For the month of November we have selected the hymn “O God our help in ages past”, written by Isaac Watts (1674 – 1748) and accompanied by the tune “St. Anne”. This tune is written by the English composer and Organist, William Croft (1677 – 1727). The hymn is often sung as part of Armistice Day or Remembrance Day commemorations every year on the 11th November.
St Anne by William Croft
William Croft was born in Nether Ettington, Warwickshire in 1677. He received his musical education in the Chapel Royal, under the instruction of John Blow. Two years later he became the organist at St. Anne’s Church. He was also admitted a Gentleman Extraordinary of the Chapel Royal, where he in 1707, was appointed joint organist with his mentor, Dr. Blow. The following year, Croft succeeded Blow as organist of Westminster Abbey.
One of Croft’s most enduring pieces is the hymn tune “St Anne”. It first appeared anonymously in the Supplement to the New Version of the Psalms, 6th edition in 1708. It was originally intended to be used with Psalm 62, but later received recognition when it was set to Watts’ text for Psalm 90.
Other composers have used the tune as well. Handel used it in an anthem entitled “O Praise the Lord”. Bach’s Fugue in E-flat major BWV 552 is often called the “St. Anne”, because of the similarity of its subject to the first line of the hymn tune. Though to be honest, there is debate as to whether Bach used the actual tune after hearing it, or created himself a very similar tune.
O God our help in ages past by Isaac Watts
Isaac Watts was an English Christian minister, hymn writer, and theologian. He left an extensive legacy of hymns, treatises, educational works, and essays. He is credited with some 750 hymns. Sometimes recognized as the “Godfather of English Hymnody”, many of his hymns remain in use today across the world.
Watts was born in Southampton and educated at King Edward VI School, learning Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. He went to the Dissenting Academy at Stoke Newington in 1690. After his education, Watts became a pastor of a large independent chapel in London where he helped train preachers. He also worked as a private tutor and lived on Church Street in Stoke Newington where he became acquainted with Sir Thomas Abney and Lady Mary. He eventually lived for a total of 36 years in the Abney household, most of the time at Abney House, their second residence.
“Our God, Our Help in Ages Past” paraphrases the 90th Psalm of the Book of Psalms. It originally consisted of nine stanzas. In present usage, however, the hymn is usually limited to stanzas one, two, three, five, seven and nine. In 1738, John Wesley in his hymnal, Psalms and Hymns, changed the first line of the text from “Our God” to “O God”. Both Watts’ wording and Wesley’s rewording remain in current use.
Watch the video
This is played on a custom built Envoy 23-S, which is a very popular church instrument.
About Jonathan Kingston’s Musical Background
Jonathan was an organ student while studying with Ian Tracey and Ian Wells at Liverpool Anglican Cathedral before being appointed Sub Organist at Bradford Cathedral, aged 18. Assistant Director and Director of Music appointments followed at Stowe and Bromsgrove Schools before an appointment to The King’s School in Ely where he served Ely Cathedral as a deputy organist.
Jonathan is a recording artist for Naxos, Priory and EMI Records and is an ABRSM examiner and coordinator touring the UK and internationally. As an organist, he has appeared with many leading orchestras and choirs including the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Halle, London Symphony Orchestra & Chorus and English Symphony Orchestra as well as featuring in many live broadcasts on BBC radio and television.
He is the newly appointed Director of Music at Stony Stratford Parish Church where he presides over the magnificent Willis pipe organ.
Jonathan’s Work With Viscount
Jonathan’s work with Viscount Classical Organs encompasses performing and presenting promotional and tutorial material for the company and his freelance portfolio covers educational outreach, teaching, performing, examining and musical direction. He covers several areas for Viscount from sales, demonstrations, voicing of instruments and performing. His playing features on the current promotional DVD material for Viscount, and he would be very pleased to hear from any churches or individuals requiring an engaging and lively recitalist. If you would like to connect with Jonathan directly, please feel free to follow him on Twitter (@jonkingston) or by email on firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Digital Organ Being Played
Jonathan plays this piece on an instrument based on our Envoy 23-S. A ‘Physical Modelling’ based instrument with 23 stops in a real wood veneer cabinet. It has a huge internal library allowing the user to create 4 totally individual voice pallets from classic English through Baroque and Romantic. It benefits from a full complement of divisional thumb pistons and additional toe pistons. The standard 23-S organ has a 30 note pedal board while the instrument in the film has a 32 note board. For more information have a look at the specifications here.
I have had a passion for church organs since the tender age of 12. I own and run Viscount Organs with a close attention to the detail that musicians appreciate; and a clear understanding of the benefits of digital technology and keeping to the traditional and emotional elements of organ playing.