The Music of Mourning


This oil portrait is entitled “Wandering Thoughts” by a Massachusetts artist from East Bridgewater, Francis Davis Millet, who perished in the wreck of the Titanic in 1912.

This page will be updated weekly with a look at hymns and music which would have been typical and popular choices for the Victorian church funeral or sung at gravesite.  Some of these hymns are still sung today and are staples of the Protestant churches in America. All midi files and historical data are from the web site Hymntime.

1. When the Roll is Called Up Yonder

Words & Music: James M. Black, 1893  Black, a Meth­od­ist Sun­day school teach­er in Wil­liams­port, Penn­syl­van­ia, was call­ing roll one day for a youth meet­ing. Young Bes­sie, daugh­ter of a drunk­ard, did not show up, and he was dis­ap­point­ed at her fail­ure to ap­pear. Black made a com­ment to the ef­fect, “Well, I trust when the roll is called up yon­der, she’ll be there.”

2. In the Sweet By and By

Words: Sanford F. Bennett, 1868 Music: Joseph P. Webster

 In the sweet by and by,
We shall meet on that beautiful shore;
In the sweet by and by,
We shall meet on that beautiful shore
. 1868

The notion of friends waiting on the other shore was comforting to the Victorians as was the imagery of the river Jordan, the land of milk and honey, and the happy prospect of a journey from this world into the eternal afterlife.

3. The strife is o’er the battle done

This was and still is a favorite final hymn in the Episcopal church, particularly at the funeral of someone who had been battling a lengthy illness. 

Words: Un­known au­thor, poss­ib­ly 12th Cen­tu­ry (Fi­ni­ta jam sunt prael­ia); trans­lat­ed from La­tin to Eng­lish by Fran­cis Pott, Hymns Fit­ted to the Or­der of Com­mon Pray­er, 1861.

Music: Vic­to­ry (Pal­es­tri­na), Gi­o­van­ni P. da Pal­es­tri­na, Mag­nif­i­cat Ter­tii To­ni, 1591; ar­ranged by Will­iam H. Monk, 1861. (“Victory”)

4. Shall we gather at the river


Yes, we’ll gather at the river,
The beautiful, the beautiful river;
Gather with the saints at the river
That flows by the throne of God.

Words & Music: Ro­bert Low­ry, 1864; first pub­lished in Hap­py Voic­es, 1865.

5.  Amazing Grace

Possibly the most popular choice for funeral music today, whether played graveside on bagpipes, or at the close of church services, Amazing Grace has endured over the decades.  The first two verses and refrain are known by nearly everyone and can be sung spontaneously without sheet music.

Words: John New­ton, Ol­ney Hymns (Lon­don: W. Ol­i­ver, 1779). Ex­cept­ion: the last stan­za is by an un­known au­thor; it ap­peared as ear­ly as 1829 in the Bap­tist Song­ster, by R. Win­chell (We­thers­field, Con­nec­ti­cut), as the last stan­za of the song “Je­ru­sa­lem My Hap­py Home.”

Music: New Bri­tain, in Vir­gin­ia Har­mo­ny, by James P. Car­rell and Da­vid S. Clay­ton (Win­ches­ter, Vir­gin­ia: 1831.


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