Church Harmony Sacred to Devotion (Joseph Stephenson)
Joseph Stephenson's Church Harmony Sacred to Devotion is his first known published work: the collection ran to four editions, but only the third and fourth editions are known to be extant. Humphries and Smith indicate a date of 1757 for the first edition, published by James Rivington and James Fletcher (p275, Humphries & Smith, 1970).
Church Harmony is a substantial collection of music in the tenor-led English country psalmody or 'West Gallery' style, including ten anthems, three Christmas hymns or carols, hymns for Easter and Whitsunday, a four-part canon, and 51 psalm tunes.
Commendatory letter by William Knapp
The prefatory matter to Church Harmony includes the text of a letter from William Knapp (who, like Stephenson, was active in Poole at the time, and who was already an established composer of country psalmody):
I have carefully examined the following Sheets and find it a Work compleatly done, A Work, done with great Judgment, Vivacity, and Sagaciousness, a Work, worthy the Perusal of the greatest Masters of Music; and the performance of the best of Choirs. I therefore recommend it to all lovers and Practitioners of Church Music.
Had this Excellent Performance made its appearance in the World some Years ago, I am very sensible it would not have met with that kind reception, nor the Approbation it deserves; Church Music not being so much in vogue nor understood (especially in Parish Churches) as at present.
But now it is arrived to that perfection, that there are but few Congregations where there is not a Choir Warbling forth Praises to the Almighty Being, in Psalms, Hymns, Spiritual Songs, and Melodious Anthems; with all which this Book will abundantly supply them. And I doubt not but it will meet with that kind Reception, Approbation, and Encouragement, it so Jusly deserves.
- I am Reader your very Humble Servant
- Wm Knapp.'
The letter indicates the target market for Church Harmony among parish churches, though Stephenson himself was associated with the Unitarian congregation at the Hill Street meeting house in Poole, and was later the clerk of this congregation. Similarly, the title page of Stephenson's later collection The Musical Companion described it as 'Compos'd for the Use of Country Choirs'.
- Humphries, C, and Smith, W. C., Music Publishing in the British Isles, 2nd edition. Oxford: Blackwell, 1970
- Hymn Tune Index details for source StepJCH 3