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1714 -1770


link to biography of George Whitefield

1707 - 1788

link to biography of Charles Wesley

O, Lovely Appearance of Death
(Fantasy on a Hymn Tune, by Mark Starr)

a hymn, arranged for voice and organ by Mark Starr
from an unaccompanied melody composed by Charles Wesley,
with lyrics by George Whitefield

A demo recording of this arrangement -- realized with digital musical sounds -- will begin to play automatically upon opening this page.  If you do not wish listen to it, please click on the STOP button (or the PAUSE button) on the media player, below. You may wish to adjust the volume on your computer to a more comfortable level.


The text of this morbid but eerily beautiful hymn was written in 1760 by the Reverend George Whitefield. It was specifically intended to be sung at his own funeral.

Rev. Whitefield (whose name was/is often misspelled as Whitfield) was born in Gloucester, England in 1714, and - significantly - died in 1770 in Newburyport, Massachussets. He was an itinerant Anglican minister who was one of the prime movers behind the Methodist Great Awakening, both in Great Britain and the British North American colonies. His evangelism and preaching played a significant role in the 18th C. American movement of Christian revivals. Like his contemporary and friend, Jonathan Edwards, he was a celebrity preacher - not unlike those we see on late-night television today. There are newspaper reports of him preaching before crowds of more than 20,000. This was in the days before microphones.

Whitefield was also a vocal advocate of slavery, and a slave-holder himself. His defenders write that he was benevolent to his slaves. They also claim his slaves were devoted to him.

In 1760 while in the American colonies, Whitefield wrote the text of a hymn, which began "O, Lovely Appearance of Death." He sent the poem to Charles Wesley, a co-founder of Methodism in Britain, and the composer of more than 6,000 hymns. Wesley set Whitefield's text to music. As far as I know, only the melody for this hymn exists. It was collected by Alan Lomax of the Library of Congress. If Wesley harmonized this melody, I have not found his harmonized version. I have harmonized the tune, which is in the Aeolian mode, in a manner reminiscent of both the Early American shape-note hymns and Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings.

Upon receipt of Wesley's tune, Whitefield directed that 'O, Lovely Appearance of Death' be sung at his funeral (which took place ten years later.) Soon after September 30, 1770 (the day of Whitefield's death, the hymn was indeed sung over Whitefield's corpse, after the delivery of 'An Elegy on the Death of the Rev. Mr. George Whitefield,' by John Holt of Bristol. The elegy, spoken ex temporare, began: "Lo! ere the stars their feebler twinkling lose..."

The Angel of Death, by Evelyn de Morgan

This hymn was made well-known in the 1960s, when sung by the incomparable Hally Wood.

Mark Starr's arrangement and setting, subtitled 'Fantasy on a Hymn Tune,' is dedicated to the victims of the Servant Girl Annihilators in Austin, Texas, 1885.

The sheet music for
O, Lovely Appearance of Death is available for perusal, audition, purchase, downloading and printing on the website www.sibeliusmusic.com.  The text can be read by examining the score.  Here is a link to the sheet music: