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For the Beauty of the Earth

posted Aug 29, 2015, 5:27 AM by Steven Vaughan   [ updated Aug 29, 2015, 5:29 AM ]
Folliott S. Pierpoint was a classical scholar living a leisurely life in Bath, England when in 1864, the twenty-nine-year-old schoolmaster was mesmerized by the splendor of the English countryside. So he wrote “The Sacrifice of Praise” in Lyra Eucharistica, a book of Eucharistic Hymns and Poems intended for use during Communion. The original refrain "Christ, our God, to thee we raise; This our sacrifice of praise" was meant to mirror the portrayal of Christ's ultimate sacrifice – just as the host would be lifted during communion, a "sacrifice of praise" would be lifted in return.

Based on Psalm 33:1-6 and Psalm 95:1-6, later editions of this hymn further emphasized the thanksgiving aspect of the verses, which praise God for a host of beauties––things that we encounter in everyday living, but often fail to appreciate––the beauty of the earth and skies, the beauty of each hour, the joy of ear and eye, and the joy of human love. They also express thanksgiving for the church––and for Christ. By 1916 the publishers of Hymns Ancient and Modern modified the refrain and changed the title so it could serve as a more general hymn of thanksgiving in their hymnal.

The tune most widely used for it is the same one used for William Chatterton Dix's As with Gladness, Men of Old, a Christmas carol which had been written five years earlier. The tune is known traditionally as
DIX in deference to William Dix, although it was actually composed in 1838 by Conrad Kocher, a German organist and choirmaster who founded the School of Sacred Music in Stuttgart, which popularized four-part singing in Protestant churches.

John Rutter composed his own setting of the text, famously performed by St. Paul’s Cathedral Choir in London. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir recorded the traditional tune on their album Consider the Lilies. One of my favorites is a jazz piano version by Bradley Sowash. It was also sung in the 1994 remake of Little Women starring Winona Ryder and Susan Sarandon.