Friday, July 26, 2013

William B. Bradbury, Gospel Music Pioneer

The "gospel song" style that emerged in the late 19th century--distinct from the older campmeeting songs, and the even older singing-school music of the Colonial era--is generally associated with the post-Civil War urban revivalism of Dwight Moody and Ira Sankey, and with Sankey's Gospel Hymns series. But a generation earlier, William Batchelder Bradbury (1816-1868) pioneered a style of music for Sunday Schools that set the stage for the gospel song explosion of the late 1800s. Along the way he set in motion the musical career of Philip Paul Bliss (perhaps the most gifted composer among the Gospel Hymns editors), laid the foundation for the music publishing giant Biglow & Main of New York, and introduced the world to the quintessential gospel songwriter of the era, Fanny Crosby (Eskew; Wilhoit).

The "New York Choralist"

Photo from Hall, page 22.
Originally from York County, Maine, the Bradbury family moved to Boston when William was 14. It was a fortuitous move, for he was able to study at Lowell Mason's music academy, one of the few U.S. institutions of that era where he could receive a solid classical music education (Wilhoit). By 1840, after a brief period of teaching singing schools back in Maine, Bradbury had found employment as a church musician in the New York City area, which would be his field of labor for the remainder of his life.

Here he replicated much of Mason's strategy in Boston, promoting music not only in the service of the church but as a part of a well-rounded education (Wilhoit). At the Baptist Tabernacle (later the 2nd Avenue Baptist Church), Bradbury's gift for teaching children began to emerge; he added a children's choir and singing classes, and eventually held children's choir festivals with groups over 1000 strong. As Mason did in Boston, Bradbury helped to promote music education in the developing public school system in New York City (Hall 25). An advertisement from the New York Tribune, 13 October 1841, lists the program of a concert given by his Baptist Tabernacle children's choir, showing the variety of material they performed:

1. Chorus
2. Chorus
3. -----
4. Chorus
5. Chorus
6. Solo and Chorus
7. Chorus
8. Solo and Chorus
9. Chorus
10. Chorus
11. Chorus
Cold Water Army.
My Bible.
There's not a Tint.
The True Friend.
Patriotic Song.
What Fairy-like Music.
The Rising Sun.
The Setting Sun.
The Bonny Boat.
1. Chorus
2. Chorus
3. Round
4. Duett and Chorus
5. Chorus
6. Duett
7. Soft Music is stealing
8. Song
9. -----
10. Chorus
11. Duett and Chorus
12. Solo and Chorus

Try Again.
Wild Wood Flowers.
Little Robin.
Oft in the Stilly Night.
The Happy School Boy.
Orphan Boys.
(Words from Southern Harp, by Mrs. Dane.)
If sorrow's hour has come to thee.
Will you come to the Spring.
The Rose that all are praising.
Of late so brightly glowing (Lovely Rose).
"Suffer little children to come unto me."
"We come to follow thee"
"We come to sing thy love"
"We come to praise thy name."

Not coincidentally, all of the linked songs in the program above come from the same songbook--Bradbury's first book, The Young Choir, co-edited with Charles W. Sanders and published in 1841. His choice of partner was, if nothing else, a wise decision for marketing--Sanders was the editor of a series of graded reading textbooks, which at the time rivaled the famous McGuffey readers (Mattern). An advertisement in the New York Tribune, 18 September 1841, promoted the book for "Juvenile Singing Classes, Sabbath Schools, Primary Classes, etc.," and advised parents, "Get the book; introduce it to your children, and teach them all to sing. It will make them happier while young, and better citizens through life."

But adults were not to be neglected either, as seen in the title of one of Bradbury's next works, published in 1844:
Bradbury's Singing school for ladies and gentlemen: being his method of singing by note in which the art of reading music at sight is rendered easy and interesting by a course of progressive exercises and solfeggios interspersed with pleasing melodies, rounds, glees, sacred pieces, etc. 
Another collection from the same year was titled,
The social singing book : a collection of glees, or part songs, rounds, madrigals, etc., chiefly from European masters, with an introductory course of elementary exercises and solfeggios, designed for singing classes and schools of ladies and gentlemen.
If the emphasis on "ladies and gentlemen" seems pronounced, it should be remembered that singing schools were a socially acceptable means for young adults to fraternize, without the pressures of a formal social gathering. It was all in the name of education and good clean fun, and if you happened to catch someone's eye across the room, that was just a bonus.

But Bradbury's primary calling was as a church musician, and he was not long in bringing this to fruition in his publishing endeavors. In 1844 he co-edited The Psalmodist with Thomas Hastings (1784-1872), and in 1847 the pair collaborated on The New York Choralist (simultaneously published in Cincinnati as The Sacred Choralist). Hastings, composer of the famous tune TOPLADY ("Rock of ages"), was a long-time associate of Lowell Mason, and one of the most respected choir directors and composers in the country. Bradbury had solicited his help once before--truth be told, the first printing of The Young Choir was full of musical mistakes, not all of which were typographical in nature! And though their musical styles diverged as Bradbury found his niche as a writer of Sunday School songs, the younger man's writing took on much of Hastings's strong, simple style (Williams, 104).

Two of Bradbury's tunes that are still in many hymnals today were introduced in these collections. REST ("Asleep in Jesus") was one of his earliest hymns to achieve wide popularity. BROWN is a pleasant and sturdy tune that has served many different texts over the years; among the Churches of Christ in the U.S., it is most commonly associated with "How sweet, how heavenly is the sight.". Bradbury also experimented with through-composed anthems such as "Behold the Day cometh."

MUSIC THEORY NOTE: "Open score," each part on a separate staff, was more typical in sacred music until the later part of the 1800s. The most important difference here, however, is that the melody is given to the tenor part (3rd staff down), and the part on the top staff is a harmony part called "treble." (This method of scoring is still practiced in historic traditions such as the Sacred Harp.) In actual practice, both men and women might sing any of the upper parts, so the "tenor" melody would be doubled in the soprano range, and the treble part in the tenor range. Many of these tunes were converted to modern hymnal scoring (soprano and alto on the upper staff, tenor and bass on the lower) by simply swapping the treble and tenor parts. The numbers below the bass are "figured bass," and signified to an accompanist what intervals should be played above a bass note; this was easier than reading the four separate staves simultaneously. 

In 1845 Bradbury and Sanders followed up their successful Young Choir with The school singer, or, Young choir's companion. The full title page explained that this volume included "some of the most popular German melodies" and "a complete course of instruction in the elements of vocal music, founded on the German system of K├╝bler." As a disciple of Lowell Mason, Bradbury would have been exposed to his mentor's preference for the German-Austrian school of classical music, beginning with the Viennese masters Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, and followed by the conservative wing of German Romanticism represented by Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Brahms. Bradbury's interest in these contemporary composers would soon lead him to a new phase in his career.

Popularizing the Classics

Leipzig Conservatory c.1880 (Wikimedia Commons)
On July 2nd, 1847, Bradbury sailed aboard the S.S. Independence for an 18-month stay in Europe, "for the sake of advancement in musical studies, to observe the best methods of teaching, and to acquire greater facility in his profession as an author and conductor of sacred music" (New York Tribune 3 July 1847). For an aspiring American composer in the 19th century, this was becoming a rite of passage; a pilgrimage to Germany and association with the famous names of the Romantic school were credentials that would open many doors back home. And though Bradbury visited several countries, the goal of his pilgrimage was Leipzig, home of Mendelssohn's famed Conservatory.

Unfortunately, Mendelssohn passed away that November at the untimely age of 38, not long after Bradbury's arrival. Bradbury studied composition instead with Mendelssohn's successor at the conservatory, Ignaz Moscheles (Eskew). Though Moscheles is not a household name today, he was an important teacher and brought Bradbury into contact with the leading lights in German classical music. A keepsake album compiled by Bradbury, now in the possession of the Library of Congress, contains signatures, personal notes, and handwritten musical sketches from such famous musicians as Robert and Clara Schumann, Richard Wagner, Giacomo Meyerbeer, and Ignaz Paderewski (Music Division 8).

Though his stay was brief, the impact of this trip was seen in Bradbury's first publication after his return--The Mendelssohn Collection. Published in 1849, it was yet another collaboration with Hastings, and according to the title page consisted of "anthems, introits, sentences and chants," selected from "the best European and American composers." This was followed up in 1851 with The Psalmista, and in 1853 by a large collection titled The Shawm, both co-edited with Hastings. These books are notable for their inclusion not only of classic European hymn tunes, but of hymn adaptations from secular classical works, a practice pioneered earlier in the century by William Gardiner of London.

Several tunes still familiar today were introduced in these books, the most famous of which is Bradbury's WOODWORTH, with the text "The God of love will sure indulge." We know it from its more famous pairing with "Just as I am, without one plea." The database of hymnals contains more instances of this tune than any other of Bradbury's works.

Among the many arrangements from classical composers is the tune CROYDON, which claims to have a "theme from Beethoven," though I have never seen an attribution to a specific Beethoven work. Here it is paired with the venerable text "When I can read my title clear," but among the Churches of Christ, at least in the U.S., this is sung with the text "How shall the young secure their hearts?" adapted from Psalm 119.

Bradbury's HARVEY'S CHANT is one of several works in this vein to appear in these songbooks, and has appeared in many hymnals among Churches of Christ, usually with Isaac Watts text "O God our help in ages past."

And finally, one of Bradbury's very finest works from this or any other era of his career--his setting of "'Tis midnight, and on Olive's brow." It is simplicity itself, almost chant-like; and though he wrote several very similar hymn tunes, none match the understated elegance of OLIVE'S BROW.

Though Bradbury gave an increased attention to these large sacred music publications in the years immediately following his travels, he was also engaged in producing secular and mixed collections, both for young people and adults. Just as in his sacred music endeavors, Bradbury was anxious to share the benefit of his European education; an 1850 collection titled Musical Gems for the School and Home was offered with "choice selections from the schools of Switzerland and Germany," and a similar book for the adult singing market was titled The Alpine Glee Singer, revealing his admiration for the choral singing he observed during a visit to Switzerland. These were followed in 1852 by the Metropolitan Glee Book, "a new collection of glee choruses, opera choruses, and four-part songs, from the most popular authors, to which is added the most favorite choruses from Handel's oratorio of the Messiah."

As eager as Bradbury was to share his European learning, we should not assume that he looked down on the church music of his own land. He showed a refreshing sense of balance in his comments on this subject for The Independent, where he responded to a correspondent's suggestion that American singers more readily accepted new music if it was labeled "German" [italics as found in the original]:
I have a great respect for Germany and German music. Germany has done more for music as an art, than any other country; and much of her church music, as there performed, is to my ear and heart most excellent. But because I love good German music, I do not see why I should love good American music any less. On the contrary, since hearing the best of German music I feel all the better prepared to appreciate that which is good of my own country's production.
 A dear friend once said to me on making a new acquaintance, "Every new friend I make enlarges my heart, and makes room for still more friends. I love my new friends, but I do not love you any the less, my dear old friend. O no, but my heart has grown bigger!" That is my doctrine. I love what is good because it is good, wherever found. And the more I see that is good and loveable, the more I love (Bradbury, "Hymn authorship").
All other things being equal (in terms of Scriptural appropriateness), is this not the answer to reconciling the "traditional" and "contemporary" camps in worship music today?

Finding His Own Voice

Though William Bradbury had contributed some fine hymns to the American repertoire already, his most lasting work still lay ahead--he established, almost singlehandedly, the genre of the Sunday School song as we know it. Certainly others had written such material before, but Bradbury's practical experience teaching music to children led him to write melodies with a simple grace and charm that often surpassed the quality of his more "serious" compositions. Though they were intended originally for children, the best of these have become the common property of all ages.

New York City was an important center of the burgeoning Sunday School movement in the United States, for it was there that the earliest inter-denominational Sunday School unions were formed. Unlike the typical arrangement today, with Sunday Schools under the oversight of local congregations (or denominational hierarchies, as the case may be), the Sunday Schools were originally considered a para-church activity, with emphasis on literacy and general education along with religious instruction. By 1824 the earlier Sunday School experiments in Philadelphia had merged with the New York organizations to form the American Sunday School Union (Rice 55ff, 59).

With the rapid progress of Sunday Schools coinciding with an evolving philosophy of children's education, there was a call for hymns more suited to children than the stern cadences of Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley. Thomas Hastings was a pioneer of these efforts with his Juvenile Psalmody of 1827  (Rice 152ff.). It is not surprising, therefore, given Bradbury's success with children's choirs and secular musical education, that he turned his hand to this growing demand. His new Sunday School books were of noticeably smaller dimensions than his earlier publications, about 10 by 14 cm with around 140 pages--well suited to little hands. The style of music was new as well; Bradbury turned all his experience with children's choirs and classes toward writing easy and fun music for his new endeavor. Though he still wrote many pieces in the classical hymn style, there were many that used the rhythms of folk music and marches, and that made judicious use of the echoing exchanges between voices that were characteristic of the older singing-school music.

The first of his books specifically in this vein was Bradbury's Sabbath School Melodies, published in 1850. Though none of his new songs in this collection have continued in use, Bradbury worked out the approach that would lead to many of his greatest successes. Instead of the older open-score layout with the melody in the tenor, typical of church music going back to the beginnings of European part-singing, he followed the more modern practice of putting all the parts on a "grand staff" of treble and bass clef, with the lyrics printed in between. Though some of the four-part works have a high "treble" part on a separate staff above, the music is clearly intended for children's voices in a soprano-alto duet with optional bass accompaniment. An interesting example of this cross-fertilization is Bradbury's setting of a 23rd Psalm paraphrase to the English folk tune "The Ash Grove."

An even more successful venture into this field was his Oriola of 1859. Most of the new materials in this book are of the more forward-looking "grand staff" layout, and the blending of secular and sacred styles continued. This collection introduced the still-popular "Savior, like a Shepherd lead us," seen here in its original three-voice format.

Bradbury continued to publish books for adults as well, for church, singing school, home, and social use. Typical of these was The Jubilee of 1853, which introduced a tune that is well-beloved among the Churches of Christ in the U.S.--KIRKWOOD. Unlike most of his Sunday School music, Bradbury wrote this in open score and with the melody in the tenor.

This is one case in which the modern swapping of the treble and tenor parts has really changed the sound of the music. The long high note in the first phrase was actually meant to be sung by the treble, the topmost voice; the modern version has this down an octave in the tenor voice, buried in the middle of the harmony. It is still striking, but it is even more so with the original disposition of voices. The video below, recorded at the Cherry St. Church of Christ in New Albany, Indiana, captures the sound of this tune with the treble part in its original octave.

Bradbury also continued to write classical-sounding hymn tunes, such as MAGNOLIA, found in the same collection. Here the interlocking rhythms of the melody and bass create a nice touch of counterpoint. The treble part is similar to that of KIRKWOOD in the opening phrase, but in the modern adaptation the rhythm of the tenor voice is made to match that of the bass. In the Churches of Christ, at least in the U.S., this is sung with the Isaac Watts paraphrase of Psalm 23, "The Lord my Shepherd is."

Some of Bradbury's later songbooks for adults attempted to bridge the gap between the simpler Sunday School style and the sophistication expected by adult singers. This led even closer to the "gospel hymns" of the latter part of the century. His 1859 Cottage Melodies is subtitled "A Hymn and Tune Book for Prayer and Social Meetings and the Home Circle," reflecting the increasing popularity of layman-guided devotional gatherings outside of the official church services (Cottage Melodies iii). Bradbury included American folk hymns such as "Come Thou Fount of every blessing," and "Must Jesus bear the cross alone?" with the tune MAITLAND, both products of the (Mid-)Western frontier. This popularizing trend continued with titles such as The Camp Meeting Melodist (1862) and The Revival Melodist (1863), which certainly may have shocked the sensibilities of Bradbury's old mentor, Lowell Mason. This direction came to fruition in his Devotional Hymn and Tune Book for Social and Public Worship of 1864. Published by the American Baptist Association--a mark of respect in itself for Bradbury's talents--this collection introduced SOLID ROCK ("My hope is built on nothing less"), one of Bradbury's most popular hymn tunes. By this time, the transition to modern grand staff notation was complete, and more significantly, Bradbury included a refrain to sing after each of the six stanzas. There is very little stylistic difference between this hymn and the gospel songs of Sankey and Bliss in the following generation.

Bradbury's Golden Years

With the marked success of the Sunday School collection Oriola in 1859, Bradbury had reached a turning point in his career. His earliest songbooks had been published by Mark H. Newman of New York City; then during the 1850s he used a variety of publishers. In 1861, however, he founded his own publishing house and began a series of Sunday School hymnals that sold in amazing quantities and secured his place in church music history (Wilhoit). Three of the most popular carried his trademark adjective "golden" in the title: The Golden Chain (1861), The Golden Shower (1862), and The Golden Censer (1864). Their popularity may be judged by the fact that Golden Chain sold 2 million copies (Eskew), at a time when the free population of the United States was less than 30 million. In the following years these songbooks would be reissued in a compilation known as The Golden Trio, and in revised and expanded versions, The New Golden Chain, The New Golden Shower, The New Golden Censer, and The New Golden Trio.

The line between juvenile and adult music is often blurred in these songbooks. A case in point is "Sweet hour of prayer," which first appeared with its familiar musical setting in the 1861 Golden Chain. The lyrics were not composed for children, but came instead from a poem by the English preacher William Walford (Cyberhymnal). Bradbury's setting is an early instance of the 32-bar song form that would be typical of popular music from Tin Pan Alley and Broadway. Interestingly, he set this for four voices, instead of the three-voice soprano-alto-bass format of his more specifically juvenile songs. "Sweet hour" would also appear in Bradbury's Devotional Hymn and Tune Book in 1864, for singing by adults.

The Golden Shower, published in 1862, also contained some hymns more suited to adults. Here was the first appearance of Bradbury's tune EVEN ME ("Lord, I hear of showers of blessings), setting a text that first circulated in the Methodist revival meetings of Great Britain. As Bradbury said in his preface to the 1866 revision of this collection, The New Golden Shower, he was "bringing the Sunday School and social religious meeting into closer sympathy, and preparing the children for the more public worship of the sanctuary."

A song in this collection that crossed over into the gospel music mainstream, and even into folk and country music, is Bradbury's ANGEL BAND, setting Jefferson Hascall's hymn "My latest sun is sinking fast." It is strange to think that a composer who studied at Mendelssohn's Conservatory wrote such a "down-home" spiritual--and what would Bradbury have thought of its inclusion in a film by the Coen brothers?

But as great as these tunes are, it was another selection from this songbook that became the definitive Sunday School song, probably more universally known than any other. The lyrics came about in an unusual way. In the course of writing the novel Say and Seal (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1860), author Susan B. Warner was working on a scene in which a Sunday School teacher sings a song to comfort a dying child. She asked her younger sister Anna B. Warner, to write some actual lyrics to be quoted in the story (Cyberhymnal). The novel itself long ago passed into obscurity, but the song passed from fiction into fact. In the first edition of The Golden Shower Bradbury introduced his new tune with this explanation:
This little gem of a hymn was sent by a devoted Sunday School worker to the author of the GOLDEN SHOWER, accompanied by the following note: "I enclose a hymn for which I am very anxious to have a tune as beautiful as its words and thoughts. In our Sunday School it is a perfect CHARM. I have never known a hymn which so completely captivates the children. . . . There is but one thing wanting: give us a good tune, and we will make everything ring with its music; and the echo of that song will be felt in many hearts when you and I can no longer lead them" (Golden Shower 68).
Bradbury's correspondent was correct in his assessment; the resulting song was "Jesus loves me."

The melody uses a simple pentatonic scale (DO-RE-MI-SOL-LA-DO) and short, repetitive phrases that are easily learned, yet have a pleasing variety. It is a song that almost anyone can sing, and almost everyone who has been to Sunday School has. The video below demonstrates how easily even a very small child can grasp the basic contours of the tune (it's also just adorable).

The final installment of Bradbury's "golden" trilogy, the The Golden Censer (1864), had a singular distinction--it introduced the very first gospel song lyric written by Fanny Crosby. She had met Bradbury earlier that year, and though she had published poetry before, it was her first request to write lyrics specifically for hymns. The impact of this meeting would remain with her, even decades later: "It now seemed to me that the great work of my life had really begun" (Crosby 114ff.).

If "Our bright home above" is unfamiliar, don't be surprised; lists only 20 instances of this song in its database, none of which date from later than the 19th century. Whatever the reason, Crosby's collaborations with Bradbury did not fare as well as her later work with composers such as William Doane, Robert Lowry, and Phoebe Knapp. It may be that Crosby had not yet hit her stride in lyric-writing. And Bradbury had very few years left to him at the time they began their partnership--he died of tuberculosis in 1868, at the untimely age of 52 years. But as he did so many others, Bradbury pointed her in the right direction.

There is much more to tell of William Bradbury's career--his tremendously popular cantata on the story of Esther, his publishing house, which after his death became the foundation of the gospel music giant Biglow & Main; and the quite respectable line of Bradbury & Mason pianos. But I can think of no better way to close than by honoring what I believe may be his best composition of all, a tune that runs second only to his music for "Just as I am" in the number of instances listed at"He leadeth me," first published in The Golden Censer (1864), lyrics by Joseph H. Gilmore.

Is it a folk song? Or does it have the broad, sweeping grace of a classical melody, such as that in the finale of Brahms's 1st symphony? I only know that it sings well. I have sung it in the congregation, I have rocked babies to sleep with it, and I have sung it to myself in some difficult times. I think Jacob Hall summed up Bradbury's style the best: "His melodies have an easy, natural flow, and his harmonies are simple and natural, and many of his hymn-tunes and gospel songs still in use are among the best that American writers have produced" (Hall 27).


Bradbury, William B. Golden Shower of Sunday School Melodies. New York: Bradbury, 1862.

Bradbury, William B. Bradbury's New Golden Shower. New York: Bradbury, 1866.

Bradbury, William B. "Tune authorship." The Independent (1848-1921), Jun 23, 1853, page 100.

Crosby, Fanny. Fanny Crosby's Life Story. New York: Every Where Publishing, 1903.

Eskew, Harry. "Bradbury, William Batchelder." Grove Music Online. Oxford University Press.

Hall, John Jacob. Biography of Gospel Song and Hymn Writers. New York: Revell, 1914.

"Jesus loves me." Cyberhymnal.

Mattern, Margaret M. "Early Rochester Textbooks, 1821-1850." University of Rochester Library Bulletin 22:1 (Fall 1966).

Music Division of the Library of Congress. Finding aid for the William B. Bradbury Collection.

New York Tribune, 18 September 1841. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress.

New York Tribune, 13 October 1841. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress.

New York Tribune, 3 July 1847. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

Rice, Edwin Wilbur. The Sunday School Movement and the American Sunday School Union. Philadelphia: American Sunday School Union, 1917.

"Sweet hour of prayer." Cyberhymnal.

Wilhoit, Mel R. "Bradbury, William Batchelder." American National Biography Online. Feb. 2000.

"William B. Bradbury."

Williams, Hermine Weigel. Thomas Hastings: An Introduction to His Life and Music. Lincoln, Nebraska: iUniverse, 2005.

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