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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Life for a choirmaster during the eventful years after 1549 must have been varied, interesting and sometimes dangerous. The Englishing of the service caused little trouble in anthems and other such musical settings, but every present-day choirmaster will know that the congregation's part in the service and the psalms would present interesting problems; for upon the active participation of the people in the service the Book of Common Prayer had laid much stress. Even at the service without music this ideal was not easy to attain, at least in the parish churches, for it may be presumed that few of the people could read: hence, perhaps, the bidding before the general confession at matins and evensong, saying after me. [Which means, presumably, 'saying as I say.'] At the musical service the congregation, who before the publication of the first Prayer Book had been accustomed to join in very little of the service, would find itself still unable to sing in for example the psalms and canticles, or the creed and Gloria at the mass. It seems, indeed, possible that no one really did tackle this problem, either to provide a 'people's music' or to teach them to sing it; the congregation were indeed excluded from those very parts of the service which the Prayer Book meant them to undertake. It is only in recent years that their claim to sing their own liturgical parts of the services has been reasserted and music provided for them to sing, after their being denied their rights for three hundred and fifty years. During that period the problem was solved by providing them with something else, the true 'people's music' of the period - the metrical psalm and the hymn.




What little they could sing is to be found in a handful of books, which by their fewness in number, prove beyond doubt how little was done to tackle the question. Of these Merbecke's Boke of Common Praier Noted, 1550 [katapi ed: there's more about the BCPN HERE!], is the only real attempt to provide a solution. It was never re-edited to conform to later Prayer Books and is therefore negligible for the history of the period. There is nothing to show that the book was widely used or even influential, though we may surmise that its methods were those generally followed, at least in the priest's parts and the responses. In 1560, following the 1559 Book, Day's Certaine Notes gives simple four-part settings to parts of the mass and canticles and notes the psalms in the vague way Merbecke had done, but to a different tone. There was probably little change in the priest's parts and the responses before the Commonwealth, and this is corroborated by some interesting publications that appeared after the reinstatement of the church service in 1660 designed to remind and instruct those who were re-establishing the services. The first of these was Edward Lowe's A Short Direction for the performance of Cathedral Service, published at Oxford in 1661, which gives the preces, responses and litany as sung in pre-Commonwealth times and adds a version of Tallis' responses and litany as 'Extraordinary Responses upon Festivails'. [Edward Lowe (1610-1682), chorister under John Holmes at Salisbury. About 1650, organist of Christ Church, Oxford. 1660, one of the three organists of the Chapel Royal. 1662, Professor of Music at Oxford.] In 1662 two compilations of anthem words were published, one by Stephen Bulkley in York, the other being a collection of the words of fifty-one anthems as sung in Dublin Cathedral. These and the famous collection of the Rev. James Clifford entitled The Divine Services and Anthems usually sung in the Cathedrals and Collegiate Choirs of the Church of England, published in 1663, are valuable because they give the choir repertories during the first half of the century together with the earliest Restoration additions. [James Clifford (1622-1698). 1632, chorister of Magdalen College, Oxford. 1661, minor canon of St Paul's. He lived to be present at the opening of the new St Paul's in December, 1697.] They prove that it was not until 1660 that the sixteenth-century works dropped out of the cathedral lists, and as Clifford's collection contains the words of nearly four hundred anthems it may be taken as a careful and representative catalogue made no doubt by Clifford during his years of enforced idleness. In 1664 Clifford republished his work with additions containing 'Brief Directions for the understanding of that part of the service performed with the organ in St. Paul's Cathedral on Sundays and Holydayes'; in a second edition the chants for the psalms, Venite and Quicunque vult are given. By means of these books it is possible to piece together the history of the singing of the psalms, responses and other service music between Merbecke's book and 1650.


THE TRADITIONAL RESPONSES | You tube logo nicene creed (merbecke)

The setting of the responses given by Merbecke was a transcription and translation of the old method, to be sung in unison. [His preces differ from those used today, which date from 1662.] The reformed choirs, however, seem early to have shown a desire to be always singing in four parts - a disease still rife - and precentors and choirmasters probably made their own arrangements. Tallis is often quoted as the author of the usual harmonised version as sung today, [As published by the Church Music Society and the School of English Church Music.] though it is very bald and might have been made by anyone. It is possibly this version or something very like it, which was sung on all ferial days in cathedrals throughout the two hundred years following 1600. More ornate settings by sixteenth-century composers are extant, [Six Settings of the Preces and Responses by Tudor Composers, ed. Ivor Atkins and E- H. Fellowes. Obtainable at S.P.C.K. or O.U.P.] some using the plainsong version as a cantofermo, others adventuring into the realms of fantasy. That they were ever widely used is very unlikely, except for the Tallis set; they are choir pieces and though of little use in a parish church today can yet find their place in the cathedral service. Tallis' set with the plainsong in the tenor - often called the Festal Responses - has always been freely used in the English service on festive occasions, as we see in Lowe, and is perhaps best now retained for marking off certain seasons of the church's year. Sung as faux-bourdons by the choir with the people singing the plainsong cantofermo - after adequate rehearsal - they can no doubt sound effective; but elaboration of these parts of the service in the ordinary parish church is, truly speaking, hardly worthwhile. The method of singing responses has varied from a deliberate 'chanting', the usual plan up to the end of the last century, to a talking speed as commonly used today. In the old cathedral tradition the Tallis set was accompanied with a fairly full organ, but modern usage tends towards the disuse of the organ, so that the word-rhythms can have free play.


THE PSALMS | You tube logo psalm 51 (byrd)

Until the Commonwealth there were apparently three distinct methods of singing the psalms, in which we include the strophic canticles: they were sung to the plainsong tones, the less ornate tones and endings being usually chosen, as in Merbecke and Day, because they were better suited to an English text; they were presumably sung (as they had often been before 1549) to plainsong with alternate verses in faux-bourdon usually but not always founded on the tone as a canto fermo; finally, certain psalms, as for example, psalm 51, were given special verse by verse, chant-like settings. Byrd and others have left such settings; the composer usually scores the first few verses only, perhaps leaving to precentors and choirmasters the arranging of the remainder. The history of the three methods is far from complete owing to the destruction of choir-books during the Commonwealth, but the existence of three different ways side by side shows that the problem was at any rate tackled from all angles. The crucial difficulty at the time was not the actual fitting of English to music intended for a Latin text; it was a rhythmic difficulty brought about solely by the insistence of the choirs on singing in harmony. Harmony, especially at the cadence, creates accent and those who arranged the psalms for singing found, as we still find, that it is not always easy to get the word- and syllable-stress to coincide with the musical accent. In the plainsong tones the stress could be moved from one note to another or 'hanger' notes could be inserted where the words required it. In the harmonised versions of the tones there could be no such adapta?tions and a rhythmic scheme to fit all - or nearly all - contingencies had to be devised. The evidence (found in extant manuscript choir-books) shows that many schemes were tried; as, at the Restoration, two chants were singled out by Lowe and Clifford as being best known, we may assume that their rhythmic scheme had been found the most satisfactory. The chants are these:

example 37 (a) Christ Church Tune (midi file) (b) Christ Church Tune & Imperial Tune (midi file)

example 37a. example 37b.

The first follows the rhythmic scheme (shown by the addition of bar-lines in the modern manner) of Tallis' setting of psalm 2; its authorship is uncertain, Tallis and Batten both being suggested. The Imperial Tune is by Child. Both have the plainsong in the tenor and in both the first note of the plainsong - the reciting-note - is repeated in the following chord, a subtle device that enabled the singer to get in a subsidiary accent before the final accent at the cadence. However vague the history of harmonised chanting is between 1549 and 1645 it is at any rate certain that at the Restoration the general livening up of the service caused the complete rejection of all plainsong tones, the discontinuance of the faux-bourdon method and the joyful, carefree adoption of the rhythmic scheme of the Christ Church and Imperial Tunes. A spate of Anglican chants followed (some called 'Double Tunes' disregarding the structure of the psalms) and English chanting set out jauntily on its tortuous path. Not until S. S. Wesley, a premature pioneer, and after him the present generation, did anyone think of studying afresh the rhythmic principles involved. [See page 201. In Robert Bridges' Collected Essays (XXI-XXII), the whole question is skilfully dealt with both historically and theoretically in more detail than, is possible here.]