Sacred Music at Yale before the ISM

Timothy Dwight’s Yale was, as Yale had been since 1701, a school for the training of Christian ministers. President from 1795 until 1817, Dwight was a patriot who had been the chaplain of General Putnam’s camp, a place commemorated more than one hundred years later in Charles Ives’s Three Places in New England. Timothy Dwight believed that as much of the education of ministers took place in the chapel as in the classroom: his interest in sacred music was powerful (as was his voice), and he edited a collection of Watt’s psalms for the Connecticut Congregational churches, appending a collection of 264 hymn texts, an unheard-of number, in a service book for that denomination. He was an outstanding preacher and wrote a book of sermons, designed for use over the course of two years, for the Yale chapel. Perhaps he would have agreed with Thomas Troeger that the singing of hymns is one of the best ways to “knock loose the debris of verbosity that often clogs a preacher’s spiritual springs.”

The education of all undergraduates in Yale College continued to be shaped throughout the nineteenth century by the practices of earlier times: daily chapel services were mandatory, as was the Sunday service, which slowly decreased from the six or seven hours in Timothy Dwight’s time. Singing of hymns by all, and of anthems by a student choir, was regular practice, although the organ was forbidden until mid-century. In Gustave Stoeckel (1819–1907), who had been a church musician in his native Germany, Yale acquired an energetic organist, choirmaster, and leader of the Beethoven Glee Club, the forerunner of Yale’s famed singing association. Stoeckel taught both in the College and in Yale Divinity School. He secured the funding for Yale’s Department of Music, founded in 1890, and served as the first Battell Professor of Music. Formal study of music at Yale, which eventually led to the foundation of the Yale School of Music as a professional graduate school, and the continuation of the Department of Music within Arts and Sciences, entered Yale through the door of the chapel.

Prior to the turn of the last century, in the very year that Gustave Stoeckel’s name no longer appeared on the faculty list of the Divinity School, a church musician named John Griggs gave a series of ten lectures at the Divinity School, accompanied by the undergraduate Charles Ives. The Divinity School hired musicians to teach its students, while Horatio Parker and other teachers in the Department of Music taught some of their courses with divinity students in mind. Hymn playing and singing remained a part of the Divinity School curriculum, with Henry Hallam Tweedy, professor of homiletics and an accomplished musician, as instructor in this subject. He was also the resident liturgiologist, and took professional interest in the history of Christian architecture. Tweedy’s role in instructing Divinity School students in liturgy, music, and the arts was part of a long tradition, to which the teaching of his contemporary, Charles Allen Dinsmore, who taught courses in religion and literature, also belonged.