Questions for new edition of 1906 English Hymnal

I’m planning on doing a new published edition of the 1906 English Hymnal. It’s a personal (and very long-term) project borne of my love for English hymnody, especially RVW. I’m thinking cloth hardcover, swen binding, with premium paper.

I want to match the original edition exactly, or almost exactly. Here’s a screenshot of the first page:

Two questions:

  1. Where do you think I should draw the line in recreating a historical edition? Should I update the notation? Should I re-format the lyrics? I guess I’m asking what would be most valuable and widely desireable for this sort of edition. Should it be functional? Scholarly? To what degree should I replicate aspects of the layout and typography that we would consider a little primitive today?
  2. Assuming I lean towards a faithful reproduction, how would I accomplish the notation in the screenshot above?

I do plan on laying this out in InDesign using graphic slices. Open to any and all suggestions.

Way, way out of my comfort zone so I’m not really gonna weigh in, but James Grier’s The Critical Editing of Music: History, Method, and Practice addresses many of these issues and questions. I have a cheap ex-library edition I got on eBay:

Some of it is on Google Books here. You might find his thoughts on the matter helpful, but I think a lot of those questions probably only you can answer. I guess I would suggest examining what exactly is the purpose of your new edition, as opposed to a reprint of an existing edition. Is it creation of a usable performance text with modern semiotic conventions? Or accurate preservation of symbols, styles, conventions, etc.? The more you can clearly describe the purpose of the new edition, the more the answers to the questions might become self-obvious to you.

Good luck! Looking forward to seeing images of the finished product!


Thanks @FredGUnn, I will check that out! I guess that’s part of the question I haven’t fully answered. I don’t know what’s the best direction to go. I do know I have to land on that before I make a plan.

I’d love to hear from hymnologists and church musicians what they think would be best.


Having done a variety of similar things, I’d agree with @FredGUnn 's question: given that The English Hymnal exists, what purpose does your edition serve?

I wouldn’t needlessly recreate things that were simply an artefact of the process at the time. Or, to put it another way: If RVW had InDesign and Dorico, what would he have done?

At the same time, a revision of the music/text would constitute some kind of New English Hymnal (to coin a phrase), and if you’re trying to preserve the original in some aspect, then that’s not what you want to do.

I wouldn’t necessarily follow the page too closely; but I wouldn’t necessarily depart too far from either!

For instance, I did a “page-for-page” edition of some Stanford Evening Services: but I didn’t recreate the effect of the Novello moveable type. Because it’s terrible.


As an ex-church musician, I would personally value most an edition that made things as simple and clear as possible. Even if that meant moving away from the original typography.


Thanks. Is there a way I could emulate the quasi-chant notation in Dorico? I’d rather not use a 3rd-party program, but I will if it’s too cumbersome.

I should add that some of the other examples do have some more complex neumes.

@benwiggy would you keep the clefs and open noteheads here, for example?

I’m going to mull your questions over for a little while before more fully sharing my thoughts, but on this particular point, I think some updating could be helpful. Modern musicians (at least the choirs I’ve dealt with in America) seem to universally loathe the augmented notation of older editions. Halving note durations might be a welcome update.

In the case of chant-based pieces such as the image in your OP, I’d be tempted to use the black stemless notation commonly favored by chant accompaniments, such as the very famous Nova Organi Harmonia. This is a style very well known to organists, at least. You could keep the musical content the same but make it more approachable to a modern reader.

Another big pickle here is if you want your reproduction to really be used or not. The old style of music up top and words down bottom doesn’t really work very well, imho. Perhaps in traditional Anglican waters where everyone is steeped in this stuff from age 4 it works, but I cannot give scores like this to my choirs and expect them to sing from them without extensive rehearsal.

So my own inclination would be to update the notation and include verses like a normal hymnal.

But here we get far afield of merely reproducing the original.

If left to my own devices and actually intending its use, I would produce a left hand page with the text under neumes, and a right hand page in updated modern stemless notation with lyrics centered in the stave. Then one could either chant the melody alone from the neumes, or harmonize certain verses, and those would be presented in a way that was much easier for both the organist and choir to digest and sing with minimal rehearsal. This might sound blasphemous to actual Anglican musicians, but at least in my own conducting/directing experience, those changes would make the music a lot more useful and they would certainly speed up the rehearsal process.


The more I think about it, I think it’s not going to be primarily for practical use. It’s more of an homage to the 1906 edition, a recreation of it in a collector’s format. I do want to preserve both the notation and the page layout/pagination.

I guess the question is, do I preserve:

  • old clef styles
  • open noteheads
  • the handling of lyric blocks

I think I’ll make the page size slightly larger, which will give me the ability to recreate each page without having to resort to some of the clumsy layout oddities that used to be common. Those sorts of things aren’t worth preserving:


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Sorry, more questions:

  • Are there SMuFL fonts that will recreate the clefs and overall aesthetic? How far should I go with this?
  • Any suggestions for a text typeface that will capture the feel?

I certainly wouldn’t fill in the notes. They’re perfectly readable as minims and semibreves.

Personally, I wouldn’t bother trying to recreate that exact style of F clef. It’s not like RVW hand-picked that one from a range of available clefs.

In fact, there are some highly questionable engraving instances in EH, as I recall, which I wouldn’t copy verbatim. The slurs, particularly.

Well, there’s this…

It’s definitely some sort of “Modern” face, which was prevalent at the end of the 19th century – of which Century and its derivatives are close family members, though ‘not quite right’. It’s what I was aiming for with Nepomuk. Not so much contrast as Bodoni, and not too fat like Century. The numbers aren’t quite right, however.

I’ve used Monotype Modern for the drop cap, which probably isn’t the closest match, but it’s of the style.

You’ll probably need a different typeface for the hymn number, and the tune names are in a gothic sans, like Franklin Gothic (Demi).

Also: don’t include the famous mis-placed comma in “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, which has “where meek souls will receive him, still // The dear Christ enters in”. :rofl:

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Thanks! It’s taking shape in my mind now.

Chant Test Project.dorico (440.7 KB)

Thanks to @Romanos for this one.


If keeping the notation as is, I would gingerly suggest you don’t misalign the half and whole notes as in the downbeat of the first full bare of the Wareham example above. That’s very annoying and just looks wrong. Jury is out for me on the half-overlapping unison whole notes.

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Oh, totally agree. Yuck.

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Ralph and Foxy the cat agree.

Thank you both, @Romanos and @benwiggy, for the file. What do suggest for something like this?

I’m not sure if I just add them as custom PT… or… I don’t know. Some later ones use even more complex neumes. I don’t want to do them in a third-party online thing, because I don’t think I’d have control of spacing to make the neumes align with the music below.

All I can tell you are two things:
1.) I like having the chant notation above (I would just use a GABC editor to generate the chant line by line, and then manually edit the spacing in Affinity Publisher) and
2.) I utterly loath the notation of the organ part and would never want to play from it. I’d at the very minimum make them black note heads rather than the open white note heads. At least for the quarters and eighths. I genuinely suspect this was an idiosyncratic (or at least obscure) editorial choice at the time.

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Understood. This isn’t going to be an edition intended for normal use, though. It’s more of an homage to the original, just withoutthe typographical ugliness. The question, of course, is where to draw the line. But in my opinion, the open noteheads are a feature, not a bug.