When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
Composer Alfred V. Fedak
Text Isaac Watts, 1707
Voicing Two-part mixed choir, kybd.,
opt. treble inst. (violin or clarinet), opt. cong.
Topics Cross of Christ, Jesus Christ
Church Season Lent, Holy Week
Length 3' 45" Price $2.50 (U.S.) Released 5/00
Catalog no. 425-350 Difficulty Moderately easy
Discography Fill the World with Loudest Praise, St. Paul's Chamber Choir, Robert Brewer, conductor (Selah 520-425)
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Fedak's setting of the hymntune ROCKINGHAM opens with a hauntingly lovely violin solo which sets the work's meditative tone. Scored for two-part mixed choir and organ, the piece can be performed with or without the congregation. Even the smallest mixed choirs will find this beautiful work gratifying to sing during Lent, or as a devotional anthem at any time of year.
When I survey the wondrous cross
on which the Prince of glory died,
my richest gain I count but loss,
and pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
save in the cross of Christ my God:
all the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.
See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e'er such love and sorrow meet,
or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were a present far too small;
love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.
History of the Hymn
Isaac Watts first published "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" in his Hymns and Spiritual Songs (1707). Designated a communion hymn, it appeared under the heading "Crucifixion to the World by the Cross of Christ; Gal. 6:14." One of the first English-language hymns to use the word "I" and to focus directly on personal religious experience, "When I Survey" holds an important place in the history of hymnody. It offers an example of how Watts, sometimes called the father of English hymnody, enlarged the boundaries of English sacred song beyond the metrical psalms to include freer verse that readily lent itself to new musical settings. Watts fused two traditions of sacred song that had been developing side-by-side-metrical psalms and hymns-in texts characterized by unusual clarity and force in the choice of words.
The son of a Congregationalist minister, Watts was born in 1674 in Southampton, England. He followed his father into the ministry, accepting appointment to Mark Lane Chapel in London in 1702. His health broke soon after, forcing Watts to retire from public life. Until his death in 1748, he fulfilled ministerial duties as possible and devoted much time to study and writing. His books gained him wide repute, but Watts regarded his hymns as his most enduring contribution to the church. "When I Survey" is generally cited as the best these, though others remain in use as well.
In its first publication in 1707, "When I Survey" had five stanzas. Its second line originally read "Where the young Prince of Glory died." In an enlarged edition of the hymnal in 1709, Watts changed the second line to the familiar "On which the Prince of Glory died" and bracketed the fourth stanza for optional use:
His dying Crimson, like a Robe,
Spreads o'er his Body on the Tree;
Then am I dead to all the Globe
And all the Globe is dead to me.
In 1757, George Whitefield included "When I Survey" in the Supplement to his popular Collection of Hymns. The next year, "When I Survey" first appeared in a hymnal published in the United States--The Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs of the Old and New Testament (1758). Since then, it has been found in the hymnals of American denominations as varied as traditional Protestants, Roman Catholics, Mormons, Unitarians and the Assemblies of God. Widely acclaimed by hymnologists, "When I Survey" is seldom altered beyond omitting Watts' fourth stanza (considered too gory) or making a few minor changes such as stanza 2, line 2 "Save in the Cross"; stanza 3, line 2 "Love flow mingled"; stanza 4, line 2 "That were a tribute" or "That were an offering."
The inclusion of "When I Survey" in the milestone British hymnal, Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861) cemented its marriage in British usage to the tune ROCKINGHAM (also known as COMMUNION and CATON). The hymn had first appeared to ROCKINGHAM in 1833. ROCKINGHAM derived from an earlier tune named TUNBRIDGE, published anonymously in 1778 in Supplement to Psalmody in Miniature, a collection edited by Aaron Williams. Organist Edward Miller arranged ROCKINGHAM for use in his The Psalms of David for the Use of Parish Churches (1790). Miller named his tune for his friend and patron, the Marquis of Rockingham-a three-time Whig prime minister. In American hymnals, "When I Survey" is generally set to an arrangement of HAMBURG, a tune adapted from an old Gregorian Chant by the prominent 19th-century American music educator, Lowell Mason.
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