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song of praise, devotion, or thanksgiving, especially of a religious character (see also cantatacantata
[Ital.,=sung], composite musical form similar to a short unacted opera or brief oratorio, developed in Italy in the baroque period. The term was first used in 1620 to refer to strophic variations in the voice part over a recurrent melody in the bass accompaniment.
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Early Christian hymnody consisted mainly of the Psalms and the great canticles Nunc dimittis, Magnificat, and Benedictus from the Bible and of the Sanctus, Gloria in excelsis, and Te Deum. These were chanted in unison (see plainsongplainsong
or plainchant,
the unharmonized chant of the medieval Christian liturgies in Europe and the Middle East; usually synonymous with Gregorian chant, the liturgical music of the Roman Catholic Church.
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). Metrical Latin hymnody began with the hymns of St. Ambrose, bishop of Milan, and St. Hilary, bishop of Poitiers, in the 4th cent. This type of hymn, usually four-line stanzas in iambic tetrameter, was the basis of nearly all Christian hymnody until the 16th cent.

Notable Latin hymns are Corde natus ex parentis by PrudentiusPrudentius
(Aurelius Clemens Prudentius) , b. 348, Christian Latin poet, b. Spain. He wrote a number of hymns, occasional Christian lyrics, and poems on saints. Although he held a high place at the Roman court, he eventually retired to devote himself to religion.
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 in the 4th cent., and Fortunatus' 6th-century processionals, Vexilla regis and Pange lingua (whose meter was imitated in the Pange lingua of St. Thomas AquinasThomas Aquinas, Saint
[Lat.,=from Aquino], 1225–74, Italian philosopher and theologian, Doctor of the Church, known as the Angelic Doctor, b. Rocca Secca (near Naples).
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). From the 11th cent. came Wipo's Easter sequence, Victimae paschali laudes. The Dies irae, probably by Thomas of CelanoThomas of Celano
, fl. 13th cent., Italian Franciscan friar. One of the first companions of St. Francis, he wrote the two principal lives of St. Francis, one for Gregory IX and the other for the minister general of the order. He was an early Franciscan missionary to Germany.
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, and the Stabat Mater dolorosa by Jacopone da TodiJacopone da Todi
, 1230?–1306, Italian religious poet, whose name was originally Jacopo Benedetti. After the sudden death of his wife, he renounced (c.1268) his career as an advocate, gave his goods to the poor, and after 10 years of penance became a Franciscan tertiary.
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 are great hymns of the 13th cent.

With the Reformation came the development of Protestant hymnody. The first hymnbooks in the vernacular are probably those published by the followers of John Huss in Bohemia in 1501 and 1505. In 1524 the first Lutheran hymnal was published at Wittenberg. The early Lutheran hymns were translations of Latin hymns, folksongs with new texts, often paraphrases of biblical verses or passages, or sometimes original melodies. Calvinism contributed the Genevan Psalter (final version, 1562). It contained the Psalms, translated into French verse by Clément MarotMarot, Clément
, 1496?–1544, French court poet. His graceful rondeaux, ballades and epigrams won him the patronage of Francis I and Margaret of Navarre. Marot was imprisoned for Reformationist heresy in 1526 and based his superb allegorical satire Enfer
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 and Theodore BezaBeza, Theodore
(Théodore de Bèze), 1519–1605, French Calvinist theologian. In 1548 he joined John Calvin at Geneva and soon became his intimate friend and chief aid.
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 and set to music, most of which was supplied by Louis Bourgeois, who used some original tunes and adapted others. The familiar doxology tune Old Hundredth is the tune of Psalm 134 in this psalter.

The first collection of English church tunes was Sternhold's Psalter (1556), published at Geneva and consisting of metrical versions of the Psalms by Thomas Sternhold (d. 1549) and others, which were set to unharmonized tunes. John WesleyWesley, John,
1703–91, English evangelical preacher, founder of Methodism, b. Epworth, Lincolnshire. Early Life

Wesley was ordained a deacon in the Church of England in 1725, elected a fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford, in 1726, and ordained a priest in 1728.
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's hymnal (1737) contained metrical psalms, translations from Greek and German, and original lyrics and melodies, and was thus the first hymnal in the modern sense. Other notable English hymnists of the 18th cent. were Isaac WattsWatts, Isaac,
1674–1748, English clergyman and hymn writer, b. Southampton. He was one of the most eminent Dissenting divines of his day. As a pastor in London he was known for his sermons, but beginning in 1712 poor health caused him to live in semiretirement.
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, Charles WesleyWesley, Charles,
1707–88, English Methodist preacher and hymn writer. As a student at Oxford he devoted himself to systematic study and to the regular practice of religious duties; he and companions whom he persuaded to adopt the same orderly course were taunted as
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, and William CowperCowper, William
, 1731–1800, English poet. Physically and emotionally unfit for the professional life, he was admitted to the bar but never practiced. After a battle with insanity, Cowper retired to the country, taking refuge with the family of Mrs.
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, poets whose hymns are still sung in nearly all Protestant churches. In the 19th cent. there was a revived interest in plainsong that resulted in many translations of ancient Latin hymns, such as those by John Mason NealeNeale, John Mason
, 1818–66, English clergyman, historian, and hymn writer, grad. Trinity College, Cambridge, 1840. An enthusiastic supporter of the High Church movement, he was under the inhibition (i.e.
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In America the Puritans used psalters brought with them from Europe until the Bay Psalm Book (1640), the earliest American hymnal, was published at Cambridge, Mass. William BillingsBillings, William,
1746–1800, American hymn composer, b. Boston. A tanner by trade, he was one of the earliest American-born composers. He wrote popular hymns and sacred choruses of great vitality using simple imitative counterpoint—hence their designation as
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 wrote the first original American hymns as distinguished from paraphrases of psalms and psalm tunes; another important composer was Lowell MasonMason, Lowell,
1792–1872, American composer and music educator, b. Medfield, Mass. While working as a bank clerk in Savannah, Ga., he helped compile an anthology that was published as The Boston Handel and Haydn Society's Collection of Church Music (1822).
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, whose song collections, such as Spiritual Songs (1831), compiled jointly with Thomas HastingsHastings, Thomas,
1784–1872, American composer, b. Washington, Conn. Of his hymns, Rock of Ages is most famous. He compiled several books of hymns, including Musica Sacra (1815) and Spiritual Songs (with Lowell Mason, 1831).
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, attained wide distribution.

In the latter half of the 19th cent. the gospel hymn was developed (see gospel musicgospel music,
American religious musical form that owes much of its origin to the Christian conversion of West Africans enslaved in the American South. Gospel music partly evolved from the songs slaves sang on plantations, notably work songs, and from the Protestant hymns they
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). It is marked by lively rhythm, constant alternation of the simplest harmonies, and sentimental text. Arthur SullivanSullivan, Sir Arthur Seymour,
1842–1900, English composer, famous for a series of brilliant comic operas written in collaboration with the librettist W. S. Gilbert. As a boy he sang in the choir of the Chapel Royal.
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's "Onward Christian Soldiers" (1871) is a well-known example of the martial hymn of the period. In the 20th cent. radical variations in church music have emerged: folk-song and jazz elements have been integrated with older music and frequently replaced it. Troubadour-style "protest" songs with theological content were common in the 1960s alongside a newly vital, more conservative hymnody.


See A. E. Bailey, The Gospel in Hymns (1950); H. W. Foote, Three Centuries of American Hymnody (1940, repr. 1968); L. F. Benson, The English Hymn (1915, repr. 1987); I. Bradley, ed., The Book of Hymns (1989); W. J. Reynolds, Songs of Glory (1989).



a ceremonial song with programmatic verses. There are state, revolutionary, military, and religious hymns, as well as hymns in honor of historical events and heroes.

In ancient Greece a hymn was a religious song in honor of a god, such as Apollo or Dionysus. In the seventh to fifth centuries B.C. hymns were written by Alcaeus, Alemán, and Pindar. Epic narrative poetic works known as hymns have survived. The most famous of them are the so-called Homeric hymns (attributed in antiquity to Homer) and Orphic hymns (from the late Hellenic period). The early Christians created a hymnody that became part of church worship and prayer (the hymns of Romanos Melodos and John of Damascus in the eastern church and “Te Deum laudamus” in the west). The socioreligious movement of the 15th-16th centuries gave birth to many spiritual hymns, including the Protestant (Lutheran) chorale in Germany (the outstanding example is “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”—“Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott”) and Hussite songs in Bohemia. The Great French Revolution evoked revolutionary hymns, including the “Marseillaise.” The revolutionary proletariat created its own hymn, the “International,” which was also the national hymn of the USSR until Jan. 1, 1944. In 1944 a new national hymn was introduced (music by A. V. Aleksandrov), and the “International” became a party hymn.

All modern states have national hymns, in addition to national emblems and flags. The hymn is the state’s official symbol. Each of the union republics of the USSR has a hymn. The hymn genre is represented in choral, operatic, and symphonic art (for example, the final choruses of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Glinka’s opera Ivan Susanin).A song about the Great Patriotic War was written in the spirit of a hymn (“The Holy War,” lyrics by V. I. Lebedev-Kumach, music by A. V. Aleksandrov).


Bernshtein, N. Istoriia natsional’nykh gimnov. Petrograd, 1914.
Nettl, P. National Anthems. New York [1952].
Diehl, D. S. Hymns and Tunes: An Index. New York, 1966.


1. a Christian song of praise sung to God or a saint
2. a similar song praising other gods, a nation, etc.
References in periodicals archive ?
A former Midland Euro MP has been revealed as the inspiration behind a popular Methodist hymn.
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THE Very Revd Chris Butt, the Dean of St Christopher's Cathedral in Bahrain, pictured right, displayed the luck of the Irish by winning a hymn competition to mark the 40th anniversary of the Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf.
Even though I cannot carry a tune, when my daughter was small, I rocked her to sleep singing the old hymns.
A HYMN, written by a Bahrain-based clergyman and which was selected as the winner of a regional competition, was sung as part of Songs of Praise at St Christopher's Cathedral in Manama last night.
Inspired by a conversation with the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, Father Paul Bigmore decided to rewrite hymns he learnt as a child but which are now rarely sung because of their old-fashioned words.
Inspired by a conversation with the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, Father Paul Bigmore decided to re-write hymns he learned as a child but which are now rarely sung because of their oldfashioned words and the decline of the Welsh non-conformist chapels.
This study examines the hymns of Isaiah Shembe, a black South African prophet who founded the sacred dance in Ibandla LamaNazaretha in 1910, which was performed using the hymns.
OVERGATE Hospice Choir's annual Hymn Sing, a major fund raiser for the charity, is to take place on Saturday, April 16, at Brighouse Central Methodist Church and heralds the start of a series of celebratory concerts.
I know a lot of the old hymns by heart, but with the revision in [ 1998], so many [words] were changed to be gender neutral, and I find I make mistakes and go back to the old text or I don't know the hymn at all," she said.