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 19 - CHOIR MUSIC


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Under the Stuarts the choir at St Paul's which had contained thirty 'gentlemen' was whittled down to contain only six vicars-choral, and Bumpus [Bumpus, A History of English Cathedral Music, vol. 1, page 92.] quotes an anonymous manuscript in the British Museum showing that choirs were depleted so that the existing singers could obtain a living wage by compounding the salaries or in some cases to line the canon's pockets. Possibly a rise in the cost of living cut into the resources of endowed bodies who always suffer first under economic stress. Be that as it may, choirs were certainly becoming smaller during the years before 1645. The suppression of the church service saw the complete disappearance of choirs; as a hundred years before at the dissolution of the monasteries, the singers were turned loose on the world and there followed during the Cromwellian period a reawakening of secular music-making.



The Puritans were opposed to music only in church; Cromwell himself was keen enough on music to take down the organ in Magdalen College Chapel, Oxford, and have it re-erected for his own amusement at Hampton Court Palace, while rumour has it that he was fond of Bering's Latin motets. But cathedral libraries were ransacked and destroyed - not too thoroughly, it seems, for later research workers have found a fair amount of Elizabethan work - and the organs forbidden to be used - the puritan burghers of Norwich destroyed their cathedral instrument with furious zeal - so that after eleven years of silence a good deal of reconstruction was necessary. Many clergy and organists must have retired to spend their time brooding over lost traditions or, more positively, making notes on the old services with the aid of an illegally hidden Book of Common Prayer; not so Dr Child who optimistically busied himself with writing anthems against the expected return of the monarchy.



At the Restoration men like Child, Lawes and Christopher Gibbons returned to their posts at the Chapel Royal only to find that they themselves belonged to a past age. As Tudway reports:

His Majesty, who was a brisk and airy Prince, coming to ye Crown in ye flow'r and vigour of his Age, was soon, if I may so say, tyred wth ye grave and solemn way, and ordered ye Composers of his Chappell to add Symphonys, &c., with Instruments to their Anthems, and thereupon established a select number of his Private Musick (i.e. band) to play ye Symphonys and Ritornelles which he had appointed. ... The old Masters, Dr Child, Dr C. Gibbons and Mr Lowe, organists to his Majesty, hardly knew how to comport themselves with these new-fangled ways. ...

In the choirs themselves problems not only of personnel but of the forgotten service came to the fore. Some of the newly appointed lay-clerks would be re-established old members of the choirs, some of the younger ones may have been choirboys in the old days, and others would undoubtedly be newcomers. [In the newly formed Chapel Royal choir only five men remembered - or thought they remembered, perhaps - the old methods of singing the service.] The chief trouble was of course the absence of any tradition among the boys, for a good choir cannot be made out of raw boys in under three years. At first the verse-anthem, already evolved as an art form before the Commonwealth, became a necessity and a fashion for it was recreated. As late as 1664 a cornet [The cornet (or cornett), judging from cathedral account books, had often been used, as it was later in the Bach cantatas, to double the melody. As a contemporary, Randle Holme, says:

It is a delicate, pleasant wind musicke, if well played and humered.

Its compass was two octaves up from D at the foot of the treble stave.] (not the modern brass instrument but a treble-compass wooden instrument with a cup mouthpiece) was used in Westminster Abbey to supply missing or inadequate parts. In the Chapel Royal Captain Henry Cooke was appointed Master of the Children. His dynamic energy soon bent itself to the task of re-establishing the choir on the lines of military discipline. By reviving an old privilege he managed to stock his choir with the best boys in the country - they were taken to London willy-nilly for 'the service of the King' - whom he made into the most distinguished choir of boys ever got together. As well as having a fine voice Cooke was a knowledgeable musician and an excellent teacher, and knew it - Pepys calls him a 'vain coxcomb' - so that in a short time his boys were writing creditable anthems before their voices broke. The subsequent history of his boys - Pelham Humfrey, the King's favourite who succeeded Cooke, John Blow, William Turner, Michael Wise - is the history of church music for the next fifty years. Books, surplices, instruments to eke out the treble line quickly appeared; the gentlemen were told to be decently robed in a surplice - perhaps some 'puritans' had objected - and to be punctual, while no deputy system was to be allowed. For the boys a good musical education plus writing and Latin was provided and with the king's permission and, no doubt, encouragement the band of instrumentalists was organised. [It was worked on the shift system. See also note 3, page 134.] The whole establishment was in perfect working order within three years of starting from nothing - no mean feat.

Henry Cooke (born about 1616, died 1672). Probably the son of a bass who had come from Lichfield to the Chapel Royal choir. Cooke possibly served as a boy in the Chapel Royal choir; he entered the army on the Royalist side, was in the retreat from Newcastle to Yorkshire and was promoted to a captaincy. During the Commonwealth he probably studied singing in Italy, and he taught in London. 1660, a bass and Master of the Children at the Chapel Royal. He was a fine singer and composed, though sometimes ungrammatically. At his death the Crown owed him £500 for wages.

[For biographies see for Humfrey, page 137, for Blow, page 134, for Wise, page 134. Purcell was admitted later probably through the recommendation of his uncle.]