Hymns: classical or not?

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I’m tagging a lot of hymns performed by church choirs, basically anything that might be found in a church hymnal: SATB arrangements, music which might be “traditional” or “classical” or something else, often used with multiple lyrics, and lyrics which may be paired with multiple melodies, and equally esoteric sources: contemporary, “traditional”, scripture, translated from other languages. And lyrics and music weren’t necessarily written to go together, etc.

And there could be any combination of the above in a given album. This is the current example I’m dealing with: https://www.prestoclassical.co.uk/classical/products/8063177--abide-with-me-a-treasury-of-classic-hymns. Here’s another one I did a while back: https://beta.musicbrainz.org/release/c72d291b-65df-4fff-be90-81cddeb9b969

I always find myself scratching my head as to whether to treat these as classical or not, or if I’m going to decide track-by-track, how to approach that. The current example leans more heavily towards classical composers, but it would be nice to have a consistent approach.

Oh, yeah, and capitalization is a question, too. Hymn names are often written in sentence case rather than title case, and show up that way on the track lists.



I’ve had similar issues with Christmas carols. Some are traditional and some are composed pieces. I tend to treat them as classical, particularly if they are mostly composed. “Classical” is a rather unhelpful term, so I prefer to consider if the music ‘belongs’ more to the composer or the performer, even if the composer is unknown. That then translates to MB’s style for track artists. Similar considerations apply for much early music.
However, it is usual to treat folk music as “non-classical”, even though you could use the above argument for the opposite treatment!
When there is a mix on a release, it gets trickier still. This one - https://musicbrainz.org/release/393913a2-7fde-4ed5-8be6-ca5c2c0ccf0d - caused me some head-scratching and I’m still not sure it’s right.
Arguably, the whole classical style divide dates from when there was inadequate music software (and it has been debated at length) but to change to a unified approach would be a big ask.
Some thoughts from our style-meister?


Yes, Christmas carols are definitely a subset of this issue! There are several such albums that I’ve put off entering because I haven’t had time to sort through these questions for the various pieces.

Also, creating works is a headache because you often need one work for the melody add a subwork for the melody with those particular lyrics…

I’d generally look at who’s performing, and in which “tradition”, so to say. This one is a lot of classical-style choirs performing (I assume) in a classical style, so I’d treat it as classical. A Christian rock band performing rock renditions of them I’d credit to the band (but still link to the same works).


Thanks, that helps some. For the current one, it’s clearly meant to be classical and the composers are listed. What about cases where several composers/lyricists/translators are credited?

For instance, the track list here is all over the map: https://ia800801.us.archive.org/35/items/mbid-c72d291b-65df-4fff-be90-81cddeb9b969/mbid-c72d291b-65df-4fff-be90-81cddeb9b969-17057497515.png

I’m still wrestling with this. Among other things, I cringe over capitalizing titles when they’re deliberately not capitalized in context. I feel like that should be covered by the style guide somehow. It’s a very specific genre convention, not a random stylistic choice.

And the composers thing is still clear as mud, but less of an issue at least until I have the time and energy to create/edit all the relevant works.


If it feels out of place, don’t capitalise them. They’re guidelines, not rules. Also, there’s artist intent which could arguably be called here, if it’s a genre thing. “All artists in this genre capitalises this way, so this artist almost certainly intended to do so as well.” I have not used English capitalisation rules for a couple of releases I’ve added because it seemed obvious to me that the artist intentionally didn’t capitalise like this themselves.


Ok, that works for me. I’ll try to leave lots of comments as to why I’m not capitalizing.

Regarding works, how would you go about creating relationships for the various texts and tunes?

My impulse would be to create a parent work for the melody (as I see you did with Hyfrydol) and connect it to the various specific lyrics that have been used with it. Should that be a “based on” or a “version of” relationship?

Should there also be a parent work for lyrics? Take, for instance, Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus, which I was able to identify at least three different versions of: https://beta.musicbrainz.org/search?query=Come+Thou+Long+Expected+Jesus&type=work&method=indexed

(For what it’s worth, Hymnary does this really well, cataloging all the known uses of a particular melody, as well as all known melodies used with particular lyrics: https://hymnary.org/tune/hyfrydol_prichard)

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I’d use “based on”.

If you can confirm the same poem is the base for multiple hymns, you could certainly add it separately and also link it with “based on” :slight_smile: (I would generally not add it until it’s used multiple times just out of laziness, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with adding it separately either way, as long as it exists separately and wasn’t just written as lyrics for this specific hymn)