The early Methodist John Cennick is best remembered today for this simple table grace, first published in his Sacred Hymns for the Children of God, in the Days of Their Pilgrimage (1741). Originally titled “Before Meat,” he wrote it in his early twenties after he met the Wesley brothers John and Charles. Ever since, Methodists around the world have sung this prayer to the tune OLD HUNDREDTH, also known as GENEVAN 134, originally set to Psalm 134 in the Genevan Psalter. Since this tune is known around the world, this table grace is accessible to all at home or before any gathering of Christians before a meal.
John Cennick (b. 1718; d. 1755) had thought of becoming a surveyor, but after meeting the Wesleys, he joined them in their work. In 1740, he became a teacher at Kingswood, England, on the recommendation of John Wesley. Later, he joined the Moravians and visited their headquarters at Herrnhut, but he spent much of his time as an itinerant evangelist in England. Cennick’s works include: Sacred Hymns, for the Children of God in the Days of Their Pilgrimage, 1741, Sacred Hymns for the Use of Religious Societies, 1743, A Collection of Sacred Hymns, 1749, Hymns to the Honour of Jesus Christ, Composed for Such Little Children as Desire to Be Saved, 1754. Additional works appeared posthumously in J. Swertner’s Moravian Hymn Book, 1789.
Louis Bourgeois (b. Paris, France, c. 1510; d. Paris, 1561), in both his early and later years, wrote French songs to entertain the rich, but in the history of church music he is known especially for his contribution to the Genevan Psalter. Apparently moving to Geneva in 1541, the same year John Calvin returned to Geneva from Strasbourg, Bourgeois served as cantor and master of the choristers at both St. Pierre and St. Gervais, which is to say he was music director there under the pastoral leadership of Calvin. Bourgeois used the choristers to teach the new psalm tunes to the congregation.
The extent of Bourgeois's involvement in the Genevan Psalter is a matter of scholarly debate. Calvin had published several partial psalters, including one in Strasbourg in 1539 and another in Geneva in 1542, with melodies by unknown composers. In 1551 another French psalter appeared in Geneva, Eighty-three Psalms of David, with texts by Marot and de Beze, and with most of the melodies by Bourgeois, who supplied thirty-four original tunes and thirty-six revisions of older tunes. This edition was republished repeatedly, and later Bourgeois's tunes were incorporated into the complete Genevan Psalter (1562). However, his revision of some older tunes was not uniformly appreciated by those who were familiar with the original versions; he was actually imprisoned overnight for some of his musical arrangements but freed after Calvin's intervention. In addition to his contribution to the 1551 Psalter, Bourgeois produced a four-part harmonization of fifty psalms, published in Lyons (1547, enlarged 1554), and wrote a textbook on singing and sight-reading, La Droit Chemin de Musique (1550). He left Geneva in 1552 and lived in Lyons and Paris for the remainder of his life.
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