Henry Cutler Brings English Tradition to USA Choirs

This is the day that Henry Stephen Cutler was born in Boston, USA, in 1824.

Cutler studied organ under A.U. Hayter, organist of Trinity Church in Boston, Massachusetts. In 1844, he went to Europe to continue his studies in Frankfurt am Main. While abroad, he visited many English cathedrals and be came familiar with their style of music.

He became famous as an organist, then as choir conductor, at Boston’s Church of the Advent, commencing there is 1852. It was here he introduced the first surpliced male choir in America, and was criticised for it! A surplice is a loose fitting ecclesiastical gown – what we might now call a choir-robe. “Some people considered using robes in a church service to be overly formal!” (Treasury of Great Hymns, by G. Johnson, page 278).

Not to be discouraged, Cutler was appointed organist/choir master at New York City’s Episcopal Trinity Church in 1858. And this time, in honour of a visit by the Prince of Wales, he had his choir clothed in “cassocks and cottas” (a short white linen or lace garment worn over a cassock).

Again it caused a stir … and is thought to have been the cause of the church members “voting him out” at the next meeting, although a different reason was given!

Cutler also played at churches in Brooklyn, New York; Providence, Rhode Island; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Troy, New York; and Newark, New Jersey.

Henry Cutler wrote the melody “All Saints New”, to which Reginald Heber’s words, “The Son of God goes forth to war”, is set in some hymnals.

Henry Cutler died on 5 December, 1902.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.