Opening Voluntary: March in G – Henry Thomas Smart (1813-1879)
Closing Voluntary: Voluntary in G – Henry Thomas Smart (1813-1879)
Henry Thomas Smart (1813-1879)
Today’s opening and closing voluntaries are both works by Victorian-era, English organist and composer, Henry Thomas Smart. Smart was born in London on 26 October, 1813. Although his father was a musician and music publisher, Smart initially studied for a law career. He turned, however, after only four years at the bar, to a career in music which he continued for the rest of his life. Smart served as organist at several prominent London parishes including St. Philip’s, Regent street, St. Luke’s, Old Street, and lastly at St. Pancras for 14 years until his death. Plagued by problems with his vision that began in early life, Smart was totally blind by the age of fifty-two. His musically talented daughter, however, was able to transcribe his compositions for him, and his improvisatory skills allowed him to continue performing in spite of his disability. He was particularly noted for his use of the pedals, which was said to be more inventive than other British organists of the time. In addition to organ works and choral music, Smart composed non-religious works including several secular cantatas, an oratorio and an opera. Somewhat against the trends of his day, he was vehemently opposed to the re-introduction of plainchant which he characterized as a “style of music utterly barbarous.” Although Smart’s music was extremely popular in his own time and his organ compositions figured prominently in recitals through the end of the 19th century, changing musical tastes would later denigrate much of his work as “Victorian stodge,” and the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica article describes his organ compositions as “effective and melodious, if not strikingly original.” Sadly, Smart’s works are now little remembered apart from his hymn tune compositions which include REGENT SQUARE, which is frequently paired with the Christmas carol text, “Angels from the realms of glory” (#93, The Hymnal 1982) and LANCASHIRE, usually sung with the text “Lead on O King eternal” (#555, Ibid.). Smart died in London on 6 July 1879 at the age of only 65 years. Such was his popularity in his day that services and recitals were organized across the country on the last Sunday of July of that year in his honor and memory. His biographer, William Spark, records a full 109 of these events, including the music performed.