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A hymnodist is one who writes the text, music or both of hymns. Hymnodists have been in existence since at least the time of David, who was himself a hymnodist, as he composed many of the Psalms.[1]


Early Church and Middle Ages[edit]

Many hymnodists in the early Church gained prominence and achieved canonisation. Saint John of Damascus (c. 675 or 676 - 749) was noted for his work as a hymnodist; some of the most popular English hymns which are translations of his works include Come ye faithful, raise the strain and The day of resurrection, both associated with the season of Eastertide.[2]

Until the twelfth century, it was accepted that only men served the Church in this role. Saint Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) challenged this notion in the twelfth century, becoming the first woman to serve in this position.[3]


Many leaders of the reformation, including Martin Luther (1483-1546) himself, were hymnodists; Luther's work included A mighty fortress is our God and Christ Jesus lay in death's strong bonds.[4] Lutherans continued to compose hymns, and some of the popular hymnodists of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries included the three saints commemorated in the Lutheran Calendar of Saints on 26 October: Philipp Nicolai (1556-1608), [5] Johann Heermann (1585-1647),[6] and Paul Gerhardt (1607-76).[7] Michael Praetorius (1571-1621),[8] and Johann Crüger (1598-1662)[9] also gained renown as German Lutheran hymnodists of that era.

In the English-speaking world, the art of being a hymnodist was brought to prominence by the 750 odd hymns composed by Isaac Watts (1674-1748),[10] followed by the almost tenfold Watts' output composed a generation later by co-founder of Methodism, Charles Wesley (1707-88).[11]

Nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries[edit]

In more recent times, hymns have been written throughout the English-speaking world by American and Australian hymnodists as well as British ones. Major publishers include the Jubilate Group and Stainer & Bell in the UK, CanticaNOVA Publications, World Library Publications and Oregon Catholic Press in the USA, and Willow Publishing and Allans Music in Australia. Leading hymnodists have included Jubilate hymnodists Michael Perry (1942–96), Michael Saward (1932-2015) and Christopher Idle (born 1938), Stainer & Bell hymnodist Fred Pratt Green (1903-2000), other UK hymnodists James Quinn (1919-2010) and Brian Foley (1919-2000), French-American hymnodist Lucien Deiss (1921-2007) who was associated with World Library Publications, and Australian duo James McAuley (1917–76) and Richard Connolly (born 1927). Hymnodists born in the 1980s and 1990s, too, have already made significant contributions in the twenty-first century.


As a general practice, hymnodists celebrate the anniversary of the day they became a hymnodist (in other words, the date of the composition of their first hymn). The usual significant anniversaries such as 25th, 50th and 60th are popular, as well as the seventh (which is seen as representing a covenant between God and the hymnodist), especially amongst Catholics.

As hymnodists are not required to participate in a census of any kind, it is difficult to determine the average age at which a hymnodist begins; but it would seem that starting in the mid-to-late teens or twenties is common. One of the oldest people to start as a hymnodist was the Australian Sylvia Romer (born 1939), who was probably 62 years of age when she composed her first hymn in September 2001.[12]