It has been stated before that “of all artistic endeavors . . . music may justly be named as the first to claim divine support and prophetic direction for its development in the fledgling LDS church.” Mormonism began developing its own tradition of hymn writing and collection almost from the outset of the organized church. How this tradition of compiling hymnbooks has developed over the years and resulted in the current hymnbooks is something fascinating, and can yield insights that impact how we approach the hymnbook today. This the first in a series of posts highlighting the official hymnbooks of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
From very early on, Mormonism has reflected a tension between adopting hymns from other Christian faiths and relying on distinctly Mormon hymns. The initial confirmation that music was to be used in worship services at all came in an 1830 revelation, directed at Emma Smith. It declared that: “It shall be given thee also to make a selection of Sacred Hymns as it shall be given thee which is pleasing unto me to be had in my Church for my Soul delighteth in the song of the heart yea the song of the heart righteous is a prayer unto me.” Interestingly, this revelation did not specifically indicate that new, uniquely Mormon hymns needed to be sung, only that Emma was given authority to indicate which hymns were proper to be sung in the Church of Christ.
The process of producing unique Mormon hymns was initiated by William Wines Phelps, an editor of a political newspaper who converted to Mormonism in 1831. In 1832, a Church council ordered “that the Hymns selected by sister Emma be corrected by br. William W. Phelps.” These corrections were doctrinal edits to Protestant hymns, some of which were extensive enough to render the hymns virtually a different text altogether. They were published in the church’s newspaper, The Evening and Morning Star. By early 1833, Phelps moved on to composing and publishing original hymns for use in the Church. Finally, in 1835, the First Presidency of the Church directed that “a selection of sacred hymns” was to be prepared for printing through a joint effort on the part of Emma Smith and William Phelps.
The overriding philosophy presented in the preface of the hymnbook they compiled was to collect hymns that were “adapted to their faith and belief in the gospel.” Of special importance were the topics of “glorious resurrection” and the Millennial reign of Jesus Christ. The hymns also emphasized the literal gathering to and building up of Zion and it included hymns for use in various religious settings, such as hymns sung at evening family gatherings, baptism, sacrament meetings, and marriages. About half of the hymns used in the 1835 hymnal were adopted directly from Protestant Christian sources, while the rest were written by Mormons, including Phelps’s “corrected” and original hymns.
The 1835 hymnbook, though small, provided the basis for future Mormon hymnbooks. It laid the foundation of both collecting fitting hymns from the broader Christian tradition and uniquely Mormon hymns together in one place. The majority of the hymns in the book made their way into the next generation of hymnals, which served as the basis of future hymnbooks in both main Mormon churches. Even today, 26 of the 90 hymns included in the original 1835 hymnal are still in the current LDS hymnbook, including several favorites like “The Spirit of God”, “How Firm a Foundation” and “Redeemer of Israel.”
Examples of Hymns:
“Earth With Her Ten Thousand Flowers” is one of the 26 hymns from the 1835 hymnbook that are still included in the LDS hymnbook today. It is shown here in its original format in the 1835 hymnbook—text only, with a meter indicated (P.M. means particular meter or peculiar meter). When it was time to sing, it would generally be indicated what tune the hymn would be sung to and which verses were going to be sung.
“The Spirit of God” was the final hymn to be written for and included in the 1835 hymnbook. It served as the anthem of sorts for this period of Church history, recalling the dedication of the House of the Lord in Kirtland, Ohio and the Pentecostal outpouring of spiritual gifts that accompanied it. Shown here is the first time the hymn was paired with music in a small collection compiled by Carter Little and George Bryant Gardner in Bellows Falls, Vermont during 1844.
“My Soul is Full of Peace and Love” is one of the hymns that is not included in the current hymnbook. It does display the millennial fervor that is common in many of the hymns found in the 1835 hymnbook. Displayed here, it is paired with the tune used for “Praise God, From Whom All Blessings Flow.”
 Terryl L. Givens, People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 118.
 “Revelation, July 1830–C [D&C 25],” p. 35, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed September 21, 2017, http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-july-1830-c-dc-25/2
 “Minutes, 30 April 1832,” p. 26, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed September 21, 2017, http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/minutes-30-april-1832/2
 See Michael Hicks, Mormonism and Music: A History (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1989), 12-14.
 “History, 1838–1856, volume B-1 [1 September 1834–2 November 1838],” p. 612, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed September 21, 2017, http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1838-1856-volume-b-1-1-september-1834-2-november-1838/66
 “Collection of Sacred Hymns, 1835,” pp. [iii-iv], The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed September 21, 2017, http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/collection-of-sacred-hymns-1835/5