Union Harmony: or British America's Sacred Vocal Musick

Union Harmony: or British America's Sacred Vocal Musick. Tunebook compiled and published in Saint John, NB, by Stephen Humbert in 1801 and printed, probably in Exeter, NH, by Charles Norris and Co.

Union Harmony: or British America's Sacred Vocal Musick

Union Harmony: or British America's Sacred Vocal Musick. Tunebook compiled and published in Saint John, NB, by Stephen Humbert in 1801 and printed, probably in Exeter, NH, by Charles Norris and Co. It was Canada's first English-language book of music (appearing one year after Le Graduel romain, the first Canadian book of music). Copies of the 1801 edition, advertised in the Saint John Gazette, 5 Sep 1801 as ' The Union Harmony, or, British America's Sacred Music,' and including 'the principles of Vocal Music in a plain and concise manner,' sold for $1 each, but none is known to have survived. Later editions appeared in 1816 ('much improved and enlarged'), 1831?, and 1840.

In format the 1816 edition (also printed by Norris) follows New England models. It comprises a preface, a section explaining the rudiments of notation and sight singing, a glossary, the collection of pieces (of 'the most approved English and American composers'), and an index of the tunes. Its direct inspiration, at least for the title, probably was Oliver Holden's Union Harmony or Universal Collection of Sacred Music (Boston 1793, 1796, 1801), which is similarly large; both books have over 300 pages, double the size of contemporary standard books of the kind, unusually large for such a compilation at this period. Both compilers also defend the propriety of fuguing tunes which, according to Humbert, in the 1816 edition, 'when judiciously performed, will produce the most happy effect, without the least disorder of jargon, especially when it is considered we do not sing to please men but the Lord.' 'If those who are hearers,' he continued, 'were as assiduous to learn Sacred Musick, as they too generally are the giddy amusements of the day, we should have less hearers and more performers of this animating part of divine worship.' The first two thirds of the collection - tunes of Belknap, Holden, Holyoke, Kimball, Read, and Swan - are probably survivors of the 1801 edition as they can be traced to prior sources. The last third offers pieces by Cole, Edson, Ingalls, Jenks, Maxim, Sanger, and Wood, all to be found in publications of 1801-16. Notably absent are pieces by Gram, Lyon, and Morgan and pieces from the shape-note books of Law or Wyeth, or from the Baptist collections. The bulk of pieces by English composers such as Dixon, Leach, and Williams are traceable to American publications, but those 14 pieces from John Beaumont's The New Harmonic Magazine published in Britain, (London 1801) are an exception. Of the new music, Humbert composed 22 hymn-tunes and 9 anthems, some of which appear only in either the 1816 or the 1840 edition. The Humbert compositions range from simple hymns and fuguing tunes to complex anthems and multiple-movement odes with internal contrasts of metre and texture. The texts are predominantly English in origin. As for the purpose of the collection, Humbert in the preface to the 1816 edition states that it is 'well adapted both to devotional and scholastic exercises.' Temperley has concluded that Union Harmony was primarily intended for use in singing schools but also may have found a place in Methodist services. Humbert's The Elegy on Sophronia (the wife of a friend) is secular, as are several other odes in the collection. 25 hymns from the 1816 and 1840 editions are reproduced and commented on in CMH, vol 5.


Further Reading

  • McMillan, Barclay. 'Tune-book imprints in Canada to 1867: a descriptive bibliography,' Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada, vol 16, 1977

    Temperley, Nicholas. 'Stephen Humbert's Union Harmony, 1816,' Sing Out the Glad News, CanMus Documents no. 1 (Toronto 1987)

    CMH, vol 5