If the nonconformists found ritual an abomination they found in music - of a certain type - an indispensable aid. The modern street corner service, the negro revivalist meeting use music today to get at the hearts of those they seek to influence, and Luther (and Huss before him) appreciated the value of hymns. A hymn with its catchy melody, its easily remembered rhythmical text, could sum up succinctly some point of the Christian doctrine; teaching and pleasurable emotion were combined to lay siege to the hard hearts of man. Unlike the office hymn of the medieval church, the hymn-tune soon became the folk music of protestant congregations; it has remained the folk-song of most church-going people to this day. Indeed, for many nonconformists the psalm-tune and hymn might be considered as a substitute for the church priest - the legitimate avenue of approach for a man to his God. In a hymn the plain man can praise his God in simple words set to a simple tune. Luther, with psychological insight, took well known, well liked secular tunes (much as the Salvation Army does today) and set Christian texts to them. Why should the devil have all the good tunes? The result was an expressive medium which needed no trained choir for its performance; left with little or nothing to sing in the service according to the Book of Common Prayer, church-people in England, like their nonconformist brothers, took to hymn-singing as their own part of the service.
If the root and branch reforms in Germany allowed these new-fangled chorales to flourish, churchmen elsewhere were more conservative. Instead of making new texts for their hymns based on the Bible, those responsible in England, France and Geneva were content merely with translating the psalms into metrical verse, a fashion that had spread from Clément Marot's courtly French translations first published in 1542. Forced to flee from France, Marot worked on in Geneva and after his death Theodore Beza completed the translation of the whole psalter in 1562. Also working in Geneva with Calvin and Beza was Louis Bourgeois whose fine melodies were unknown until recently because they were set to words in uncommon metres. Robert Bridges in the Yattendon Hymnal [See page 211.] has provided them with equally fine texts and in this form Bourgeois has made his debut to modern congregations. Bourgeois had a contemporary worker in Claude Goudimel, hardly less famous, but in Bourgeois work we find a rhythmic resource and a melodic and harmonic grace that make him the Palestrina of the psalm-tune.
Louis Bourgeois (born about 1510). A native of Paris, he was in charge of the music at the Huguenot church in Geneva under Calvin from 1541. Imprisoned by his employers in 1551 on account of his musical innovations, and dismissed in 1557, when he left Geneva leaving behind him a psalter containing eighty-five tunes, many of which were his own, written to translations by Marot and Beza.
The fashion for psalm singing in this new way now well established, we see it in England spreading within the church, where the dividing line between churchmen and non-conformists was not yet well defined. The legality of singing these extra-liturgical products was questioned and finally admitted in 1559; the older office hymn (itself once the subject of legal controversy) was no longer sung. Thomas Sternhold had published in 1549 nineteen psalms, which after his death, were added to by the pen of John Hopkins and published at Geneva in 1556 in an edition with tunes. The book, following the custom of the time, had a Form of Prayer prefixed and was considered by its exiled devotees as a rival to the 1552 Prayer Book, already repealed under Mary. It was not, however, until many revisions had taken places that a Standard Edition was published in 1562 containing the 'Whole Book of Psalms Collected into English Metre' together with a large appendix consisting of prayers of all kinds, thus making the book a complete vade mecum for the running of the services. Musically the book was poor, as the ballad metre, 188.8.131.52, occurred frequently enough for one tune to do duty for many psalms; indeed, only one third of the psalms had 'proper' tunes.
From now on the Standard Edition was republished, added to, its tunes harmonised - first by Day in 1565 - and other tune-books provided by 'Damon', Cosyn, Este, Barley and Ravenscroft. The last's Psalter of 1621 became very popular and continued the incomprehensible oddity, first introduced by Este, of naming its tunes after towns and villages of the British Isles. Hitherto tunes were merely named after the psalm they were set to: the 'Old Hundredth' thus means the tune to psalm 100 in the Standard Edition, later called the 'Old Edition" to distinguish it from the 'New' Standard Edition of 150 years later. The Standard Edition did not exhaust the ambitions of psalm versifiers and many other collections were published, as those of Archbishop Parker [See page 32.] - a private translation of the whole psalter containing Tallis' celebrated 'canon' tune - and Sandys' 'Paraphrase' of 1636-8 with tunes by Henry Lawes. Such collections would be used only in private chapels or at family prayers 5 they are of interest to us as source books for good hymns. All People that on Earth do Dwell - tune- Old One Hundredth. King's College choir. Music details HERE.
After the Interregnum it was slowly felt that the old Standard Edition was played out. Playford's Psalms and Hymns, 1671, tried hard to reform the dull musical settings, but his Whole Book of Psalms, issued in 1677, merely proved that his first book had made no headway by pandering to the unskilled, for it set the tunes in three parts instead of four [See page 119.]. The time was ripe for a New Version, which was produced in 1696 by Nahum Tate, the Poet Laureate, and Dr Nicholas Brady, authorised by King William as an alternative book to the Standard Edition and renamed the New Version to distinguish it from the Old Version, as the old Standard Edition was now called. Henceforward the two books were used side by side. In both the tunes were undistinguished, though some solid melodies, like the 'Old Hundredth', have survived. There is in English hymnody of the time very little to compare with the inspired products of Luther and Bourgeois; England had not yet entered into its own, and the day of the hymn proper had not yet dawned.
The medieval office hymn was hardly a hymn in the modern sense; even if its tune were 'catchy' it was never intended to be heartily sung by a congregation, but was an artistic product. The modern hymn shows no verbal subtleties and its music, at its best, shows a mixture of the styles of a folk-song and a national 'anthem'. Words and music, if they are to suit a large and unskilled crowd of singers, need to be obvious, in the best sense, and *unsubtle. The origins are to be found less perhaps in the Latin office hymns than in the carols and other non-liturgical effusions used at pilgrimages, theatrical performances and other semi-religious gatherings. When the office hymns were cleared away by the zeal of the reformers the metrical psalms took their place. But by 1600 signs were already noticeable that a new form of spiritual song was coming to birth. Tucked away in the appendices of primers - manuals of private devotions - and compilations of psalms, hymns sporadically appeared, by which is meant devotional metric songs of a personal and generally non-scriptural type. If they had not the congregational feeling of the true hymn they were at any rate pointers at a time when the émigré's of Geneva discouraged any text not based on the Bible. Their verse was seldom content with the limping doggerel to be found in the average collection of metrical psalms emanating from Geneva or London, and has some little affinity with the fine work of its period - the age of Spenser, Shakespeare and Donne.
Here are two specimens of doggerel to be met in Este's Psalter of 1592:
O come and let us now rejoice
And sing unto the Lord,
And to our only Saviour
Also with one accord.
What man soever he be that Salvation will obtain,
The Catholic belief he must Before all things retain.
(Quicunque vult) 117
The first collection of such hymns was George Wither's Hymns and Songs of the Church, 1625, famous because not only might it be called the first hymn-book but its verses were given melodies and basses by Orlando Gibbons whose fine tunes have recently found a place in our modern books and make, a splash of colour amid the drab psalm-tunes of the Standard Edition. The hymns of Wither were the forerunners of greater work by George Herbert, the saint of Bemerton, Henry Vaughan, self-styled the Silurist, and the incomparable Robert Herrick, some of whose work was set in 1701 in Henry Playford's David's Harp New Tun'd by Blow, Clarke, Turner and Croft; the tunes are used today though the verses are too intimate and fanciful to be sung by large bodies of voices. Pointing more obviously in the direction of the real hymn are the famous morning and evening hymns of Thomas Ken, Bishop of Bath and Wells; though neither of these can be considered great poetry they show a solid worth which makes them suitable to be sung by a large congregation. We must also add the famous hymns contributed by Addison to the Spectator. It must be remembered, however, that none of this work was published with a view to congregational singing; its avowed aim was to help private devotion. It was left to Watts and the Wesleys not only to write hymns but to popularise them.
The modern hymn was, in fact, destined to be born outside the church: its cradle was Congregationalism. Of the nonconformist sects, the Presbyterians adopted in 1564 the Scottish Psalter, a book steeped in the Genevan dye and founded on the Standard Edition of two years before, and the Baptists discouraged hymn-singing in favour of the more scriptural psalms; the Independents, later to be called Congregationalists, published in 1694 their Collection of Divine Hymns, and it was this book which pointed the way to the work of Watts who began his ministerial career four years later and was destined with the Wesleys to create English hymnody.