Topic(s): Education, Arts, and Scholarship: Music
What tunes have been used for the hymn "O My Father"?
"O My Father," written by Eliza R. Snow, was first published as a poem in 1845. The Saints were eager for short, distinctively Mormon hymn texts and quickly applied several tunes to the new poem. The variability of accents at the beginning of the poem's lines made it difficult to find a tune that fit the poem appropriately. Early musical settings for "O My Father" included Stephen Foster's 1856 parlor song "Gentle Annie," a favorite of Brigham Young. Other tunes included a bouncy, martial tune known as "Harwell" and two other settings composed by Latter-day Saints. In 1877, C. J. Thomas composed an arrangement using Franz Joseph Haydn's "Austrian Hymn." Soon after, Evan Stephens wrote another rendition similar to "Harwell." Thomas Durham wrote the most unusual setting, at least in its origins, when he wrote a tune that he had heard in a dream about a Nephite survivor of the great battle at the hill Cumorah. Finally, in 1893, two new settings for "O My Father" came to the Saints'; attention. One used a tune from the first act of Friedrich von Flotow's opera Martha. The other used the popular gospel hymn "My Redeemer," written by James McGranahan. The "My Redeemer" hymn spread quickly through the Church and is the tune used today. This process demonstrates that Mormons prize familiarity and ease of expression, which they feel free to import from other churches, and that sacred music cannot be dictated but must be embraced by Latter-day Saints.
Written By:
Michael Hicks -
Michael Hicks has been Professor of Music at Brigham Young University.