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 22 - THE CHURCH

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The Book of Common Prayer of 1662 set out on its uneventful path with no flourish of trumpets; though it was a protestant book, its compilers made it clear that the nonconformists were not going to be included as part of the established church. Once that was clear the word toleration began to be whispered in ecclesiastical politics and the religious troubles of over a hundred and fifty years can be presumed to have ended. The nonconformists, realising that from now on they must fend for themselves, put their househouses might be more accuratein order and to the tune of Watts' hymns sang their way through a century of enthusiasm. Within the church, however, toleration degenerated to tolerance; going to church became, as for Addison's Sir Roger de Coverley, a pleasant social duty. The church as a Christian body, losing touch with the momentous events in the outside world of thought and politics, went slowly to sleep, especially in the cathedrals where the services were droned out day by day with diminishing thoughtfulness. The musical establishments followed suit: poor as indeed some of the organists and composers of the period were, it is yet surprising that they did their daily job for the most part with sincerity and conscientiousness.



The minds of thinking men, which for so many years had been concentrated on religion, shifted their interest. Using the new experimental methods suggested by Descartes, men like Boyle, Newton, Faraday probed the phenomena of physics and chemistry, explained away the spacious firmament and seemed to drive the mysteries from life. Writers like the mordant Voltaire extolled the Newtonian physics and derided the shams and social unawareness of current Christianity; the French Encyclopedists proved that no God was needed to sustain a determinist universe. Social unfairness of all kinds was uncovered and with the advent of machine-run industry the evils of society and the franchise became the topic of the hour. In France, the growing discontent was precipitated by Beaumarchais' Figaro (set later to sparkling music by Mozart) into the Revolution that soon belied its watchword of freedom and resulted in a dictatorship. England passed unhappily through the troubles leading to the Reform Bill. Thinking men were too occupied with these vital things to bother about drearily recited church services out of touch with the world. Even the fanatical preaching of the Wesleys, both churchmen, failed to rouse the church from its torpor; the Wesleyans ultimately split off from a church with whose members they had political as well as dogmatic differences. The state of the world, ecclesiastical and political, is vividly pictured in three dissimilar but contemporaneous events. In 1851 Gaisford was installed as Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, and is reputed to have ended one of his Christmas sermons with these remarkable wordsmore remarkable when one remembers the sort of audience out of term time who heard them: 'Nor can I do better, in conclusion, than impress upon you the study of Greek literature, which not only elevates above the vulgar herd, but leads, not unfrequently, to positions of considerable emolument.' Unconscious cynicism could hardly go further. In 1852 the Reform Bill made the first attempt to distribute the franchise more fairly, and in the following year John Keble preached his famous sermon on National Apostasy, thus initiating the awakening of the church known soon as the Oxford Movement.



The ministry had become the resort of those seeking an easy and respectable profession, but by Keble's sermon and the ensuing tract warfare the standard of better things was already being raised. The Tractarians rediscovered the church as a God-made institution with the communion as its Christ-given service. Slowly the church was to begin to take itself seriously, to use its missionary powers not only abroad but at home. Parish churches everywhere formed surpliced choirs, cluttered their chancels with choir-stalls and organs and set about aping the cathedral service. Enthusiasts ordered copies of French missals to discover how the communion service should be performed. Church going became once more the fashion, even for unbelievers. The cathedrals, safely ensconced in their endowments, lagged far behind especially in the matter of their choirs where the education of the boys was often as disgraceful as the housing of the choir school. Miss Maria Hackett wrote impassioned letters to every dean in the country, making herself a veritable Florence Nightingale in the cause of cathedral choristers. Sir John Stainer improved the choir conditions at St Paul's and Sir Frederick Ouseley founded a college where cathedral singing could flourish and be studied. If the Victorian churchgoer of the middle of the century was smug he was at least busily smug. Convocation was revived in 1852 and a committee was formed to enquire into questions of ritual which by then, thanks to the Tractarians, had become a burning brand of controversy; though no common decision was reached, in 1871 they issued a revised lectionarya great improvement on the old and a year later the Act of Uniformity Amendment Act gave official sanction to shortened services and other unimportant customary departures from the Book of Common Prayer. A further attempt in 1879 to deal with the problems of vestments and the octaves of certain saints' days proved abortive: it is possibly well that it was so, for accurate knowledge of liturgical history was not yet available and a revision then might have made the whole question more difficult later.