Fanny Crosby vs. G.F. Handel

We started this little competition on Ash Thursday with 32 saints. After today's vote, the field will have been whittled down to 16 remaining saintly souls. But in order to get there we must first make it through the Battle of the Bands as Fanny Crosby faces G.F. Handel. Who will retain the last seat in the Saintly Sixteen before the music stops? Well, that, as always, is up to you.

Yesterday, in the tightest race of Lent Madness 2017, Sarah the Matriarch barely laughed away a valiant challenge from Elizabeth Ann Seton 51% to 49%. See, what have we been saying all along? Your vote counts!

Fanny Crosby

Fanny Crosby wrote more than eight thousand sacred texts in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Referred to as the Queen of Gospel Song Writers, she is arguably the most prolific author of American hymns and gospel songs.

Born in 1820 in Brewster, New York, Fanny caught a cold as an infant and developed inflammation in her eyes, which resulted in full-scale blindness. She would later remark, “It seemed intended by the blessed providence of God that I should be blind all my life, and I thank him for the dispensation. If perfect earthly sight were offered me tomorrow, I would not accept it. I might not have sung hymns to the praise of God if I had been distracted by the beautiful and interesting things about me.” Around her fifteenth birthday, Crosby enrolled at the New York Institution for the Blind, and she began to write hymns and gospel songs.

Crosby attended multiple churches, including an Episcopal church, but she is most closely identified with the Wesleyan Holiness movement. She formally joined Cornell Memorial Methodist Episcopal in 1887. Her hymn texts became so popular that composers of that era would seek her out to find lyrics for their melodies—a reversal of the typical hymn-writing process. Her best-known text, “Blessed Assurance,” was written in this way during a visit to Phoebe Knapp’s home after Crosby heard the tune for the first time.

Crosby described her hymn-writing process by saying, “It may seem a little old-fashioned, always to begin one’s work with prayer, but I never undertake a hymn without first asking the good Lord to be my inspiration.” Crosby could often write six or seven hymns a day, rivaling the output of prolific hymn writers Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley.

While known as a hymn-writer, Crosby was committed to helping others, often donating the proceeds from her writing to rescue missions around New York City. Known as “Aunt Fanny” by the numerous missions she contributed to around the city, she died in 1915. At her request, her tombstone reads: “Aunt Fanny: She hath done what she could; Fanny J. Crosby.”

Collect for Fanny Crosby 
O God, the blessed assurance of all who trust in you: We give you thanks for your servant Fanny Crosby, and pray that we, inspired by her words and example, may rejoice to sing ever of your love, praising our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

— David Sibley

G.F. Handel

George Frideric (or Frederick) Handel was born on February 23, 1685, in Halle, Germany. Handel showed a propensity for music at an early age. However, his father forbade him from dabbling in music, dreaming instead that his son would one day become a civil attorney. Handel did not listen. It is said that Handel (or his mother) smuggled a small clavichord into his room, and he practiced in secret.

On a visit to see his uncle (who was a valet for a duke), Handel surprised the duke with his skills on an organ. The duke persuaded Handel’s father to allow his son to continue studying music. Handel rapidly mastered the pipe organ, harpsichord, oboe, flute, and violin. That mastery led to a prolific writing life that included 42 operas, 29 oratorios, more than 100 cantatas, trios, duets, arias, chamber music, a large number of ecumenical pieces, odes and serenatas, and 16 organ concerti.

Handel initially struggled to establish himself, beginning his career as a church organist and writing pieces that are lost to the world today. Then he became a violinist, supplementing his income as a music teacher. His fame began to grow when he transitioned his main instruments to the organ and harpsichord. Following stints as a musician, he began a foray into composition. His first operatic debut, Almira, was wildly popular. Following two more operas in Hamburg, Handel became dissatisfied with the German music scene. He traveled to Italy and ultimately made his home in London.

He was commissioned to write an oratorio about the Bible, and in 1742, Handel’s Messiah debuted on the New Music Hall Stage in Dublin, Ireland. Often considered Handel’s most famous work, Messiah is frequently classified as Christmas music, out of a mistaken belief that it commemorates Christ’s birth. Messiah was in fact written as an ode to all of Christ’s life—annunciation, nativity, passion, and resurrection—proclaiming salvation for all who believe.

Handel died on April 14, 1759. At the time of his death, Handel was completely blind. His life was celebrated in a state funeral with full honors at Westminster Abbey. Handel is honored with a feast day in the Episcopal, Lutheran, and Methodist churches on July 28.

Collect for G.F. Handel
Almighty God, beautiful in majesty and majestic in holiness, you gave to your musician George Frederick Handel grace to show forth your glory in music: may we also be moved to sound out your praises as a foretaste of your eternal glory; through Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

— Anna Fitch Courie

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Fanny Crosby—Unknown Artist, Public domain, Project Guttenberg
G.F. Handel—Balthasar Denner, CC0 via Wikimedia Commons


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317 comments on “Fanny Crosby vs. G.F. Handel”

    1. I also voted for Handel. As a professional soprano, I was challenged many times in learning his florid and breath-defying arias. Much as I love JS Bach, it is Handel who leads me to God via his music.

    2. I was struggling with this choice...but our local college just did a production of Jesus Christ, Superstar, so that swayed me towards Handel.

    3. Fanny J. Crosby was a good person; Handel, not so much according to my retired music prof. spouse.

  1. Scott, or Tim, or anyone who knows,
    My wife would like to start voting in Lent Madness, but we have only one email address. Is it okay for both of us to vote from there?

    1. Just open a new email account at yahoo or gmail. Just use it for this (or junk mail). You can close it after Lent.

      1. You don't need an email address to vote unless you need to subscribe to get daily reminders to vote. I just go to & read the post of the day & look at the comments & vote.

    2. Harlie, I can't speak for the SEC, but I think two votes from the same household is understood to be a family-type vote. My hubby and I have done it before...

      1. Ahh, but at least in my parish, most Episcopalians didn't start out that way; our church is refuge for many that have left other denominations, looking for solid faith without dogma and judgementalism. When I highlighted Fanny Crosby at Morning Prayer last year, a former Baptist and a former Presbyterian started singing Blessed Assurance from memory!

  2. Grew up singing Fanny Crosby's hymns and playing Handel's music. Tough choice! I'm going with Fanny.

    1. I feel the same way Nancy. They should have been seeded #1 in different brackets. To have this as a first round match up is a violation of the 8th Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

      1. This is really a difficult choice for me. "Blessed Assurance" was my father's favorite hymn but then I started singing "Messiah" when I was 15 years old and have sung it every year since and I am now 76! I finally chose Handel, hard as it was!

      2. Totally agree!!! After much thought - I mean it!! - Handel won out. Could not desert him. 🙂

          1. This captures my feelings exactly. But in the end, Handel's Messiah (and other oratorios and court music) embodies the fullness of God's beauty expressed in music for me. It is one of the pinnacles of Christian art, by which I mean all truly great art, but it also has our Lord as its direct inspiration. I like several of Crosby's hymns, and I don't want to put down those who find them very meaningful, but their theology often isn't very good at all, and for me they are the embodiment (though not the pinnacle) of sentimental Christian kitsch, which ultimately I don't think is beneficial. Handel it is.

          2. This captures my feelings exactly. But in the end, Handel's Messiah (and other oratorios and court music) embodies the fullness of God's beauty expressed in music for me. It is one of the pinnacles of Christian art, by which I mean all truly great art, but it also has our Lord as its direct inspiration. I like several of Crosby's hymns, and I don't want to put down those who find them very meaningful, but their theology often isn't very good at all, and for me they are the embodiment (though not the pinnacle) of sentimental Christian kitsch, which ultimately I don't think is beneficial. Handel hands down.

    2. I am right there with you! I voted for Fanny. St. Fanny has a nice ring to it!

      1. Same here. A difficult vote, but I went for Fanny Crosby: she did what she could and her piety is a fine example prayer in action.

    3. Yes it was indeed a tough choice. I love Hadel's Messiah & Israel in Egypt, two masterpieces! However the hymns of the church are such a part of who I am and Blessed Assurance opened my heart to Christ over 50 years ago! Had to go with Fanny.

    1. Yes it was Handel for me. Where're would church music be without him? Handel all the way!

  3. I voted for Fanny, to raise the recognition level of her gifts and ministries. We sing many different songs to the same purpose.

  4. So not fair pitting 2 musicians against each other in Round One! I voted for Fanny although I'm a huge fan of Handel.

  5. My vote goes to Aunt Fanny. I had never heard of her before this write-up and admire her dedication and spunk despite her blindness.

  6. I am glad to learn about Fanny Crosby, a progenitor of American "roots music." She also struggled with disability. But I cannot turn away from Handel, whose grand mastery gave us "Messiah." Handel, Bach, Haydn, Mozart are an Alps range over which to pass could take a musician a lifetime, and be well worth the effort. "Great was the company of the preachers." Crosby was one, but I will vote for the master, and I will remember Crosby's admonition to begin all projects with prayer. Thank you, Fanny. Today I will vote for Handel. I didn't vote for St. Cecilia, but today it's music all the way.

    1. Agreed. Handel it must be....anyone who can compose such beauty to honor all the aspects of Christ's life wins my vote. I looked up Fanny for more info.... recognize none of her hymns, alas.

    2. Ah, St Cecilia, you express my thoughts perfectly! I hope that I may quote you today in my daily facebook page comment on the Lent Madness choice.

      1. St Cecilia, the patron saint of music, was in our bracket a week or so ago. My name is Celia, very simply, but yes you may quote my words if they speak to you. (Unless, however, you were talking to the real St Cecilia, in which case I am, alas, a poor substitute, however much I love music.) Blessings to you, this Lent.

      1. I'm curious to know where an Episcopalian would come upon Fanny Crosby hymns. As far as I can tell there are nine in the Hymnal 1982 and were none in the Hymnal 1940. (I'm not sure as I'm not at home and don't have the books with me.) I think there might be some in LEVAS, now I think of it. But Blessed Assurance seems not so much a part of our tradition that it would occur to one daily.

        1. Go Diana. Another wonderful way to start the day singing the song for every church musician! Well done and perfect! "Alle...." WHOOPS!

        2. Many Episcopalians have come from other traditions- bringing Fanny's gifts to us. If you ever served in a nursing home- for sure you sing from Fanny's hymns.

        3. This lifelong Episcopalian came across Fanny Crosby in seminary: CRDS/BH/CTS/SBI in Rochester, NY. The multidenominational worship was just what I needed. "This is my story..."

        4. I checked both the 1982 and 1940 Episcopal Hymnals and there are no listings for Fanny Crosby, which is a bit sad. There are numerous other 19th-C American hymns and settings, but none of hers.

  7. It isn't unusual that the 2 pitted against each other are both significant in completely different ways, but today's are especially so. I voted for Fanny Crosby, because her attitude blows me away, but if we were voting for the music, it would have to be GFH.

    1. I'm with you there! I admire her "heroic virtue." She spent her days loving and adoring Jesus despite (or maybe because) of her disability. She used everything she had. Love, love ,love Handel but his gifts seemed more naturally endowed.

  8. My bracket is beyond busted. Devastated that St. Elizabeth Ann Seton lost yesterday. All my favs except Stephen are out. Augustine of Hippo? Joan of Arc? Cecelia (my name sake)? Reverse psychology...I should vote against my favorite today to assure that my fav wins cuz that's how my bracket has been working. Vote I will!

    1. I, too, am devastated and a bit miffed at yesterday's vote as well. If you have a question that might sway your vote, see if you get an answer before you decide! Too many people concerned about St Elizabeth's children did not read the articles and answers posted. Then there were those who wouldn't vote for her because she switched don't vote for Luther or Calvin or St Paul, or anyone who who was originally not a Christian/ Lutheran, /Episcopalian ...all indigenous peoples,etc?? And again, *read* your Biblical authorities about literal vs legendary information!! Sarah was a horror because of her 'treatment of Hagar' - and yet 'she laughed' when she found out she was pregnant at 90 got hundreds of votes ?? Come on, people! I truly GET sentimental votes (parents or kids with same names or going to a church with same name, etc. but that is upfront and always clarified.) I call for a do over! MEANTIME, onward for today's vote!!

      1. I feel heartbroken for Hagar. I think she deserves her own place in next year's brackets.

  9. Blessed Assurance v. For Unto Us a Child is Born, etc. Hard choice, but I went with Fanny since George has inspired me but Fanny has consoled me deep down in my soul in so many times of trouble.

    1. Carolyn - you echoed my thoughts perfectly. Cradling my daughter (when she was a babe) --- in the pew at a time of loss --- driving alone in LA traffic --- Fanny's hymns have carried me.

  10. It was another tough choice today, but I am voting for Aunt Fanny because before she began her work she offered up prayer.

  11. Big fan of Handel, Also sang some of Fanny Crosby's hymns growing up. But being a music history geek my vote goes to Aunt Fanny: she actually wanted to write hymns but GF really wanted to write operas.

  12. "Now we see the violence inherent in the system!"

    After all the indignities that you, Lent madmen, have foisted upon me, why must I -- a cradle Southern Baptist -- suffer this cruel and heartless decision. It's not as if Ms. Crosby ever asked to be an Episcopal saint. Alas, though, Handel (who actually did worship in the Church of England, at least) is my all-time fav, and his Messiah the cream among us oratorios. I know what I must do, but I do it with a heavy heart, resting solely upon Christ's blessed assurance.

  13. Handel was a musical genius whose Messiah has brought joy to untold people around the world. As a retired worship leader, however, I found Fanny Crosby to be a real help in bridging the gap between died in the wool traditional hymn lovers and the crazy contemporaries that I identify most with. When our church held a joint traditional/contemporary service I leaned heavily on her body of work for a "middle of the road" blended worship experience.
    I've often been driving and will catch myself humming some of her hymns. I guess you could say I'm a fan o' Fanny.

  14. Well, this has been, for me, the most difficult choice, by far! Two such amazing contributors to the music of God's praise! But Fanny Crosby had me at "Blessed Assurance", which my beloved Baptist Grannie used to hum or sing at least once per day in my childhood! Now I have an earworm that's no bother at all, at all!

  15. Wow, tough choice! How fascinating that by the end of their lives, both of these geniuses were blind. I sang and played Handel's music in high school, and who doesn't get shivers listening to "Messiah"? But I'm voting for Fanny, because her story is little-known (I'd never heard it), and because she amazingly managed to bless God for her blindness, and devoted herself to faith and good works. As a woman, she had an even tougher row to hoe than did Handel. Although I expect Handel to win, and I'm sad that Elizabeth Ann Seton lost the last matchup, I'm hoping that Fanny Crosby makes it through.

  16. Though there is little in Handel's bio (or that I know from other sources) that suggest deep Christian devotion, I have to vote for him if only because more often than not come December, I get to stand and sing, "Comfort ye" after the Overture to "Messiah" has been played. One of the joys of being a tenor, no matter how many times you've done it.

    1. According to "Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers" by Patrick Kavanaugh "(Handel) was a devout follower of Christ and widely known for his concern for others."
      "At church he was often seen 'on his knees, expressing by his looks and gesticulations the utmost fervor of devotion.'"
      "A few days before Handel died, he expressed his desire to die on Good Friday, 'in the hopes of meeting his good God, his sweet Lord and Savior, on the day of his Resurrection.'"
      "His close friend James Smyth wrote 'He died as he lived--a good Christian, with a true sense of his duty to God and to man, and in perfect charity with all the world.'"

  17. Blessed Assurance is my dad's favorite hymn, and Ms. Crosby penned some of my favorite hymns. Gotta go with her!

  18. Handel, for heaven's sake! His music is glorious and filled with scripture. On many Sundays when one of the lections is read, all I can hear is Handel's setting from "Messiah." I remember sitting in the choir loft on a Saturday afternoon with my mom rehearsing "I Know That My Redeemer Liveth." I've been blessed with the opportunity to sing several of his areas over the years myself--Christmas, Easter, funerals.... Handel has brought me much joy and comfort all my life.

    Fanny, on the other hand... I'm glad she found a way to make sense of her blindness and live with it. But blaming it on God? That's terrible theology!

  19. A tough choice. Handel makes my soul soar, but Fanny is like the fishermen Jesus called. Simple people who led unassuming lives and heard the call to cast their nets for Christ. Fanny's hymns have probably snared many lives for Christ in much the same way.

  20. For Fanny Crosby and George Frideric Handel
    Tune: Engelberg Hymnal ’82, 420 When in our Music God is Glorified

    In music from the heart we glorify
    The God of heaven and earth who is our Light.
    For Fanny and for George we’d like to sing
    The A-word – but it’s Lent!

    Aunt Fanny knew her call was writing hymns.
    Her heart was open though her eyes were dim.
    And with our thankful prayers we’d still proclaim
    The A-word – but it’s Lent!

    His father thought his music was a waste.
    But God had given him a holy gift.
    His music raises hearts and we would sing
    The A-word – but it’s Lent!

    To God who sang all that exists to life.
    To Jesus whose song led to sacrifice.
    And to the Spirit Wind of life we’d sing
    The A-word – but it’s Lent!

    1. Oh, Diana, you almost made me spit out my coffee, laughing! "The A-word -- but it's Lent!" Hilarious!!!!

    2. I love the last verse - the imagery of God singing everything to life will stay with me! Thank you.

      1. Check out the "creation" story in the first chapter of JRR Tolkien's "The Silmarillion"--it says much the same thing, breathtakingly.

        And once again,will somebody please give Diana a medal?!!!?

      2. The idea of God singing all of Creation is not original with me. I borrowed it from C.S. Lewis (The Magician's Nephew) and suspect he was also the recipient of the gift from someone else. It is an image that has captured my heart and imagination and filled me with deepest gratitude.

      3. Read The Magician's Nephew the 6th (in order of writing) book of The Chronicles of Narnia. It has a beautiful description of Aslan singing Narnia into being!

  21. Handel, not only for his many compositions on sacred themes, but also for his generosity to the Foundling Hospital and other charities.

  22. Tough choice for a choral singer who equally enjoys singing the classics and old-time gospel hymns. But I had to go with Handel, not just for The Messiah but many other glorious oratorios on biblical themes. One of my memorable singing experiences was "Esther" with a combined choir from an Episcopal church and a synagogue.