History of Hymns: 'The Lord's Prayer'
By Alan Moser
“The Lord’s Prayer”
Music by Albert Hay Malotte
Text based on Matthew 6:9–13
Worship and Song, 3068
Our Father, which art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil,
for thine is the kingdom, and the power,
and the glory forever. Amen. Amen.
The first three repeated notes of Albert Hay Malotte’s (1895–1964) setting of “The Lord’s Prayer” are among the most recognizable in church music. Although settings of this text from Matthew’s Gospel (vv. 9–13, KJV with added closing acclamation) are numerous, Malotte captures both the intimacy of its petitions and the concluding grandeur of soaring praise before returning to a quiet “Amen.” Sung settings of the Lord’s Prayer are not new to church hymnody. Hymnals have long included the prayer set to Gregorian chant, an unmetered syllabic melody by John Merbecke (c. 1510–c. 1585), and multiple versions of the German hymn, Vater unser im Himmelreich. In contrast, rhythmic compositions on this text from churches in the Caribbean (see The United Methodist Hymnal, 271) and Latin America enliven the prayer. In Worship and Song, this setting joins three others in addition to those in The United Methodist Hymnal (1989).
The composition was first published as a vocal solo in 1935. Congregational arrangements of Malotte’s “The Lord’s Prayer” have appeared in hymnals since 1976, when Fred Bock (1939–1998) arranged it for Hymns for the Family of God, a collection he edited. According to Hymnary.org, more than two dozen hymnals include this composition in various arrangements.
Composer Albert Hay Malotte, a well-known concert and theater organist and a composer in the Disney organization in California, dedicated his setting of The Lord’s Prayer to his friend, American baritone John Charles Thomas (1891–1960). Thomas first recorded it in 1934 and introduced the solo on the radio (Oursler, 1953, p. 10). His original recording is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Efmuvo0OGHM.
Varying accounts exist concerning the origins of Malotte’s composition. One tells of a runaway choirboy pleading for train fare home and contemplating the words he knew from church in rhythm with the sounds of the train around him (Oursler, 1953, p. H5). Another tells of Malotte stepping into a church and praying for guidance before writing his setting. When asked why he set The Lord’s Prayer to music, Malotte replied, “You can’t answer a question like that intelligently—it came from within” (Thrapp, 1952, p. B2). Another part of the tale of this setting’s creation follows the success of some of Malotte’s other compositions. He is reported to have asked an actor friend, “What would you think if I wrote music for The Lord’s Prayer?” His friend’s doubtful response led to his statement of conviction that he wanted to do it because “I feel so grateful to God” (Oursler, 1953, p. H10). Regardless of the song’s origins, it has been a success.
Malotte was born and raised in Philadelphia, where he was a choirboy in his father’s choir at St. James Episcopal Church. In addition to singing, he took piano and organ lessons from the church organist, Dr. William S. Stansfield, FRCO, FAGO, and later studied in Paris with Georges Jacob (1877–1950) (Kimberling, Malotte, n.p.). He also was mentored by Victor Herbert (1859–1924). After moving to Hollywood in 1927, Malotte operated a short-lived school to train theater organists. He composed film scores for the Walt Disney organization and is credited with creating the music for eighteen Silly Symphonies, including “Ferdinand the Bull” and “The Ugly Duckling.” He also composed ballets, musicals, and popular songs. Malotte’s sacred music, in addition to “The Lord’s Prayer,” includes an oratorio, “The Voice of the Prophet,” and vocal settings of the twenty-third and ninety-first Psalms and the Beatitudes (Kimberling, Malotte, n.p.). Albert Hay Malotte suffered a cerebral hemorrhage in 1962 and died at his Hollywood home in 1964, following a period of ill health (“Malotte Dies,” 1964, n.p.).
The arrangement of “The Lord’s Prayer” in Worship and Song is by Richard Huggins (b. 1948?). Mr. Huggins is a Southern Baptist music arranger, producer, and editor. Now retired from a career in church music, he was an accompanist at four Billy Graham Associate Crusades in the 1980s (Davis, 2020, n.p.).
Since its introduction, Malotte’s “The Lord’s Prayer” has become the most popular vocal setting of this text (Yieh, 2018, p. 39). Many artists have recorded it, ranging from concert and operatic stars to popular singers, country and gospel singers, and solo instrumentalists. Recordings by Marilyn Horne (b. 1934) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qHFvZqLcLVQ&list=RDqHFvZqLcLVQ&start_radio=1&t=0) and Denyce Graves (b. 1964), singing at the 2001 Service of National Prayer and Remembrance at Washington National Cathedral following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnsO3BBMjA0), along with Mr. Thomas’ original recording, all closely follow Malotte’s published score. Recalling a master class presented by Ms. Horne, Robert S. Clark recounted her explanation “that every fledgling singer has to rely on weddings, funerals, and other church services for support in the early stages of a career, and that the Malotte warhorse is a staple for them.” Clark went on to cite her revelation “that she always closed the song with two ‘Amens’—‘you see, I began my career by singing a lot in Hollywood’” (Clark, 1997, p. 489). Thomas and Graves also sing two “amens” in these recordings. Mr. Huggins has similarly adopted this practice in his arrangement.
In addition to solo performances, Malotte’s setting was particularly well-known as a staple of the choral repertoire of the Billy Graham crusades—as in this 1963 example from the Billy Graham Los Angeles Crusade Choir (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07-58xFH8Yw) (at minute 14:15)—and was invariably sung as an opening prayer by the Fellowship Choir of the Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church of Chicago on their broadcast services with Pastor Clay Evans (1925–2019), the “What a Fellowship Hour.” An example can be found at the four-minute mark in this video of a 1999 service: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dfbsKKoGDfA.
In addition to the vocal solo arrangements in several keys, choral settings in different voice combinations, keyboard solo settings, and instrumental, ensemble, and orchestral settings are also available. The G. Schirmer company originally published Malotte’s “The Lord’s Prayer” and continues to hold the copyright. It is clear from the range of recordings and editions available that Malotte’s work can be performed in many different styles and voicings and with great leeway in interpretation. A representative of publisher G. Schirmer reported that “including the many different arrangements of the work, it continues to sell many thousands of copies every year” (Kimberling, Lord’s Prayer, n.p.).
Worship and Song includes “medium-low” voicing in B-flat Major, the most commonly used key for congregations because of the vocal range of an octave plus a fifth (B-flat to F). The accompaniment has been simplified somewhat, reducing parallel arpeggios at a distance of a fifth or sixth to a single arpeggio with added doubling of the melody line. At the beginning of the petitions for sustenance and forgiveness of our sins (“give us this day . . . as we forgive our debtors”), Huggins’ arrangement changes to triple meter instead of compound triple meter as in Malotte’s original score. The accompaniment becomes homophonic until reaching the word “debtors,” when triplets are reintroduced on each beat, leading to the reestablishment of the compound triple meter. During this triple meter section, rhythms that were originally triplets become eighth-note patterns, removing a sense of syncopation found in the original version. The meter then remains as in Malotte’s score to the end. Throughout the arrangement, many of the interpretive markings found in the original score have been omitted, such as dynamics, tempo markings, and certain fermatas (measures 15, 36) (measure numbers refer to Huggins’ arrangement). Instrumental interludes between phrases in the original have been omitted either by lengthening a cadential note (measures 10, 12) or by simply omitting the measures and compressing the melody (measures 4, 18, 26, 38). As previously mentioned, a second “Amen” is added. One other textual change is made from Malotte’s original: the substitution of “on earth” for “in earth” in measure 14. Notwithstanding the modifications, Mr. Huggins has maintained the sense of drama and grandeur of the original score.
Robert S. Clark, “Music Chronicle,” The Hudson Review 50, no.3 (Autumn, 1997): 487–490.
“Composer of Lord’s Prayer Music Dies,” Los Angeles Times (1923–1995); November 17, 1964 (ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Times p. 22).
Jason Davis, “Baptist Roots Run Deep for Musician and Baptist Village Resident Richard Huggins,” The Baptist Messenger of Oklahoma (9 September 2020), https://www.baptistmessenger.com/baptist-roots-run-deep-for-musician-and-baptist-village-resident-richard-huggins/ (accessed January 23, 2021).
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Dan L. Thrapp, “Composer Tells of Guidance Prayer: It Seemed Natural Thing to Do When Writing Music for ‘The Lord’s Prayer,’ Malotte Says,” Los Angeles Times (1923–1995); March 22, 1952 (ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Los Angeles Times p. B2).
John Yieh, “Lord’s Prayer,” in obo in Biblical Studies, https://www-oxfordbibliographies-com.proxy.libraries.smu.edu/view/document/obo-97801953933611/obo978-195393361-0138.xml (accessed January 21, 2021).
Alan Moser is Director of Music at St. James’ Episcopal Church at Mount Vernon, in Alexandria, Virginia, where he has served since 2013. Previously, he served in the U.S. Navy, retiring as a captain in 2004, and in the defense industry, before returning to school to obtain degrees in organ performance and church music at Northern Virginia Community College and Shenandoah University, respectively. Currently he is a candidate in the Doctor of Pastoral Music program at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, where he studied hymnology with C. Michael Hawn.