woge kehret
Von dem Strande, stirbt's entlang. 
Kurtz himself was not so happy that Silcher used this old text (see Bopp, p. 103). He had not even included it in his first collection of poetry and translations published the previous year (Gedichte, Stuttgart, 1836, at the Internet Archive). But I don't think this attempt is that bad. Not only did he manage to catch the song's spirit better than many other translators. His text is also much better singable than nearly all the later attempts. Kurtz was a good singer. While in Tübingen he had sung in Silcher's choir and he knew about music. I do not know if he was already familiar with the tune when he created his translation. But I get the impression that from the start singability was more important to him than any poetic subtleties and perhaps this was the reason Silcher used this beginner's work. He made it famous and it became one of the texts most often used with this song in Germany.

The previous year, 1836, a new periodical dedicated to foreign literature had begun to appear: the Blätter zur Kunde der Literatur des Auslandes. Here young poet Ferdinand Freiligrath (1810-1876, see Wikipedia) published some of his first translations of British poetry and songs. At this time he was still working as a clerk in Amsterdam, where - I assume - it was much easier to gain access to foreign publications. Later he would become one of the most important and influential translators and mediators of English, American and also French poetry in Germany. 

In the second and fourth numbers of the Blätter from February we can find several translations of songs by Robert Burns (pp. 5-6, pp. 13-4), among them "My Heart's in the Highlands" ("Mein Herz ist im Hochland"). That text, by the way, was used by Silcher - apparently an avid reader of this periodical - for his German version of the song in the second booklet of the Ausländische Volksmelodien (No. 1, pp. 1). Between April and September the Blätter published a series in five parts: Kleinere Gedichte von Thomas Moore, with altogether 23 of Freiligrath's translations, among them some from the National Airs (pp. 65-6, 89, 225-6, 229-30, 245). He also tried his hand at the "Vesper Hymn" (No. 6, p. 89): 
Horch! wie übers Wasser hallend,
Klar die Vesperhymne klingt!
Näher jetzt und näher schallend,'
Jubilate, Amen!'
Ferner jetzt und ferner hallend,
Bis sie sanft dem Ohr verklingt,
Jubilate, Amen!

Jetzt, wie Mondscheinwellen, rollend,
An das Ufer stirbt sie hin;
Jetzt, wie zorn'ge Brandung, grollend,
Wächst die Flut des Liedes kühn.
Jubilate, Amen!
Wieder horch! wie Wellen, rollend
An das Ufer stirbt sie hin;
Jubilate, Amen! 
For some reason the fourth line of the first verse is missing, apparently because he used a less than perfect English original text. As far as I know this embarrassing error was never corrected (see Spink, 1932, p. 81). This translation was then included - together with all the other ones - two years later in his first collection of poetry, the Gedichte (Stuttgart & Tübingen, 1838, here p. 413; see 2nd. ed. 1839, p. 470; 4th ed., 1841, p. 477). 

At this point, in 1837, three different adaptations of the "Vesper Hymn" were already available, two of them with music. But Moore's poems and songs were a popular playing-ground for German poets and writers. Therefore more translations appeared in the following years (see also Eßmann, p. 118): 
  • Theodor Oelckers, Thomas Moore's Poetische Werke, 2. Vermehrte Ausgabe. In fünf Bänden, Leipzig 1843, Band 2, pp. 199-200 ("Horch! der Vespersang tönt schwebend") 
  • Luise von Ploennies, Britannia. Eine Auswahl englischer Dichtungen alter und neuer Zeit. Ins Deutsche übersetzt, Frankfurt am Main, 1843, p. 329 ("Horch! die Vesperhymne hallet") 
  • Louis von Arentsschildt, Völkerstimmen. Portugal. Spanien. Italien. Schottland. England, Hannover, 1847, p. 188 ("Horch! die Vesperhymne klingend") 
  • Victor von Arentsschild, Albion and Erin. In Liedern von Th. Moore, Lord Byron, R. Burns, P. B. Shelley, Th. Campbell, J. Thomson und aus Th. Percy's "Ueberreste altenglischer Dichtkunst." Im Versmaße der Originale übertragen. Mit beigedrucktem Originaltext, Mainz, 1851, p. 163 ("Horch! die Vesperhymne, hallen") 
  • Ernst Ortlepp, Klänge aus dem Neckartal, Stuttgart, 1852, p. 51 ("Horch, die Abendhymne schallet")
  • Adolph Laun, Liederklänge aus England und Spanien, Bremen, 1852, pp. 119-20 ("Horch, der Vesperhymnus hallet") 
Oelckers was the first one to attempt a more or less complete German edition of Moore's works including all his songs. Ortlepp happened to be one of the many poets who also tried his hand at translating. The rest were anthologies dedicated to European - mostly English - poetry. They all were struggling with the words to make it sound a little bit different from Freiligrath's popular version. Strangely most of them followed him by leaving out the fourth line of the first verse. Luise von Ploennies even managed to mutilate the original text by deleting this line. But none of these translations prevailed.

There were some new musical settings by rather obscure composers - Sichart und Schneider - for a text starting with "Horch! die Abendhymne schallet" (see Hofmeister, Mai 1876, p. 118; Mai 1887, p. 249). This could be Ortlepp's translation. But I haven't been able to check these publications. Otherwise only the texts by Schmidt, Kurz and Freiligrath remained popular and they represented Moore's song in Germany. Amusingly all three were more or less beginners' works. Two were created by future popular poets - Kurtz and Freiligrath - at the start of their career and one was written by an anonymous amateur musician. But for some reason they would survive the times and they are still sung today. 

Kurz' translation remained associated with the original tune. Silcher's arrangement became a popular standard for choirs. It was easily available in new editions of the Ausländische Volksmelodien, for example in one published in the 1870s (here No. 15, pp. 20-1):

Other arrangers and editors also adopted the song, at first in Switzerland: 
  • Johannes Meier, Der Volks-Sänger. Eine Sammlung vorzüglicher Volks-Lieder und Weisen für vierstimmigen Männergesang. 1. Heft, Brodtmann, Schaffhausen, 1858, No. 4, pp. 9-11 
  • Liederhort: Auswahl vierstimmiger Gesänge für die Basler Liedertafel, Basel, 1862, No. 69, pp. 199-200 
In Germany it found a place in many songbooks (see the list at DeutschesLied), for example in an arrangement for male choirs in Wilhelm Meyer's Volks-Liederbuch (Hannover, 1873, No. 77, pp. 82-3) or in 1900 in the popular anthology Deutsche Weisen (No. 246, p. 201). The song was also regularly included in collections for schools. Again I will only mention a few: 
  • J. Heinrich Lützel, Chorlieder für Gymnasien und Realschulen, 3. verm. Auflage, J. J. Tascher, Kaiserslautern, 1885, No. 19, pp. 40-43 
  • Ludwig Erk, Deutscher Liederschatz. 250 männerstimmige Gesänge für die höheren Klassen der Gymnasien und Realschulen und für Seminarien. Gesamt-Ausgabe der sechs Einzelhefte, 4. Auflage, Rudolf Winkler, Leipzig, 1889, No. 213, pp. 212-3 
  • Liedersammlung. Herausgegeben vom Pädagogischen Verein Altona. Für einfache Schulverhältnisse: Heft 1 u. 2. Für weitergehende Ansprüche: Heft 1, 2 u. 3. 3. Heft, 4. Auflage, Th. Christiansen, Altona-Ottensen, 1903, No. 168, pp. 162-3 
  • C. Kühnhold, Blätter und Blüten. Liederbuch für Mittel- und Oberklassen, Chr. Friedrich Vieweg, Berlin-G. Lichterfelde, 1904, No. 54, pp. 87-9 
  • Robert Linnarz, Auswahl von Chorgesängen für Oberklassen höherer Mädchenschulen, sowie für Pensionate und Lehrerinnen-Seminare. Band 2: Weltliche Lieder, 2. Auflage, Baedeker, Essen 1908, No. 65, pp. 107-8 
  • Adolf Zander & L. H. Fischer, Liederschatz. Sammlung vierstimmiger Chorlieder für Knaben und Mädchen, Heft 1, 23. Auflage, L. Oehmigke's Verlag, Berlin, n. d. [c. 1914], No. 12, pp. 20-21 

All these editors were not really sure of the song's origins. Usually the tune was - wrongly, of course - attributed to Bortniansky. Zander had some years earlier published an arrangement for male choirs and there he had called it "Schwedischer Vesperchor" (see Hofmeister, 1898, p. 563). In the meantime he had apparently learned that this was supposed to be a "Russian" hymn. But interestingly he also named John Stevenson as the composer. Barely anyone mentioned Thomas Moore as the author of the original text nor Kurz as the translator, not even Erk who had made himself a name as a competent scholar and who should have known better. Only Linnarz gave credit at least to Moore. But he avoided to give a composer's name - not even the wrong one - and simply called the tune "Russische Volksweise". Besides that he also falsely believed that Freiligrath had written the German text. 

This kind of sloppiness was not untypical for editors of songbooks in Germany. The names of the original authors and translators of "Volkslieder" of foreign origin often fell into oblivion and nobody bothered to do any real research. In this case it would not have been too difficult to find out. It would have been enough to check Silcher's Ausländische Volksmelodien which was at that time still easily available. 

Ferdinand Freiligrath's great popularity as a poet and writer secured the availability of his translation even though this was surely - at least for me - one of his weaker attempts. His Gedichte was regularly reprinted and republished in new editions (see for example 8th ed., 1868, pp. 332-3). Besides that this particular text also appeared in popular anthologies like Guido Görres' Deutsches Hausbuch (1846), here as "Die Abendglocke" with a nice illustration (p. 10), and Scherr's Bildersaal der Weltliteratur (1848, p. 524, 1869, Vol. 1, p. 534; see also Eßmann, p. 118). 

It was also published with music, but only very rarely with the original tune as in Lange's Ausländischer Liederschatz (1886, No. 84, pp. 96-7). That was an exception. Instead it took on a life of its own as a Lied. Foreign songs came to Germany often enough only as translated and printed poetry. Freiligrath's translations were particularly popular among composers and musicians and they set many of them to new music (see Fleischhack 1990, pp. 18-20, pp. 59-92). In case of the "Vesper Hymn" the original tune was of course - thanks to Silcher - well known. But that didn't keep composers from writing new tunes. Two examples: 
  • Max Bruch, Jubilate-Amen. Gedicht von Thomas Moore, für Sopran-Solo, Chor und Orchester, op. 3, Breitkopf & Härtel, Leipzig, n. d. [1859] (later American edition, Schirmer, New York, 1882, at LOC
  • No. 5: "Horch, die Vesper-Hymne klingt (Hark! the vesper hymn is stealing). Gedicht von Thomas Moore. Musik von Franz Lachner", in: Sammlung von Gesängen & Chören für Männerstimmen zunächst für den Mittelrhreinischen Musikverband bestimmt, Schott, Mainz, n. d. [1861], Heft 2, pp. 1-7 (at the Internet Archive & BDH; date from Hofmeister, Juli 1861, p. 130
These were interesting tunes but both lacked the beautiful simplicity of the original melody. Bruch's piece is still performed today. Other composers also tried their hand (found with Hofmeister XIX, see also Fleischhack 1990, pp. 62-5): for example Carl Reinecke (1848), C. A. Bertelsmann (1862), Johannes Gelbke (18870), K. J. Schwab (1889), Felix von Woyrsch (1891), Robert Hasselbarth (1899), Theodor Podbertsky (1899) und Wilhelm Hill (1900). These were not exactly big names but nonetheless we can see that Freiligrath's translation remained on the table and musicians felt inspired to create new music. 

Here we can see how a popular song from England - an original text with an original tune - developed in Germany into a song family. There were two lines of tradition. On one hand it lived and survived as a Volkslied: the translation by Hermann Kurz remained associated with the melody from the Popular National Airs. But on the other hand the "Vesper Hymn" was also adapted as a Lied: a translated text was combined with a different tune. Schmidt's version with a melody by Beethoven happened to be an early example, even predating Silcher's publication. Later Freiligrath's translation served as an inspiration for composers who provided this text with new music even though none of these attempts managed to win overwhelming popularity. 

The latter approach was very common in Germany. In fact many foreign songs came here without the original tune but only as a translated poem. A typical example was Robert Burns' "My Heart in the Highlands" that was set to music numerous times while the melody used by Burns himself never made it to Germany. The "Vesper Hymn" happened to be a song that was adapted in both ways, but only because Silcher had already introduced Moore's "Russian Air".

As I have also tried to show this was one of the most popular of Thomas Moore's songs in Germany. Only "Here sleeps the Bard" and "The Last Rose of Summer" were published more often. Interestingly it is even performed until today. But Moore's role as the original author of the text has often been forgotten and the tune is usually wrongly attributed to Russian composer Bortniansky. But at least we can see that this song, like some of his others, has shown an amazing durability and once again demonstrates his great abilities as a songwriter. 

  • August Bopp, Friedrich Silcher, Stuttgart 1916 
  • Thomas Crofton Croker, Notes from the Letters of Thomas Moore to his Music Publisher, James Power, Redfield NY, n. d. [1854] (available at the Internet Archive
  • Helga Eßmann (ed.), Anthologien mit Dichtungen der Britischen Inseln und der USA. Mit einem Anhang: Amerikanische Short Stories in deutschsprachigen Anthologien, Stuttgart, 2000 (= Übersetzte Literatur in deutschsprachigen Anthologien: eine Bibliographie, Teilband 3) 
  • Ernst Fleischhack, Freiligraths Gedichte in Lied und Ton, Bielefeld, 1990
  • Marion J. Hatchett, A Companion to the New Harp of Columbia, Knoxville, 2003 
  • Hofmeister = Musikalisch-literarischer Monatsbericht neuer Musikalien, musikalischer Schriften und Abbildungen, Hofmeister, Leipzig 1829ff (online available at Österreichische Nationalbibliothek; searchable database: Hofmeister XIX (Royal Holloway, University Of London)
  • The Hymnal 1940 Companion; prepared by the Joint Commission on the Revision of the Hymnal of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, New York, 1949 (at Hathi Trust
  • Friedrich Johann Jacobsen, Briefe an eine deutsche Edelfrau über die neuesten englischen Dichter, herausgegeben mit übersetzten Auszügen vorzüglicher Stellen aus ihren Gedichten und mit den Bildnissen der berühmtesten jetzt lebenden Dichter Englands, Hammerich, Altona, 1820 (at the Internet Archive
  • Kleine Gedichte von Byron and Moore. Englisch und Deutsch von C. v. d. K., Berlin 1829 (at the Internet Archive
  • Hermann Kurz, Gesammelte Werke. Mit einer Biographie des Dichters, herausgegeben von Paul Heyse. 1. Band: Gedichte, Kröner, Stuttgart, 1874 (at the Internet Archive
  • [Thomas Moore], A Selection of Popular National Airs with Symphonies and Accompaniments by Sir John Stevenson MusDoc; [Henry R. Bishop]. The Words by Thomas Moore, Esq., 6 Volumes, J. Power, London, 1818-1828 (first 3 Vols. digitized by BStB: 4 35243-(1-3) [click on Einzelbände], also at the Internet Archive
  • Thomas Moore, Memoirs, Journal and Correspondence. Edited by Lord John Russell, Vol. 3, London, 1853 (available at the Internet Archive
  • Gustav Nottebohm, Thematisches Verzeichniss der im Druck erschienenen Werke von Ludwig van Beethoven, 2. verm. Auflage, Leipzig 1868 (at the Internet Archive
  • Gerald W. Spink, Ferdinand Freiligrath's Verbannungsjahre in London, Berlin, 1932 
  • [A. F. J. Thibaut], Ueber Reinheit der Tonkunst, 2. vermehrte Ausgabe, Mohr, Heidelberg, 1826 (at the Internet Archive
  • Verzeichnis der von dem verstorbenen Grossh. Badischen Prof. der Rechte und Geheimrathe Dr. Anton Friedrich Justus Thibaut zu Heidelberg hinterlassenen Musiksammlung, welche als ein ganzes ungetrennt veräussert werden soll, Karl Groos, Heidelberg, 1842 (at the Internet Archive)


  1. Brilliant, fascinating article. You might like to include a look at further arrangements such as Swan's 'Bequest' in the New Harp of Columbia, or Dumas' 'Weeping Savior', p.310 in The Sacred Harp.

  2. Thanks a lot for your kind comment and also thanks for the additions!