Alps vs Rockies, what do you think?

Alps vs Rockies, what do you think?

Hymn #35 -- "For the Strength of the Hills"

Text: Felicia D. Hemans (1793-1835);
      adapted by Edward L. Sloan (1830-1874; LDS)
Music: Evan Stephens (1854-1930; LDS)

Whenever I see or hear this hymn, the first thing I think about is my Bishop back in San Jose, CA. Sterling Hill and Judy Hill lived right around the corner from us, which, for those of you who've never lived outside of Utah, is rather a cool thing for an LDS family outside of the Mormon bubble. When Sterling became the Bishop, I remember someone saying they needed to program this hymn more often because for a time, his wife was the Relief Society President too and they basically ran the ward. We were all riding on "The Strength of the Hills," literally. 

And though Hymn #35 finds itself among the range of other Rocky Mountain majesty hymns, this one's actually about the Alps. Ha!

Felicia Hemans wrote her text about the mountains in Switzerland. She was not LDS and died in 1835. She surely had no idea about the Mormon movement. Her hymn was adapted by Edward Sloan and "Zion" started popping into the text to replace the Alps.

The adapted text is very similar to the original. The music composed by Evan Stephens is also similar to the original music composed to accompany the Hemans text by C. Sylvester Horne.

This hymn used to be part of the old Choir section of the hymnal but found its way to the 1985 hymnal after some small changes.


I really enjoy this hymn. I hope it makes the cut. It's well crafted, it's got oomph, and the mountain scaling start to the 2nd line is so much fun to sing! Unfortunately, that same part is usually the pianist or organist's biggest challenge. 

The melody has an excellent rise and fall shape throughout. That 2nd line is one of the most enjoyable Ti to Do resolutions. 


Apparently, the 3rd line used to be for women only and the 1985 committee added men's parts in this spot. I'm so glad they did. Just sopranos and altos in that spot would totally spoil the hymn. Though, the addition of those men's parts did cause a parallel 5th between the "-rael" of "Israel" and "To." But as it occurs on the last chord of a phrase which goes to the start of a new phrase, which start is reverting back to where the line started in the first place, I don't mind this parallel. You don't really hear it the way you hear other parallel 5ths.


My other favorite bit is the D-flat in the last line. It turns the 1 chord into a dominant 7th chord which wants to resolve to the 4 chord. We've discussed the technique before. Remember? This is something best saved for the end of a piece to give it either a bit of muscle, as is the case here, or as a pastoral feeling that moves to the 4 chord before returning home to 1. We don't really get the pastoral feel here because of the tempo and the full singing. But we do get the sense of a power move towards the final cadence. 

And then there's that gift to the altos in the 2nd to the last bar. Their own little 4-note solo. That makes for some happy altos!

What a great one. Like I said, I sure hope it makes the cut. And if the committee feels that it's too strong a reference to mountains, the maybe another text can be found to use with this music. It's too good to lose.

That's all for today. I hope you have a good one! 


P.S. If you'd like to see my detailed and complete harmonic analysis of this hymn, just click the button below.

P.P.S. If you'd like another pair of eyes to see your hymn or primary song, I'd love to help you. Just click below and apply for a hymn critique. I'd love to help you make your submission as strong as it can be.

Commentary from "The Bench Warmer"

by Jason Gunnell, Organist

I think this is a wonderful hymn full of energy and vigor. Lest anyone think the hills and mountains referred to herein are about Utah, the author of this text had likely never heard of the church or of Utah (she passed in 1835) and is referring to the Vaudois Mountains in Switzerland. I love the message of this hymn and hope that it is retained.

This hymn can be a beast for the organist, especially for those who are newer to the instrument or haven’t had the opportunity yet for more focused study and lessons. It is fast, and there is that giant pedal scale in the second stanza (though you are given a big reprieve in the third stanza, with only two notes in the pedal to worry about!). This exuberant hymn I think is happiest at around 116 beats per minute. That may seem fast, but really gives it a kick to be energetic about it. Gives great impetus to get on the bench and practice. It is definitely worth it! Returning to the big pedal scale, if you aren’t quite feeling up to it, you could use pedal points to emphasize the the harmony. On beat one of that measure, you could play a B-flat , holding it till beat 3 and going down to an A-flat, holding it to beat one of the next measure and playing G on beat one and returning to the normal harmonization on beat two, moving to the bass C. If you were to do this, I would still try to play the written bass line in your hands, keeping the hands as smooth as possible. Thinking of solutions to spots that might be difficult for some organists, I am reminded of a question that was proffered yesterday about how skill level and playing ability would impact registration and tempo considerations, and I am still grappling with that question. I think it is worthy of more extended, independent treatment, but it is always worth practicing and seeking to improve in our abilities! And I can no more worthy effort to engage in that mastering the King of Instruments! That being said, I would definitely be very strong and robust with my registration, with principal chorus through Mixture, taking the high mixture off for the inner verses, and adding more for the final verse.

Registration Starting Point:
Great: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Mixture
Swell: Principal 8’, 4’, 2’, Larigot 1 ⅓, Mixture, Flute 8’ if needed (Hautbois ?)
Pedal: Principal 16’, 8’, 4’, Mixture, Bourdon 16’, Flute 8’Sw/Gt, Sw/Ped

Possible Final Verse Additions:
Great: Mixture, Trumpet 8’
Swell: Mixture, or this Trumpet 8’
Pedal: 16’ Reed maybe a 32’ Reed