Some fifty years after the fact, RVW described his work on the hymnal partly as one of purging the Victorian hymntune repertory:
Whilst trying to include all the good tunes, I did my best to eliminate the bad ones. This was difficult, because I was not entirely my own master. My committee insisted that certain very popular tunes should be retained. The climax came when my masters declared that I must myself write a fulsome letter to a prominent ecclesiastic asking for leave to print his horrible little tune. My committee and I finally settled our quarrel with a compromise by which the worst offenders were confined to an appendix at the end of the book, which we nicknamed the “Chamber of Horrors.” (p. 3)In his preface to the volume itself he is somewhat more restrained: “...a short appendix is added of alternative tunes to certain hymns for the use of those who do not agree with the choice of the musical editor.” (p. xii). Joseph Barnby's tune for "For all the saints" was clearly one not to RVW's taste, as it is confined to the Appendix. Charles Villiers Stanford's stirring tune ENGELBURG (1904) was under copyright in the new edition of Hymns Ancient & Modern, and thus not available for The English Hymnal. So Vaughan Williams wrote his own.
Below on the left is the beginning of the hymn as it appeared in the first edition. The hymnal appeared in a second edition in 1933, and the image on the right is how it appears there. Ignore the difference in formatting: the textual variant is bb. 4-6.
|Source: cropped digital scans (600 dpi) of (L) The English Hymnal (OUP) 1906 ed., p. 826; and (R) The English Hymnal (OUP) 1933 ed., p. 832.|
I have wondered about this passage for years. This hymn is always in the service when I am on the organ bench on All Saints’ Day—or on the Sunday nearest to it. It appears in many American hymnals, some with the 1906 text (as I first came to know it), and some with the revised text. Why and when was the change made?
It is hard to date when it was changed, but earliest example I have found with the revised reading is another hymnal which RVW edited, namely Songs of Praise (OUP) which appeared first in 1925:
|Source: cropped digital scan Songs of Praise (OUP) 1925, p. 162.|
As to why the change was made, I can only suggest a possible reason. Over the first notes of the hymn are instructions:
|Source: detail of The English Hymnal (OUP) 1906 ed., p. 826.|
|Source: detail of The English Hymnal (OUP) 1906 ed., p. 828.|