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.


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Mention of organs in Christian churches before the eighth century is scanty, though it is certain that instruments of the organ type with pipes and bellows together with sliders to admit the wind were known to the Jews and Greeks in pre-Christian times and were in use in the services of the early church. Contemporary writers would obviously mention or describe only the most famous organs, and bearing in mind that such organs were not perhaps always typical of their time, we may briefly mention some of them. An organ is stated to have been used in [the nun's church at Grado in Spain before 580; it contained thirty treble pipes, two to each note, and such a compass of four octaves was probably rare at the time. A similar instrument, possibly, was that set up a hundred years later by Pope Vitalian in a church in Rome. It is a certain Aldhelm who shows us, by referring to the Anglo-Saxons' custom of painting the front pipes of their organs, that organs were to be heard in England as early as the year 700. Fifty years later Pepin (714-768) set up in a church in Compiegne an organ sent by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine Copronymus VI, while in 811 or 812 Charlemagne his son had two organs in Aachen, one a copy of his father's and the other a gift of Haroun Alraschid, the work of a builder named Giafer. These stories seem to suggest that the Arabs and the people of Constantinople were as well advanced in the art of organ-building as they were in most musical matters and influenced the west in their organs no less than in their mathematics, alchemy, hymns and monastic ideals. It is interesting to find that England was always a good market for organs and during the tenth century Dunstan (925-988) set up famous organs with metal pipes in the abbey churches of Malmesbury and Abingdon. At the same period Winchester had the largest organ then known, a monster having 400 pipes, which suggests reduplication of notes in profusion so that, as customary at the time, the octave and fifth of the note played was sounded; its date coincides with the first experiments in organum where the earliest counterpoints moved in octaves, fourths and fifths with the canto fermo.



The instruments described above were all simple in type and incapable of being 'played' in any manner approaching present-day conceptions. Under each pipe was a sliding lath, which was pushed in to admit the wind and drawn out to silence the pipe. Most organs had two or more pipes sounding over each lath with no arrangement for shutting off any one rank of pipes. On the laths were marked the names of the notes, a device followed on the later keyboards, and few organs apparently contained more than seven or eight notes. These details are given in a treatise, De Diversis Artis, liber iii, written during the eleventh century by a monk who calls himself Theophilus and who also gives directions for cutting the mouth of the pipe to produce loud and soft tone; the principles governing the shape of flute-toned and diapason-toned pipes were apparently universally known. Such organs could be played possibly at the speed of the plainsong though one would imagine that their use as accompanying instruments would not help towards rhythmic elasticity in the singing.



At the end of the eleventh century two important innovations were applied to the instrument: the sliding laths were replaced by laths acting as levers which had to be pressed downwards to open the valve to the pipe - a much simpler operation for the player - while springs, probably made of horn, were provided to bring the valves and levers back to the closed position. The levers were attached to the valves by ropes and were ordinarily three to five inches wide and a yard or more in length, while they had often to be depressed as much as a foot; the player, now called appropriately pulsator, would certainly need to thump or at least to give the lever a strong jerk as at the present-day carillon console. Much quicker playing was naturally possible with this lever and spring action. During the years after 1100 organs were provided with more and more pipes sounding at various concordant intervals from the note marked on the lever, and thus the organ continued for three hundred years.



It was not until the fourteenth century that the new notes of musica ficta were added to the range of pipes; the Winchester organ of the tenth century had already contained pipes to emit the B-flat (the 'lyric semitone', as it was called) and now the F-sharp was added to help in Mixolydian cadences, then C-sharp for the Dorian mode, E-flat to provide another lyric semitone for the Lydian mode and last of all G-sharp to give Aeolian cadences. The octave now contained twelve notes, the levers for these new pipes being placed a few inches above those for the diatonic notes so that the performer could knock down the diatonic levers with his wrist, his fingers operating the new notes of musica ficta. Towards the end of the century another experiment made it possible to enlarge the compass of the organ without having a console of unwieldy dimensions: this was the roller which allowed the levers to be placed in any desired position and not as hitherto directly under their own pipes. By this means the pipes could be posted on the soundboard in any convenient arrangement and more widely spaced - which is better acoustically - and from now on we find the familiar V arrangement of the pipes; the organ no longer had all its weightier pipes at one end. [It should be noted that with organs all tuned to an untempered scale the notes of musica ficta - C-sharp, E-flat, F-sharp, G-sharp and B-flat - were not equivalent to D-flat, D-sharp, G-flat, A-flat and A-sharp, which latter set of notes never entered into the minds of composers until the wild and daring experiments of such men as Dr John Bull in the seventeenth century.]



It is clear that such organs as these could hardly have been used to play music in more than two parts (the wrist and fingers were used rather as the heel and toe ends of the shoe in modern pedalling), but they were doubtless employed to accompany the early attempts at harmonised singing and may even have given would-be composers an opportunity of finding new effects to be tried later with voices. Their clumsy levers must, however, have made even simple improvisation difficult and it is perhaps significant that noticeable advance in the technique of composition was made after the key-board had become more manageable in the following century. The tone of the organs before 1400 must have been a little wearying as no one had yet invented any device for shutting off any one rank of pipes.



During the years between 1400 and 1500 the modern organ was born. By 1500 the console of levers had become a keyboard with the sharps on the same 'manual' as the naturals (though still a little above them), the keys - thanks to the roller - becoming small enough to be operated with the fingers of the performer and being covered with black and white material in the reverse order of present-day keyboards. As the keys approximated more and more to the modern width so the compass of the keyboard was enlarged from one octave to four up from F at the foot of the bass stave. Often below this F a pipe for C was added played from the E key next below, a device later extended to include all the diatonic notes below F and known as the 'short octave'. Nor was appreciation lacking for the effective use of the low notes of the organ; pipes of sixteen- and even thirty-two-foot pitch were made on the continent while as early as 1418 an organ was built having an octave of pedals with its own sixteen-foot pipes. But in most organs having a pedal board the pedals were merely attached by ropes to the manual action and thus worked as if on a modern organ one drew 'Great to Pedals' and had no pedal stops drawn. [Village organs can still be found in England which do the same, though the coupling is not made with rope.] In passing, it is extraordinary to note that pedals did not appear in English organs until 1790, three hundred years later. The invention and application of the spring-box made it possible to shut off any rank of pipes and thus indirectly caused experiments to be made in altering the shapes of the various components of the pipes to produce new timbres: by lessening the scale or diameter of the diapason pipes string-tone was produced, and the stopped (stoppered) diapason gave another new timbre; tapering the pipes gave the Gemshorn type of tone and reeds like the trumpet and vox humana appeared. By 1500 the organ begins to assume a modern look with its black and white keyboards, its pedalboard, its stop levers, symbolic of a rich variety of tone-colour, and its pipes stacked on the soundboard in V shape.



This, then, is the type of organ that served for the accompaniment of the services during the Reformation period. Such organs were built by itinerant builders - a necessity at the time in such a profession - and on similar instruments, but without pedals (though not without sixteen-foot tone) Byrd and his contemporaries performed. Many of the cathedrals had two organs, 'the great orgones' and 'the small orgones', which may possibly have differed in pitch for accompanying voices of either tenor or bass compass, the former being naturally the larger and more important instrument of the two.  There is, however, very scanty information about English organs during the Reformation period and it is not even certain whether the settings of services and anthems were accompanied or not. What look like organ scores exist; the use made of them is doubtful but no doubt any accompaniments there may have been merely reduplicated the voice parts. In the verse anthems which appeared before 1625 the accompaniment is in most cases intended for strings; it is not clear what conclusions may be drawn from the fact. What is certain is that the post of accompanist or organist was often shared among as many as three or four persons in the cathedrals and Royal Peculiars, which suggests that it was not considered a very important element in the musical establishment. The only reliable early English specification extant is that of the organ set up in the 'P'isshe of Alhalowe, Barkyng, next ye Tower' which was only a small instrument consisting of three stops, a diapason and 'dowble principalls throweout', and built by one Anthony Duddyngton in 1519. Tonally it seems unenterprising when compared with continental organs of the same date in churches of equal importance, but it is unwise to make further comparisons with such a lack of evidence. A hundred years later in 1606 the organ built by Dallam for King's College Chapel, Cambridge, contained two manuals and a 'shaking stoppe' which again was not a large organ for the time, since by 1560 the two manual organ with pedals at St. Mary, Lubeck, had a third manual added and by the end of the seventeenth century had on the Great thirteen stops, on the Swell fourteen, on the Choir fifteen and on the Pedal fifteen. The English organs were probably conservative in tone, relying mainly on diapasons with some contrasted softer stops, and not carrying much mutation work.  Reeds were familiar enough in the continental organs and in the regals, - small portable instruments - but seem to have been little used before 1600. Perhaps here, too, the hand of the more zealous and Calvinistic reformers showed itself. If accompaniments are used today - as in verse anthems - it will therefore be in keeping to confine them to flue-work for the most part with a sparing use of sixteen-foot tone.




A New History of the Book of Common Prayer, Procter and Frere (Macmillan, 1901-1932). The Background of the Prayer Book, C. S. Phillips (S.P.C.K.). Cranmer's First Litany, 1544, and Merbecke's Book of Common Prayer Noted, 1550, J. Eric Hunt (S.P.C.K., 1939). (The last is an attractive' book of facsimiles with a summary of recent research in these subjects.)


English Cathedral Music, E. H. Fellowes (Methuen, 1941), which in chapters 1-9 sums up all that is known about the period. The English Madrigal, E. H. Fellowes (O.U.P., 1925), which though outside the subject gives the background of secular and cathedral music-making under the Tudors with plenty of illustrations of contemporary documents, etc. Voice and Verse, H. C. Colles (O.U.P., 1928) deals with the questions involved in setting words to music. William Byrd, E. H. Fellowes (O.U.P., 1936). Orlando Gibbons, E. H. Fellowes (Oxford, 1925). The prefaces to the volumes of Tudor Church Music (O.U.P.), are full of useful matter. For the study of the technique of composition of the period, the following should be consulted: Contrapuntal Technique of the Sixteenth Century, R. O. Morris (O.U.P., 1922).

Counterpoint and Harmony, E. C. Bairstow (Macmillan and Stainer and Bell, 1937). (Relevant sections only.)


Services: Byrd:  Masses in three, four and five parts. 2nd, accompanied Service. 3rd, Short Service in five parts. 103 Gibbons: Short Service, in F. Tallis: Dorian Te Deum.

Anthems: Byrd:  Ave verum corpus. Miserere mei. Christe qui lux. Justorum animae. Sing joyfully. O praise the Lord, ye saints above. Haec Dies.

Gibbons: O Lord, increase my faith. Almighty and everlasting God. This is the record of John (accompanied). Almighty God, who by thy Son (accompanied). Hosanna to the Son of David. O clap your hands together (eight-part).

Morley: Nolo mortem peccatoris.

Mundy: O Lord, the maker of all thing.

Philips: Ascendit Deus. Cantantibus organis.

Redford: Rejoice in the Lord.

Tallis: If ye love me. O Lord, give thy Holy Spirit. Salvator mundi.

Weelkes: Let thy merciful ears. Hosanna to the Son of David.