Theology as Harmony
In the time of Queen Elizabeth I, the court received the completed Psalms in metrical form that would be the song guide for the Anglican service. This was improved on by Nahum Tate and Nicholas Brady. Irish Tate was a distinguished playwright. He was also made a Poet Laureate of England in 1692. Clergyman Brady was the chaplain of King William II and Queen Anne. The lines of “As Pants the Hart for Cooling Streams” refer to animal hunting, which aside from being a sport the royals were known to indulge in, is also in the Psalm itself, for why would the animal be panting if not being chased? When it comes to its spiritual meaning, it is reminiscent of a thirst for God in one’s life in a hunt for spiritual growth.
Tate and Brady’s improved version first appeared in the New Version of The Psalms (1696), and it covered the entire Psalm 42. Its tune was in A Common Metre, 184.108.40.206. (describing the number of syllables in the stanzas). The first two verses were perfectly phrased for the music pattern and then the next three continue at the midpoint, causing a slight difficulty in drawing the breath needed to put meaning into the verses. The Scott composer Hugh Wilson around 1800, set “As Pants the Hart for Cooling Streams” to a duple meter tune called Martyrdom. It’s recommended to be sung in harmony, supported by light accompaniment. He named the tune after the martyred James Fenwick, whose last name is also the name of the place where Wilson grew up in. Martyrdom is an 18th-century Scottish folk melody which is also the tune of the Scottish ballad “Helen of Kirkconnel”. After Wilson passed away in 1825, Robert Smith disputed Wilson’s being the original composer of Martyrdom, but Smith lost his claim.