THE SINGING CHURCH - an outline history of the music sung by choir and people. By C. Henry Phillips B.A., D.Mus., A.C.D.C.M. sometime Lecturer and Sub-Warden of the College of St. Nicholas, Chislehurst. First published in Mcmxlv by Faber and Faber Limited 24 Russell Square London W.C.1. - This edition prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2004.


Chapter 1 - THE ORIGINS

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Little authentic is known of the Christian Church in these islands before the year 600 and still less of its music. Christian church music as we know it was first brought to England, it is supposed, by the missionary Augustine (died 604), Towards the end of his life Augustine was sent by Pope Gregory with forty monks on a mission to England to convert the bulk of the population, who were not Christian, and to take the land under the aegis of the see of Rome. It is said that hearing of the fierceness of the inhabitants the party took fright and wished to turn back, but urged on by the inexorable pope they arrived in Thanet in 597. Augustine succeeded in getting a hearing and ultimately converted King Ethelbert who gave him a centre for his work at Canterbury. Here the missioner rebuilt an old church as Christ Church, now the cathedral. We can, from the results of the mission, infer that among Augustine's party were some few monks skilled in music, perhaps even old members of the pope's SCHOLA CANTORUM in Rome. The music they brought with them (in their heads, not written) came to us as an already developed art, which was the handmaid of an equally well-organised liturgical art. This importation of two arts used in the service of worship and first established at Canterbury spread rapidly, owing partly no doubt to the zeal of the missioners and musical experts but owing also, we may imagine, to the perennial English genius for absorbing foreign ideas. By 653 'James', Archbishop of York, was introducing the liturgy and chant to Northumbria and a hundred years later both of these Christian arts were firmly established everywhere.



Windows Media Player (MP3) Listen to the Mirfield fathers chant the Sanctus. Music details HERE.
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Veni Creator Spiritus

Some of the music of the Gregorian system is still sung in our churches. It is in no sense English, though English forms of it differed later in detail from the original continental importation. As a result of modern research, carried out by the monks of Solesmes working for the Roman Church and by the Plainsong and Medieval Music Society and private scholars for the Church of England, more of this music is finding its way back into our services after an almost complete disappearance during the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It is a matter of regret that the introduction of plainsong has become a matter of 'high' and 'low' church politics. [In the United States low and high churches alike use plainsong. On the other hand chanting the psalms is a sign of definite 'high' tendencies. There is no defence for such unmeaning fashions.] But as plainsong is sung, though with an English text, we must attempt a rapid description of the music; it will, however, be impossible to do this until we have studied briefly the liturgical system that it served. No attempt will be made to give a complete history of liturgiology. Instead, we shall seek to discover the principles underlying the structure of the services of the medieval system, mentioning the history only incidentally.