As attention was centred away from the liturgical service until 1660, when a few more enterprising settings began to appear, there is little work of the first half of the century on which to report. Bevin and Batten, whose work figures in modern cathedral lists, came at the parting of the ways and though talented produced little more than competent workaday settings. Child and Rogers wrote settings of the short service type, which have been retained; their work has a charm that matches well with the quiet of the cathedral service on ferial days. It is easy to call such work dull. Actually it is wrought with care in the word setting and part writing, and in the short service idiom it comes off remarkably well. The short service is in fact only one step removed from the chant and psalm-tune and its ideals are simple: it seeks to provide daily fare for the cathedral service by being short, straightforward, unpretentious and not too elaborate. To judge it as dull by comparing it with more elaborate settings where the music has time to develop is as unreasonable as to find a hymn-tune dull because it cannot compare in musical interest with a full-dress anthem. Settings of the time seldom include the communion service which was no longer given enough prominence as a service to warrant the presence of the choir; where settings were made they consisted only of the kyrie - sometimes the responses to the commandments - and creed, the choir and most of the congregation being apparently accustomed to leave before the canon. This is true of all complete services until the middle of the nineteenth century.
Elway Bevin (born probably between 1550 and 1560). In 1634 he was described by Laud as a very old man). Pupil of Tallis, vicar-choral at Wells 1575-1584 and probably organist of Bristol from 1589 onwards. Possibly a Roman Catholic. He taught Child and was a capable theoretician, being the author of a Brief and Short Introduction to the Art of Musicke which contains some clever and diverting canons. The D-minor service appears in Boyce. Three or four services and a few anthems exist in MS.
Adrian Batten (born before 1600, died in 1637). 1614, vicar-choral and organist at St Paul's. There are many services and anthems some of which appear in Boyce. His famous Organ Book is a short-score copy in Batten's autograph of works by sixteenth-century composers.
The rest of the settings of the canticles still sung today were written by Cooke's boys. Blow's straightforward setting in the Dorian has admirably caught the sober feeling of the Tudor short service and makes a useful unaccompanied setting for ferial days despite its conscious archaisms. His service in F with its fluttering quaver thirds on rejoiced in Magnificat shows its composer at his best and is an outstanding product for its time, showing vitality and dignity with a love of the words of the liturgy seldom met with in its day: neither work is at all tarred with the brush of Restoration hilarity or Restoration pathos. Wise and Purcell are less frankly archaic. Wise in a delightful little service in E-flat uses the new style with laudable effect. He manages to get over the ground quickly but without hurry, exhibiting a reticent joy uncommon in his day; from his other work we can infer that Wise, like Blow, had a deep sense of the dignity and beauty of the service.
Michael Wise (1648-1687). One of the original choristers in Cooke's choir. 1663, lay-clerk at St George's, Windsor. 1668, organist and Master of the Choristers at Salisbury. 1675-6, Gentleman of the Chapel Royal. 1686-7, Almoner and Master of the Choristers, St. Paul's. The E-flat evening service and some of his anthems appeared in Rimbault.
The G-minor Purcell setting is also a successful effort in the new style. Like the Wise setting it is composed verse by verse on the principle of the full anthem with verses - Walmisley's famous service in D-minor of over a century later is another fine instance of the same method - a plan which admirably suits the musical setting of the strophic canticles. Purcell's glorias are particularly noteworthy in this excellent service. The B-flat service sounds like the sort of thing the previous generation had been aiming at and never attained. In both these services Purcell obviously took his work in hand seriously and with a love and appreciation for the text. He wrote them in full court dress, as it were, displaying all the learning and ingenuity of which he was capable. Despite his canons four in one and four in two in the G-minor service, carefully pointed out by Boyce with admiring italics, he succeeds in writing a worthy successor to Gibbons in F, recapturing its classic spirit and giving us a short service with more than the usual contrapuntal interest which nevertheless never dawdles. Like Gibbons, Purcell solves the problem of writing a musically interesting short service with the finger of genius.
Listen to St Paul's cathedral choir sing the Magnificat from Walmisley's service in D. Music details HERE.
Because of its experimental nature little of the work of the transition period is used today, but in some cathedrals a handful of works has been kept in the repertory or rescued from oblivion. On the whole the work of Child and Rogers has charm without much striking inspiration, though Locke can at times manage to be himself rather than a mere precursor of Purcell. The few full anthems, because they are tied to the old style and do not seek out new methods, are usually more effective than the experimental verse-anthems. There is hardly need to mention particular works, but we may notice Batten's Sing we merrily, Child's O Lord, grant the king and Locke's Sing unto the Lord or Lord, Let me know mine end as typical and still usable work of the period. As Locke was one of Purcell's models it will be of interest to give a few bars of the last:
The verse-anthems of the Restoration vary much in effectiveness but seldom in one particular: unless of a pathetic type they must contain at least one 'Allelujah' chorus. They all need good professional soloists in the alto, counter-tenor, tenor and bass, and with a good performance can be fine and moving. The boys' parts are usually easy and short [It may be noted that anthems with string accompaniment are usually those written for the Chapel Royal where the strings were employed normally on Sundays when the king was present.]. Humfrey, despite his reputation for worldliness and frivolity, can touch stirring depths as in, for example, Hear, O heavens; Wise, whose verse-anthems are perhaps the best of the period and are certainly the most sung, has a fine command of expressive recitative and that characteristic solo-voice counterpoint to be found in all this work. His most representative work is contained perhaps in the quartet The ways of Zion do mourn, Prepare ye the way, Awake up, my glory and Awake, awake, put on thy strength. Purcell's verse-anthems present quite a vocal problem, his counter-tenor parts - possibly sometimes sung by himself - requiring an accomplished singer with an extended range, and his bass parts - written for the Rev. John Gostling, a bass with a 'Russian' compass - descend with alarming frequency to low E's and D's. Apart from the cheerful Rejoice in the Lord, Thy word is a lantern is a thoughtful work well worth performing, while the famous O sing unto the Lord with its string accompaniments and its vocal roulades needs well-trained singers to bring off its vigorous declamatory phrases. Blow who is really at his best in his full anthems writes in I was in the spirit on the Lord's day an anthem which, while perhaps missing the full import of the words, contains some music of real urge with its glorious leaps of a tenth, though it is overlarded with Hallelujahs. His Latin 'motet' Salvator mundi, one of a series, shows him in a different vein: it has a spaciousness achieved by a recitative-like counterpoint alternating with massive chords which are not only harmonically arresting but exploit to the full the glories of a large building. This fine work can rank equal with that of Tallis on the same text as a stirring setting of a moving theme. His other full anthems, some of which are now republished, [Fourteen Anthems by Blow, ed. C. Hylton Stewart, O.U.P. Obtainable separately.] show always a fine sense of the choral import of his texts.
Humfrey, Pelham (1647-1674). Also spelt Humfry, Humphrys, etc. Chorister at Chapel Royal 1660 under Cpt. Cooke, where he composed some anthems including his own section of the Club Anthem. 1664 sent abroad by Charles II with funds from the Secret Service; studied with Lully. 1666-7 Gentleman of the Chapel, and 1672 Master of the Children and Composer in Ordinary. Some secular music, several excellent anthems and an evening service in E-minor.
Purcell's full anthems show him at his best as a church composer. The verse-anthems are often beautiful and show an unusual facility with irregular bar-rhythms, often moving in groups of three and five, besides a wide range of expressiveness; but they do not always exhibit real church decorum and reticence. In his full anthems, on the other hand, he can command the massive and sober dignity of Blow with the pathos of Wise as we find in the eight-part O Lord God of hosts, where the solos are infused with real feeling, or the five-part Latin work Jehovah, quam multi sunt which moves along with expressive majesty and contains some well-wrought counter-point. The lovely Remember not, Lord, our offences, in five parts, gets its solemn and moving effect by simple means, exceeded only by the four-part Thou knowest, Lord. This little work of genius was written in March 1695 for the funeral of queen Mary, and by November the composer himself was dead. [Purcell had set the words twelve years before, but re-set them in 1695.] The numerous rests, the absence of any counterpoint, the recitative-like setting of the feminine endings holy, mighty all combine to create a moving contakion. Soul of the world from one of his two odes for St. Cecilia's Day is often sung. Its text has little to do with the Christian religion, but the celebration of the patroness of organists is made the excuse for performing in church this excellent, exhilarating piece of writing. Its knowledge of choral effect, the alternating rich harmony and cunning counterpoint, the runs on the words scattered atoms give not only a thrill but the clue to Handel's effective writing.
Until the rediscovery of the Tudors Purcell was often called the greatest English musical genius. If we now have occasion to reconsider this view, it is well to remember that by the general public Purcell has not yet been discovered. Like the Tudors' his idiom is not a modern one and to be savoured to the full it needs continuous hearing; the public which loves its Handel would as certainly respond to Purcell his forerunner, just as one can like Beethoven and Haydn or Byrd and Tallis. But composers do not become popular merely because they typify a certain phase of history: Purcell would be liked for himself, the personality of the man. That however can only become possible when he is given a hearing. There are practical problems in performing his verse-anthems, which were written for a specialised milieu of singers with a professional technique and a small string combination of five or six players. It is surely possible to re-create that milieu, if not during the service, at least on special occasions. The solos for counter-tenor are a difficulty but surely not an insuperable one. The revival of the Bach church cantatas has shown what might be done.
To assess Purcell's value as a church composer is rather difficult. Not only did he die at an age when he was still developing but he wrote practically no church music during the last ten years of his life: it was just during that period that his command over technique was progressing further than that of any of his contemporaries. The sure hand in Thou knowest, Lord, one of the few church works written during the period, shows what might have been expected of the composer if he had lived to return to writing for the church. The church music we have is, in fact, not in advance of that of his fellows. It would be true to say that Blow was a better church composer, that Humfrey and Wise could be as moving in solemn recitative; and if Purcell shows a rhythmic invention to be sought in vain elsewhere among contemporary verse-anthems, he had not, by 1685 or so, succeeded in unifying the form in any convincing way, a problem he might well have solved if he had lived. He cannot be specially blamed for his optimistic secularity, a characteristic of the time, when the anthem was, at bottom, a piece of entertainment rather than an act of praise; neither can he be specially praised for his moving passages which can be matched elsewhere and are an expression of the subjective spirit of the age. In Thou knowest, Lord, Remember not, Lord, our offences and perhaps in the two services he achieves the objectivism of Blow, a sort of impersonal beauty inspired more by the angels than the audience, but he never once attempts the sublimity of Blow's Salvator mundi, almost a freak for its period. If we yielded to the senselessness of grading our favourite composers we should put Purcell between Blow and Wise or Humfrey, as long as we forgot that he was also a secular composer. Remembering his other work and his early demise we should say, more fairly, that here is a composer of genius and fairer promise who wrote for the church.