Home History of Hymns: "The Gift of Love"

History of Hymns: "The Gift of Love"

"The Gift of Love"
Hal H. Hopson
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 408

Hal H. Hopson

Though I may speak with bravest fire,
and have the gift to all inspire,
and have not love, my words are vain,
as sounding brass and hopeless gain.*


Among the most prominent New Testament texts is the discourse on love found in I Corinthians 13. Hal H. Hopson has paraphrased part of this beautiful text in what has become one of the most popular late 20th-century hymns, appearing in many major hymnals published in the U.S. since 1980.

Mr. Hopson (b. 1933) is a native of Mound, Texas, and now resides in Dallas. He has an international reputation as a clinician and composer, and has published more than 1,300 compositions. On any given Sunday, one can probably hear an anthem published by Mr. Hopson in churches across the country and beyond. Few composers can claim such a wide exposure.

After receiving his bachelor's of music from Baylor University and master's of sacred music from the Southern Baptist Seminary's School of Church Music in Louisville, Ky., he held music posts at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tenn., and Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church in Dallas. In addition, he has taught at Westminster Choir College, Princeton, N.J., and Scarritt Graduate School in Nashville.

Mr. Hopson has received numerous honors for his compositions, perhaps the most notable being the selection of his cantata, "God with Us," as one of the few compositions chosen by a panel at the Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C., to be placed in a time capsule during the American Bicentennial in 1976. The capsule will be opened at the Tercentennial in 2076 as a representative piece of American choral composition of the 20th century.

Festivals, workshops

Mr. Hopson has conducted choral festivals and workshops in this country, Europe and Asia. More recently he has been included in The International Who's Who in Music, Cambridge, England, and awarded the title of National Patron by Delta Omicron, a professional fraternity of musicians.

Mr. Hopson is a champion of congregational song. Of special note are his contribution to responsorial psalm settings and new hymn tunes. The United Methodist Hymnal contains two of his most popular tunes, THE GIFT OF LOVE and MERLE'S TUNE.

"The Gift of Love" first appeared as a very popular anthem in 1972. Both the text and the music are effective paraphrases -- the text of I Corinthians 13:1-3 and the melody as an adaptation of the beautiful folk melody "O Waly, Waly." The original tune was collected by American folksong specialist Cecil Sharp and published in his Folk Songs from Somerset (1906). The original melody in triple meter has served as a hymn tune in many British publications.

The United Methodist Hymnal editor Carlton Young notes that, "Hal Hopson's adaptation of the melody for his quadruple-meter anthem, 'The Gift of Love,' in 1972, is unique and very singable with the composer's interesting, flowing accompaniment."

Most popular

"The Gift of Love" is very flexible and, according to Hope Publishing Co., is Mr. Hopson's most popular composition -- widely used as an anthem, solo and as a hymn.

In a note to this author on the popularity of his hymn, Mr. Hopson said: "The first 'Gift of Love' was a two-part choral arrangement. Years later, at the suggestion of [editor] George Shorney at Hope Publishing Company, I cast it in a form to be used as a congregational hymn. Since then it has become a standard hymn to be included in many hymnals. It is noteworthy that The United Methodist Hymnal, 1989, was the first hymnal that included 'The Gift of Love.' I was once surprised to be introduced at a seminar as the Gift-of-Love-Man."

*(c)1972 Hope Publishing Company, Carol Stream, IL 60188. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Dr. Hawn is professor of sacred music at Perkins School of Theology.