VIII.—ON THE MUSIC OF THE ENGLISH CHURCH.
The authoritative directions of the English Church since the Reformation touching Church Music are few and vague.
The allusion to the singing of the “Psalter or Psalms of David” borne on the title page of our present Prayer Book “Pointed as they are to be sung or said in churches;” certain rubrics in the body of the work;—the XLIXth of Queen Elizabeth’s Injunctions; and the XIVth Canon of 1603—4, which begins thus,—” The Common Prayer shall be said or sung distinctly and reverently,” are perhaps all the directions we can adduce as bearing the authority of written law upon this subject.
But the written law has all along been consonant with and explainable by certain musical traditions and customs, continued to a great extent in the actual uses of choirs, and noted in musical directions and collections of written or printed music.
The text-book prepared at the same time with Edward the Sixth’s first Prayer Book by Marbeck, and printed the following year, 1550, bears evidence of the adoption by Archbishop Cranmer, and those who acted with him in settling the uses of the remodelled Services, of that species of music called Plain Song, which had been used in the Church Catholic from time immemorial, but had, it would seem, too generally given way, at least in the ordinary Services, attended by the people, to an “operose” and intricate style of harmonized music in which the people could neither take part, nor (even if they knew Latin) perceive the “sentence,” or meaning of the words. In music, therefore, as in doctrine, the appeal was from modern innovations and corruptions of Catholic antiquity, to the uses of an earlier and purer age. Plain Song had been the music of the Church from the beginning; it was restored to more general use in the Reformed Church of England. What that Plain Song was,—what were its rules, how copious, how diversified, may be learnt from the ancient books in use both before and at the time of the Reformation which have escaped the fanatical destruction of things sacred during the Great Rebellion, and the subsequent Usurpation. The Antiphonarium gave the Plain Song music for the ordinary daily Offices; the Gradual that for the Service of the Mass. The former included the chants for the Psalms, the Antiphons for all the year, as also the hymns, which (as is well known to ritualists) were as definitely appointed in their several places as the Canticles, Psalms, or Collects. The Gradual contained Introits, Sequences, Glorias, Credos, and all” the musical portions of the Liturgy properly so called.
Thus (as has been satisfactorily shown by Mr. Dyce in the Preface to his Book of Common Prayer with plain-tune, after the model of Marbeck) Plain
Song was “not an indeterminate kind of melody, but a mode of intonating chanting and singing in the Church, which implies an adherence to certain rules, and to a great extent the use of certain well-known melodies, that are severally appropriated to particular parts of the Service.”
Queen Elizabeth’s XLIXth Injunction is entirely confirmatory of this view, enjoining “a modest and distinct song” to be “so used in all parts of the common prayers, that the same may be as plainly understanded as if it were read without singing,” while at the same time permission is given for “the singing in the beginning or in the end of the Morning and Evening Prayer, of a hymn or such-like song to the praise of Almighty god in the best sort of melody and music that may be conveniently devised, having respect that the sentence of the hymn may be understanded and perceived.” This permission was doubtless confirmatory of the use previously established and subsequently retained of singing under the title of Anthems more elaborate music by trained choirs in addition to the Plain Song of more wide and general application.
The difficulty of translating the ancient hymns into English verse, and the substitution of metrical translations of the Psalms after the example of Clement Marot, cir. 1540, in Paris, and of Beza in Strasburg (1545) frustrated the wishes of Archbishop Cranmer that these most Catholic compositions should be adopted to vernacular use in the Reformed Church of England: Sternhold and Hopkins in Edward VIth’s reign, and Tate and Brady in that of William and Mary furnished the songs of most general adoption in this country, to the utter confusion of men’s views and feelings. The Psalter pointed for singing came too generally to be used as, and called the reading Psalms, while the metrical versions had transferred to them both the phraseology and the interest which attached of old to the chanted Psalms, and thus the evangelical Hymns of S. Hilary, S. Ambrose, Prudentius, Sedulius, S. Eunodius, and S. Gregory, and those of the subsequent era of Venantius Fortunatus, Venerable Bede, Adam of S. Victor, and still later of Santolius Victorinus, were entirely lost to the people. And if the natural craving of the renewed nature in any case insisted upon a more direct tribute of Christian praise and thanksgiving in the songs of the Church, it came to be fed with a pasture not wholesome nor satisfying, in a modern hymnody too often of doubtful orthodoxy and of undoubted sickliness. The music of these metrical Psalms and Hymns (with the exception of those melodies which have come down to our times from more Catholic sources, and a few which have been composed in a similar tone of masculine grandeur) has grown from year to year more and more secular and effeminate; while, from the neglect of vocal music, as an element in clerical and general education, the actual singing of them has ceased to be what it was originally, a national accomplishment in which all the people could and did join. So that the very means taken in an uncatholic spirit to secure the greatest amount
of congregational singing has been one of the chief causes of the entire loss, speaking generally, of this essential feature of Catholic worship. Looking at the history and present condition of music in the Church of England, it would seem that what is required whenever it may be attained is a full Choral Service of the Plain Song order.*
Easy Anthems or Hymns should be sung in the appointed places in Matins and Evensong, and also immediately before them, (see Par. 122, note *) and Hymns may also be added at the close of one Service when followed immediately by another or by a Sermon.
It is to be observed that there is not the least warrant in the Prayer Book for the too common distinction drawn between the cathedral and parochial Service. The rubrics are alike for both. Nor is the difference of congregations such as to warrant any material difference. What is edifying in the country cathedral is equally so in most large towns; nor is it at all true that the poor in villages and hamlets are less susceptible of the hallowed influence of sacred music properly introduced in the Service of the Church than their more wealthy and urbane fellow countrymen. In large manufacturing districts the taste for Choral harmony is generally very strong, and ought not to be deprived of its due gratification in the highest of all human employments.
The rule to be followed is, that “all things should be done to edification;” and this involves the proper use of all available means, and lawful appliances—the only bar to the use of the highest style of Choral Service properly regulated in every Church is the inability to perform it. In proportion as zeal for the honour and glory of god’s worship inspires the ministers and people of any particular Church, so will their worship rise in the scale of musical grandeur and choral dignity.
All the instrumental aid which can be made subservient to general devotion and that of the performers themselves, ought by inference to be considered lawful, though perhaps a good organ and a competent organist are all that will be found in general desirable.
* Full directions for which are given in the Rev. Thomas Helmore’s Manual of Plain Song, and the Accompanying Harmonies, founded upon Marbeck’s Book before mentioned.
For Anthems, see Boyce’s Cathedral Music, “Anthems and Services,” (printed originally by J. Burns; sold by R. Cox and Co.) The Parish Choir (Ollivier: Pall Mall,) and the Motett Society’s Collection of Ancient Music. For Translations of the Ancient Catholic Hymns in like metre set to their original tunes as preserved in the Sarum Breviary, Hymnal and Gradual. See Hymnal Noted under the sanction of the Ecclesiological Society with Accompanying Harmonies (J. A. Novello.)