On its first appearance in 1861 Hymns Ancient and Modern was looked upon as a high-church, 'ritualistic' book. It contained translations of medieval office hymns, arranged its matter seasonally, and its proprietors identified themselves with the Tractarians by issuing further publications giving translations, set to the original plainsong, of such things as the propers of the mass. In 1868 the book was furnished with an appendix and in 1875 under the musical editorship of Monk the book acquired a larger proportion of contemporary tunes. Steggall, in 1889, edited a supplement (called in the present book 'First Supplement' and consisting of hymns 474-658) and this Old Edition is the book which came in for so much criticism at the beginning of the present century. Three lesser used books had meanwhile been published mainly as protestant counterblasts to A. & M.: they were Hymnal Companion, 1870, Church Hymns, 1874 and Oxford Hymnal, 1898.
Robert Bridges, working with a village choir at Yattendon, near Oxford, and feeling outraged by current hymns, issued in 1899 his Yattendon Hymnal, an important book for many reasons though it never became popular. By its printing, paper and format it showed that a hymnal could be produced to look well (its general get-up certainly shamed the ugly pages of all the other hymnals) and sent editors to new sources, especially to the unknown melodies of Bourgeois and Goudimel, Gibbons and Henry Lawes, Croft and Jeremiah Clarke. As many of their tunes were written in unusual metres, Bridges wrote for them some excellent verses. Bridges rightly argued that for hymns this method of suiting text to tune is excellent, for it assures correct mechanical details in matters of accent and quantity; there are no lines in the Yattendon Hymnal to rival the reformers' doggerel of the metrical psalms or that unbelievable and unsingable line of Charles Wesley:
With inextinguishable blaze.
In an illuminating preface the author defends the practice of writing words to existing melodies, champions Clarke as the inventor of the modern English hymn-tune, treats at length of the gathering-notes and finals of the psalm-tunes and gives much information about Bourgeois and his interesting metres. The book contains eight tunes by Tallis, fifteen by Bourgeois, eight by Gibbons, seven by Clarke and four by Croft; it henceforth became a source-book for future compilers. It was not a popular book, for like their eighteenth century forebears who 'quavered and semi-quavered care away' the nineteenth century hymn-singers, even in Yattendon, were very tenacious for their favourite hymns. But its influence on scholarly research and future compilation was important.
At the turn of the century, thanks to the work of Bridges, the compilers of hymnals and church musicians in general began to develop a conscience about hymns. In 1904 two new-style hymn books were issued: Songs of Syon and a root and branch revision of Hymns A. & M. The first was the work of a fervent disciple of Neale, a medievalist with Neale's cast of mind and similar love of quaint, humourless [What choir dare ever sing his carol containing the line, 'The alto of yon ass.' ] symbolism, the Rev. G. R. Woodward. His uncompromising book of 451 hymns gave plainsong melodies un-harmonised, psalm-tunes, Lutheran chorales in their bald, early settings and in their ornate Bach versions, providing them with words where such no longer existed. Here again the get-up of the book was beautiful. The New Edition of A. & M. was virtually a new book. It incorporated the results of research and scholarship, cast out most of the poorer contemporary tunes and went to original sources of words where these had hitherto been tampered with; the whole was set out in a most presentable manner. As far as practical use was concerned both books were failures; they were born before their time. Songs of Syon was too good musically, in texts too precious to become popular, while the 1904 edition of A. & M. was killed by a headline in the cheaper press which shows the hold that hymns and Hymns A. & M. had over the hymn-singing public. It was literally laughed out of existence because of its renumbering and the fact that it gave Wesley's original:
Hark how all the welkin rings,
Glory to the King of kings.
The welkin became a screaming headline backed up by the awful truth that Abide with me was no longer number twenty-seven. Music Details HERE. Hardly a parish in England ordered the book. The time was ripe for the appearance of a rival: English Hymnal first showed its head in 1906 and became the standard and banner of the high-church party. The ritualistic A. & M. had become a protestant book. The bright green cover of English Hymnal and its well set up pages could be seen in all churches which boasted a set of vestments: their aisles were soon echoing to the sounds of hymns in praise of the Blessed Virgin, to jiggy, rediscovered folk-tunes now for the first time pressed into the service of public worship, and to the attractive, modal French three-fours of modern times. Party feeling was high and it was soon a point of honour to deride A. & M. if you sang E. H. and to be horrified at E. H., if your protestant sympathies led you to sing from A. & M. Eventually the two books have come to be admired, English Hymnal contributing a few new and popular hvmns like Bunyan's He who would valiant be, whose altered text was set to a vigorous old English melody or the stirring 'Sine Nomine' to the hymn For all the saints, which were not to be found in A. & M. In 1916, under the editorship of S. H. Nicholson, a second supplement was added to the Old Edition of Hymns A. & M.., the 1904 book being written off as an unfortunate failure. It consisted of 140 hymns drawn from all sources, the tunes containing some good specimens by Wise, Clarke and Boyce and some new melodies of which many were inserted in the old part of the book, like Stanford's fine tune to Love divine, all loves excelling. Music details HERE. The 1916 Supplement contained no dross and made the complete book into a good representative collection; but at that time the temperature of hymn-singers still ran high and while those who disliked A. & M. refused to admit the excellence of this new edition, those who used the book refused to examine the contents of the second supplement in case some new hymn should supplant an old favourite. The book was indeed still stuffed out with much poor and unused work, but that apart its 779 hymns contained nearly all that was best in hymnody; despite the popularity of its rival its sales remained astronomical and have never been seriously threatened even by the combined sales of other hymnals. In the Shortened Music Edition, 1959, the unused portions were cleared away, the get-up improved —it is now the most elegant of all practical hymnals—and a few new tunes added. The awkward general arrangement, like three hymnals bound together, remains, for A. & M. would not, presumably, risk another renumbering.
Someone has called hymns modern folk-songs, and it is true that the 'man in the street' knows and loves certain hymns better than any other music. They are indeed the only music in which he ever takes part. In 1925 Songs of Praise marked a new departure in hymnals. It took the hymn from the church to the market square. There are many occasions, it argued, when men who meet together need to sing together, for nothing equals a hymn for summing up the prevailing tone of a meeting and firing its audience with a common enthusiasm. Songs of Praise set out to cater not so much for the liturgical services of the church as for 'certain kinds of services in church as well as for schools, lecture meetings, and other public gatherings. Songs of Praise is intended to be national, in the sense of including a full expression of that faith which is common to English-speaking peoples today. ...' This common faith to which it is so difficult to set limits has often led the compilers into a drastic bowdlerisation of Christian texts, so that it can hardly be called a church hymnal and thus comes outside the scope of enquiry of this book. But the book is used in church and serves useful purposes even though the Stabat Mater is wrenched into a loose paraphrase which never once mentions the subject of its title—the paraphrase is merely signed A. F.—while the editor appends his name to a watered-down 'suggestion' of Neale's Christian, dost thou see them taken from a Greek original of some vividness and power. Some of the modern texts are little more than competent work while more poetic pens supply verses perhaps too lovely and fanciful to stand the test of being sung by a large audience (yet what more unsuitable for that purpose than Abide with me which is popular enough: Music details HERE. the taste of the crowd is ever unaccountable). But such 'spiritual lyrics ' might well be sung by a small band of literati, those people so badly treated by most hymnals, if they boasted the voices to sing them. The music is almost without exception excellent and many fine and original modern tunes, too numerous for mention, are included. Like the Yattendon Hymnal, it provides many glorious melodies which everyone is the better for knowing and it is to be hoped that as the book is used in so many schools generations to come will possess a store of worthy tunes which they will value as new 'old favourites'. Such a book is invaluable to parish choirs in providing interesting little pieces to be sung in place of the anthem: sung thus by a good choir some of the more fanciful lyrics may be introduced to congregations as something to listen to rather than to sing. Mention may finally be made of two hymn books appealing to special congregations. The Church and School Hymnal, 1926, tackles the problem of hymns for the young with competence, high standard and much success. The Plainsong Hymn Book, published by the proprietors of Hymns Ancient and Modern in 1952, has collected together the best plain-song tunes and provided them with first-class English versions.