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.


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In almost all particulars the organs of the eighteenth century showed no advance in tone or manageability on the Restoration instruments of Father Smith and Renatus Harris. Boyce's introductory symphonies and interludes, as for example in I have surely built thee an house, might have been written by Purcell as far as their performance is concerned; the technique is still one of contrast, in this anthem an opening trumpet passage playable by one hand being accompanied, perhaps on the Choir organ, by the other hand and followed by a figured bass passage on the Choir. The whole is playable without pedals, though it need not be played without sixteen-foot tone. Today it would be fitting to play the left hand part of the opening symphony on the pedal organ and fill in the implied chords with the left hand. Greene's basso continue in Lord, let me know mine end shows the composer making a virtue of necessity, accompanying the bass with soft chords on another manualor possibly on the same manual if it was a 'split' manual where the keys below middle or tenor C would act on a sixteen-foot stop for the rolling bass and those above on the eight-foot pipes for the accompanying chords. Though the technique is still one of contrast, Swell organs sporadically appeared throughout the century, the outcome of an original idea of the Jordans who in 1712 enclosed a few ranks of pipes in a sealed chamber in their organ at St Magnus the Martyr, London Bridge, providing it with an opening door operated by a pedal. To keep the size of the swell chamber small, few if any of these enclosed ranks bore pipes speaking below tenor C so that it became the fashion to play with the left hand on the Choir and the other on the Swell; the effect is attractive even on a modern organ and is to be recommended as a method of accompaniment in work of the period. The only other advance in mechanism was inaugurated in 1762 when a sub-octave coupler was applied to the instrument in St Mary's, Redcliffe, Bristol; provided the lower pipes were there this gave an effect of 'doubles' which in a large building is not bad if the eight-foot tone preponderates.



It was not until 1790 or so that a few English organs were provided with a section played by the feet and containing the lower notes: Pedal organs had first appeared in Germany four hundred years before! They did not become a usual feature in England until thirty or forty years later though they were even then by no means complete in compass as today. The first pedal boards, like the board in St James, Clerkenwell erected by England in 1790 contained only an octave of notes, which had no separate pipes but acted on the lower keys of the Great organ. During the ensuing five decades boards increased in compass (the 1834 instrument at York had-a radiating board of two octaves up to C) and were provided with separate pipes in the larger organs. Even today, however, English Pedal organs have nothing like the complete provision of separate pipes found in continental organs, so that it is always necessary to couple them to the manual on which the hands are engaged, sometimes to the detriment of clarity, especially in Bach. Two evening services have an interest in connection with the introduction of Pedal organs. Benjamin Cooke's service in G is said to have been written to show off the newly erected Pedal organ in Westminster Abbey; it requires two octaves of pedals. In Walmisley's setting in D-minor the manual parts are so written that it would be impossible to play the work on an instrument without pedals; the pedal part presupposes a board of two octaves. The pedal-points of organ music are a distinctive feature whose exhilarating effect can be copied on no other instrument. Like the side-drum in the orchestra, however, the pedals sound most effective in their entries and exits, a fact noted well by Wesley in his accompaniments (see Blessed be the God and Father and Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, where the pedal entries are carefully marked) and often forgotten by modern accompanists.



The nineteenth century saw advances in construction and general ease of control equalled only by the progress shown in the fifteenth century. At the beginning of the century the increase in couplers, wind pressure and number of pipes made further mechanical improvement impossible if the touch was to remain light. By 1820 or so the player was almost incapable of playing loud and fast simultaneously if that is desirable in a large buildingand the nineteenth century shows many devices for gaining more ready control of this unwieldy elephant of an instrument. In 1809 Bishop effected an improvement in the composition pedals, the means whereby quick stop changes are made; still further progress was seen in Willis' organ shown at the 1851 Exhibition which placed finger pistons in the jambs between the manuals to operate a small bellows which in turn moved a pre-arranged group of sliders. These easily operated pistons and the now general Swell organs made the technique of organ accompaniments a technique of shading where a hundred years before it had been one of contrast, and brought many new effects into the tonal repertory of the organ. Contrast of a Boyce and Wesley accompaniment will show the difference clearly and unmistakably. The clear-cut Boyce accompaniment is replaced in Wesley by a less neat-looking, more romantic texture which shades off its tone colours like an impressionist picture. By means of the swell pedal and the finger piston it was possible to 'orchestrate' for the organ and Wesley sometimes gives subtle directions like the delightful claribel and Swell reed effect in Blessed be the God and Father or the magical touch of the reed with its carefully marked use of the Swell pedal to accompany the boy's solo in Wash me throughly. There is, indeed, a sure sense of organ registration in Wesley's work, which uses for artistic ends all the new devices.



The Barker pneumatic lever, 1832, revolutionised the technique of writing for the organ by making the manuals' touch almost as light as that of a piano. It consists of a collapsed bellows into which air is admitted when the key is depressed; the bellows rises lifting with it the trackers and other mechanical rods between key and pallet. The player need no longer possess the strength of a horse and could play at the speed of a pianist; the effect on organ playing in general was of course far-reaching. Gauntlett, a pioneer and reformer, working as advisor to the builder Hill, gradually succeeded in making the compass of organs extend down to C on the manuals instead of G or F, so that by the time of Wesley's death, 1876, the organ was becoming an instrument that serious musicians could consider as a medium of expressive accompaniment. Just as the piano half a century before had in Schubert's lieder become a partner with the voice by adding atmosphere, so now the organ, with Wesley at any rate, had stepped out of the background to contribute its own quota to the general effect; the figured bass had become the carefully written accompaniment and Wesley more than all the rest begins to litter his page with effective pedal notes, staccato, stabbing chords for the full swell, crescendos, diminuendos, a reed chord in close harmony or a flute solo, or some held chords for the chorus of diapasons. Romanticism had in fact begun to attack the organ loft.




Hymnody Past and Present,
C. S. Phillips (S.P.C.K., 1937).
Historical Edition of Hymns A. & M. for illustrations, anecdotes, etc. (Clowes).
A Dictionary of Hymnology
, John Julian (John Murray, 1892-1925).
The classical work of reference for notes on authors and composers.


English Cathedral Music, E. H. Fellowes (Methuen, 1941), which divides the period into Early Georgian, Later Georgian, Early Victorian, Mid-Victorian, and treats of the whole much more fully than here.

Master singers, Filson Young (Grant Richards, 1901), gives two charming and illuminating essays by an old cathedral articled pupil on 'The composer in England' and 'The old cathedral organists'.


Traditional and useful work

Boyce: Services in A and C. B. Cooke: Evening Service in G.
Attwood: Turn thy face.
Goss: Service in E (Short type). The wilderness (modern verse-anthem).
Barnby: See some excellent chants in the New Cathedral chant book.
Ouseley: How goodly. O saviour of the world (eight-part).

Better composers

Croft: Burial Service, hymn tunes. God is gone up.
Greene: Lord, let me know mine end. God is our hope and strength. O clap your hands together.
Boyce: O where shall wisdom. Turn thee unto me.
Battishill: O Lord, look down.
Wesley: Services in E and F (chant). Ascribe unto the Lord. The wilderness (contrast with Goss's setting which it antedates). Wash me throughly. Thou wilt keep him.

The following composers have not been treated: Aldrich, Creyghton, Weldon, Stroud, Goldwin, S. Wesley, Clarke-Whitfeld, Elvey, Garrett, Steggall, Tours.