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 28 - CHOIR MUSIC


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Leaving inartistically the good wine till last, we pass to the more effective work of the period, which is as good as the better work of any other. William Croft displays a convincing fusion of the Restoration and the new styles used in the service of a lovable personality. The Purcellian simplicity of the Burial Service looks ordinary on paper, like Purcell's own Thou knowest, Lord, but springs into beauty in its liturgical setting where it is very moving. In a different mood the jubilant God is gone up has an honoured and well-deserved place in the long line of cheerfully dignified anthems; its middle section, though containing some long strings of thirds in the Restoration manner, has a lovely transparence at the words sing praises where the antiphonal appoggiatura chords float and eddy from side to side of the choir - an unforgettable moment.

Example 47. From a verse in Croft's God is gone up God is Gone up - Croft - (midi file) | You tube logo God is gone up (w croft)

Decani treble Cantoris treble Decani alto Cantaris alto tenor verse Bass verse example 47.

It has imaginative qualities of a higher sort than those in the more ordinary We will rejoice with its rather too ponderous 'chariots and horses' in what was later to be called the Handelian style. The larger works show some affinities with the larger tapestries of Blow.



Maurice Greene was born late enough to come under the influence of his friend Handel, but he had too strong a sense of the true English style to succumb entirely and withal he had a touch of genius. When his genius nods the result at its best is some charmingly wrought music like the smiling extract, Thou visitest the earth; the genius at work can weld together the English and Handelian styles into something fine and all his own. Lord, let me know mine end, a moving text, brings to birth one of the finest works of any period where the accompaniment plays an integral part, - a rarity for its time - where the counterpoint sends the wondering questions from one voice to another, where the rests are used as movingly as the notes and where the slowly dying end, traditionally sung morendo for twenty bars or so, sounds like the coda of some great symphony. No less fine is Lord, how long wilt thou be angry in which the counterpoint is again used for expressive ends. But Greene is not a man of one mood: God is our hope and strength is a long verse-anthem which in spite of some Handelian touches and a little naiveté at the words we will not fear though the earth tremble has spaciousness and dignity and could not have been written by anybody else. The O clap your hands has a majestic joy and though in style very much of its period recaptures some of the spirit found in Tudor works of the Gibbons' Hosanna type as the following example will show.

Example 48. From Greene's O clap your hands O Clap Your Hands - Greene - (midi file) | You tube logo O clap your hands (m greene)

exmple 48a. example 48b.

Given a sympathetic environment and possibly the capacity to take himself in hand, Greene might well have become the rallying standard of a generation of greater men; thus does history sometimes hang on the qualities of one man. Greene's little handful of masterworks is at any rate a bulwark of the true English style.



Blessed be the Name of the Lord - Boyce.asx. Listen to the choir of St Paul's cathedral singing Boyce's 'Blessed be the name of the Lord.   Music Details HERE.

Boyce was of different stuff: he had talent and used it. We can hardly accuse him of real genius or of the forcefulness which could create a school but in a time of much indifference he upheld the flag of care and competence and was moved enough by the words he set to make his music often thoughtful and sometimes stirring. His services are always constructed with an eye rather to usefulness but have a charm coupled with good workmanship in their varying rhythms and imaginative part-writing, and so admirably suit the purpose in hand. The verse parts of O where shall wisdom be found make a conversational and at times poetic commentary on the text though the choruses are more perfunctory work in the Handelian idiom. The old, expressively beautiful use of counterpoint drives home the point in By the waters of Babylon and Turn thee unto me and links his work with the best of his predecessors'. His more joyful work, seen for example in the extract The Lord is king (in its modern arrangement for men's voices it is electrical in effect) show a childlike happiness which is attractive and reveals the personality of the man behind the music. His standard in his church music was unvarying, no small feat for one who had plenty of success in the theatre and concert-hall.



We can be grateful to Battishill for his Call to remembrance and O Lord Look Down - Battishill.asx O Lord, look down from heaven, both vital and expressive in spite of their dignified reserve. To be remembered for two short works seems little enough title to fame, but they are lights in the surrounding twilight - 1800 was perhaps the nadir of English music - and serve to bridge the gap between the best of Boyce and Wesley.


WESLEY | You tube logo wash me throughly (s s wesley)

Samuel Sebastian Wesley is perhaps the most remarkable man to appear after Blow and Purcell. If Greene showed genius it was only fitful, but Wesley produced a consistent flow of deserving works. They are seldom faultless but they all have the true spirit of church music about them and at times rise to heights of real beauty. His chief fault, to be laid perhaps at the door of his training, was lack of cohesion: he seems to think in terms of about sixteen bars rather than of the work as a whole. But not one man of his time was similarly fired to write passages of which one can say 'that is pure inspiration'. His music caught fire from the words which he was always at pains to set carefully; there are no false accents in Wesley who was the author of a pointed psalter showing ideas fifty years ahead of their time, and wrote recitative in tempo with the sure hand of a Purcell: see as an example the dramatic utterances in Blessed be the God and Father. His accompaniments are never more than a background to the imaginative vocal writing; his harmony is striking. The bold, felicitious modulations and chromaticisms are the outward sign of his intuitive vision of the text. Of all his output perhaps the serenest and purest gem is Wash me throughly, unsurpassed in expressive melody, a refreshing feeling for clean but chromatic harmony and above all its instinct for what suited his medium- a handful of singers, a small organ (he often notes the registration in his scores) and the acoustics of a cathedral. Here, too, the form is better managed than usual. In the otherwise lovely Thou wilt keep Him - SS Wesley.asx Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace this is not so: the section beginning for thine is the kingdom seems too short and undeveloped, while the return to the opening theme is too sudden. But no one can forget the calm but moving sonority of the opening, the effective men's section which forms an inspired contrast, or the last three bars, matched only by the last page of Cast me not away and Wash me throughly. Of the bigger works the well-known Ascribe unto the Lord exhibits Wesley's power of finding broad lines of lyrical melody and contrasting them with passages of pure loveliness and majestic dignity. Magnificat of the service in E shows all these qualities, especially where the choir peals out the gorgeous, sweeping phrase Abraham and his seed for ever in eight parts.

Example 49. Magnificat from Wesley's Service in E Magnificat - Wesley (midi file)

example 49a. example 49b.

The 'Cathedral' service in F is, perhaps designedly, rather ordinary, but an interesting little chanting service in the same key (though it has a novel touch of modality about it) shows Wesley experimenting successfully along new lines. To a modern choirmaster Wesley's alto parts cause some trouble: they have a considerable range from E, even D, on the bass stave to treble C which only the Purcellian type of counter-tenor can accomplish. The general effect of his work is one of a real lyrical response to the text and a finely adjusted sense of his medium.


William Croft (1678-1727). Child of the Chapel under Blow. 1700, Gentleman and 1704 organist of the Chapel. 1708, organist at Westminster and Master of the Children and Composer to the Chapel. Publications: 1724, Musica Sacra or Select Anthems containing the Burial Service; the first church work to be engraved on plates.

Maurice Greene (1695-1755). Chorister at St Paul's under King. 1718, organist at St Paul's. 1727, organist and composer to the Chapel. 1730, Professor of Music at Cambridge. Publications: 1743, Forty Select Anthems. There are a few other anthems, some organ and much secular music.

William Boyce (1710-1779). Chorister at St. Paul's under King and later articled pupil of Greene. 1736, organist at St. Michael's, Cornhill, and Composer to the Chapel. 1755, Master of the king's band. 1758, organist at the Chapel. Publications: 1780, Fifteen Anthems, Te Deum and Jubilate, published by his widow. 1790, Twelve Anthems and a Service, edited by Philip Hayes. In all, five services and forty-six anthems.

Jonathan Battishill (1736-1801). Chorister at St. Paul's. Worked much in the theatre.  About 1764, organist at St Clement, Eastcheap, and St. Martin, Ongar. Some anthems.

Samuel Sebastian Wesley (1810-1876). Chorister of the Chapel. 1832, organist at Hereford and the following year of Exeter. 1842, organist of Leeds Parish Church, where he wrote his psalter and the service in E. 1849, organist at Winchester, and 1865 of Gloucester. A brilliant organist and keen on the reform of cathedral music. Services in E, F and G chant services, and in F ('Cathedral'). About thirty anthems and some organ works. Two pamphlets on cathedral music reform.