Lift High the Cross

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I am wondering if somone in Hymnary's administration can explain the copyright issues surrounding the hymn "Lift High the Cross," specifically why Hope Publishing Company seems to have a blanket strangehold on the hymn and why they can claim a copyright date of 1974. The original text by George W. Kitchin was published in 1886 with a musical setting by James Baden Powell. The text was substantially revised by Michael R. Newbolt for the Second Supplement to Hymns Ancient & Modern, 1916, and the tune CRUCIFER by Sydney Nicholson was likewise included there. These are all squarely in the public domain and could not have been claimed by Hope as late as 1974, not by any version of U.S. copyright law I know about. They are, of course, within their rights to protect their own revisions or harmonizations. Does anyone know why the hymn is credited to Hope on Hymnary?


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We mostly get our copyright information from the hymnals we index. Hymnals published in 2021 and 2019 say the copyright is owned by Hope. CCLI agrees with this. I don't see that the Second Supplement to "Hymns Ancient & Modern" was simultaneously published in the U.S., and the U.S. has a treaty with the UK, so "Lift High the Cross" would not be public domain in the U.S. unless it is public domain in the UK. The copyright term in the UK is the life of the author/composer plus 70 years. Newbolt died in 1953, so the text would still be copyrighted. Nicholson died in 1947. I have not seen a copy of CRUCIFER from a hymnal earlier than the 1974 "Hymns for the Living Church" published by Hope, so I am not able to compare to see if Hope has adapted the tune.

Hope has recently changed the notice appearing with the hymn to clarify that it is © 1950 Hymns Ancient and Modern, based on Hymns Ancient and Modern Revised of that year. This means that alterations to the 1916 version found in that book are copyright in the US but the 1916 version itself is not. One could compare the 1916 version with the 1950 printing or the many hymnals it has appeared in subsequently to determine if any of the alterations apply to what one wants to use. (I don't know if this revised notice has appeared in a book yet.)

I am convinced that the claim of 1974 copyright by Hope was an honest error on their part. Though the hymn had appeared in the US in the Catholic Book of Worship in 1972, it was Hope's publication of it two years later, and subsequent inclusion in the Lutheran Book of Worship, that quickly catapulted it to the category of "classic" in the US. Those of us involved in publishing in those olden times will recall that royalties, fees, and charges for material in hymnals were not in the somewhat-standardized state they are now. Hope apparently acquired rights to license "Lift High the Cross" in 1974; somehow this got mis-labeled as a copyright. They have recently clarified (or corrected) this.

The revisions between the Second Supplement and AMR are for the most part really minimal – most of them are along the lines of AMR preferring the "his sacred name" style of capitalization to the "His Sacred Name" one, a completely trivial and unoriginal editorial decision that could be arrived at independently by any number of editors. The only major differences are the second half of v5 and the entirety of v12. In the first of these cases, it really is not an improvement – it sounds really odd to me to make "revere" an intransitive verb. The second is more debatable, carrying a distinct shift in theological emphasis (but FWIW, again I'd favour the Second Supplement over AMR). What I'm wondering here is if these two changes are in fact reversions from Newbolt to Kitchin. It would be really interesting to find a pre-Second Supplement publication of Kitchin's words to check whether this is indeed what the revisers did. Does anyone know where to find one?

But anyway, the diagnostic fragments for the 1916 text, which will enter into the public domain in the UK on 1 January 2024 (not long to wait now!), are:

  • v5 l2 The mystery which angel hosts revere.
  • v12 l1 So shall our song of triumph ever be,
  • v12 l2 Praise to the Crucified for victory.

The AMR version of the last verse on which Hope's rights rest has an atone/throne rhyme (and this is indeed what is printed in HLC 1974). Now this is where things get really interesting. The Representative Text and Flex Scores here on hymnary.org do not reflect the copyright position well at all: they all omit AMR's v5 entirely; moreover, they all reproduce the Second Supplement's v12 and not the AMR one! So they reproduce precisely none of the 1950 revisions (some of them even follow more caps-heavy editorial practices). What they're probably doing here is not going back to the Second Supplement directly, but reproducing directly or indirectly the CBW 1972's text, which prints a vastly slimmed down selection of the Second Supplement's verses, including its v12. So rather amusingly, all of the other American editions that are visible seem to depend on the CBW getting there before Hope. What a mess!

(As a bit of a useless aside, the only hymn book outside the A&M family I personally have to hand with Lift High the Cross in is Baptist Praise and Worship (1991). This has a really peculiar text, with verses 1 (adores for adore), 2 (Christians for brethren), 7 (songs for song), 9 (unmodified), 8 (almost completely rewritten to avoid gendered and archaic language), and 11 (your for thy). These changes are really quite characteristic of BPW and probably don't have any currency elsewhere, although the copyright section of BPW just ascribes the hymn to Hymns Ancient and Modern Ltd without any copyright date. Olden times, as episema said!)

As for the tune Crucifer, yes, there are a few minor changes in HLC 1974 vs A&M (it's unchanged from the Second Supplement to AMR):

  • The key is put down from D to C
  • The note values are halved
  • The unison vocal part of the refrain is not printed on a separate stave from the organ part
  • The first three bass notes are put up an octave (making it a good deal easier to play on manuals only!)
  • The notation "Harmony" is missing from the start of the verse
  • The final bass note of the verse is doubled up an octave (only the lower octave is there in A&M)

The version in the LSB rows back on this somewhat, keeping Hope's key and note values, but restoring the word "Harmony" and printing the altered bass notes both full size down the octave and small up the octave – talk about hedging one's bets!

Thank you for your interesting analysis. I have a copy of the original score from 1886 and I am happy to send you a copy if you like. —Chris Fenner (cjfenner@sbts.edu).

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