Notes on Amazing Grace – Fairmount Strings

Notes on Amazing Grace

by Rachel Segal, Photo of Jennifer Higdon by J. Henry Fair

First heard by the public on New Years Day, 1773, the original hymn “Amazing Grace” was written by former slave ship captain and slave trader John Newton, later ordained by the Church of England. It was published in 1779 but wasn’t heard in the United States until the early 19th century, and was set to the now-famous tune of “New Britain” in 1835. The irony that a famous spiritual was penned by a former slave trader is not lost on us. This is a piece that can easily move a listener to tears without knowing why, and its history of catharsis may be unmatched by any other piece of music.

Jennifer Higdon’s deeply personal and moving setting of Amazing Grace is not what you would expect from a piece written in 1998. Originally composed as part of the larger vocal choir work Southern Grace, the string quartet version was arranged for the Ying Quartet. A lush and classically tonal theme and variations, it moves through different tempi without pause, creating a feeling of inertia and momentum, until it finally comes back to rest in the coda.

Jennifer has given me permission to include that this was the first piece of music she wrote after her younger brother’s death, and it still holds both solace and grief for her.

A short documentary on the history of Amazing Grace:

Kind Words

Friday evening’s performance…by the members of the Fairmount String Quartet was splendid…the playing was expert to the point of perfection.

Michael Caruso, Chestnut Hill Local

From more classical music to fun contemporary songs, Fairmount Strings knocked it out of the park.

Alison F., bride

We are so grateful that Fairmount Strings made our wedding day vision come to life. 

Jocelyn G., bride

The quartet was magnificent and so very professional. One guest said the setting and the quartet made the ceremony storybook!

Joanne F., Bride

Last night the audience told you so well what I am trying to put into words now. Thank you for an unbelievably beautiful concert!

Alice Nugent, Candlelight Concerts at Laurel Hill

The beautiful sound of your music will stay with me always. It was simply stunning and made our day feel like a fairy tale.

Julie & Tom B., Bride and Groom

Adding to their laurels — professionalism, intuition and timeliness, we look forward to many future musical endeavors with the Fairmount Chamber Ensemble.

Kevin O’Malia, Director of Music, First United Methodist Church of Germantown

I made a point of standing off to the side in the back of the church to listen. It was….well….perfection.

Chris C., Mother of the Bride

It is such a privilege to work with musicians of their caliber who are so genuinely committed to supporting the growth and development of our students.

Stephen Kushner, Director of Choral Music, Germantown Friends School

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for your beautiful performance, which helped to make the vision and dream I had for my daughter’s wedding day come true.

Jeanne B., Mother of the Bride

They are wonderful musicians, easy to work with, and deliver performances of consistently high quality.

Clair Rozier, Director of Music, St. David’s Episcopal Church

Sheet music background image.