Universalist composer

I’ve been looking through some shape-note hymnals, and came across this interesting tidbit in The Norumbega Harmony, in the introductory essay by Stephen Marini*:

“The greatest musical influence in Maine… was Supply Belcher…. Belcher’s primary successor was Abraham Maxim, a native of Plymouth County, Massachusetts, who settled during the 17090s in Turner [Maine], where he taught singing schools and converted to Universalism. Maxim’s Oriental Harmony (1802) and Northern Harmony (1805) reflect the [William] Billings-Belcher influence that thoroughly dominated Maine’s singing school tradition.”

Although he is little more than a footnote today, Maxim (b. 1773 – d. 1829 Palmyra, Somerset County, Maine) must be the earliest North American Universalist composer whose works survive today. The Norumbega Harmony contains two compositions by Maxim, settings of hymns by Isaac Watts. Both compositions are fuguing tunes (for the record, Buckfield, p. 166 is an L.M. tune; Machais, p. 169, is a P.M. tune), and a quick look reveals that both seem musically interesting. Universalist hymnodists and choirs, take note!

* Stephen Marini is the historian who wrote the ground-breaking Radical Sects of Revolutionary New England, a third of which book covered the indigenous Universalism of central New England; thus Marini knows his early New England Universalism. Marini’s other major scholarly publication is Sacred Song in America: Religion, Music, and Public Culture.

2 thoughts on “Universalist composer

  1. Dan

    StevenR @ 1 — Actually, singing either piece of music just as a straight melody line would be a little boring since what is most interesting is the four-part harmony, and the fuguing bits. To say nothing of the fact that I’m an OK ensemble singer, but I am definitely not a solo singer.

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