THE ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS OF
A Paper read at the
A. Madeley Richardson, M. A., Mus. Doc, Oxon; F. R. C. O.
Is there a broad distinction between sacred and secular music? and, if so, how can the two be discriminated?
Many persons have but a vague idea as to the answers to these questions. Some will suggest in a tentative way that all good music is churchly music; others, more confident, will say that any music that pleases the people may be used in divine worship.
I believe that there is a real distinction, and that there ought to be a hard and fast line drawn between them; and that to make any progress it is highly desirable that this should be done to-day strongly and boldly.
Music in general is a great compelling force--a force that is able to sway the emotions of the human heart. This has been recognised in all ages, indeed the ancients went so far as to assert that it could influence animals and even inanimate objects. As Horace has it:
"Movit Amphion lapides canendo.”
 This wonderful persuasive power is used in all situations of life. Scarcely ever does any public or private function take place, whether of a joyous, or of a mournful mature, but music is held to be an essential part of the ceremony. One can hardly imagine human society continuing for a day without its use in some form or other. If it were to cease the world would surely become a very dull, prosaic place.
It has been said, or at any rate implied, that all music tends to elevate and ennoble the performer and the hearer. Did not Shakespeare mean this when he wrote:
"The man that, hath no music in himself,
And is not moved by concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, strategems and spoils;
The motions of his spirits are dull as night,
And his affections dark as Erebus:
Let no such man be trusted."
Richard Hooker has perhaps given us a clearer idea of the scope of music where he writes: "Music hath an admirable facility to express and represent to the mind, more inwardly than any other sensible mean, the very standing, rising and falling, the very steps and inflections every way, the turns and varieties of all passions whereunto the mind is subject; yea so to imitate them, that, whether it resemble unto us the same state wherein our minds already are, or a clean contrary, we are not more contentedly by the one confirmed, than changed and led away by the other. In harmony, the very image and character even of virtue and vice is perceived, the mind delighted with their resemblances, and brought by having them often iterated into a love of the things themselves. For which cause there is nothing more contagious and pestilent than some kinds of harmony; than some, nothing more strong and potent unto good."
This brings clearly before us the necessity for differentiation. [2/3] In this task how shall we be guided?
Somewhere in the 15th century, in the dim seclusion of a quiet cloister, a gentle hand wrote these words:
"In omnibus rebus respice finem," (In every undertaking consider the end). The book in which they occur is the sole survivor of all the mass of literature produced at that period, and to-day is more widely read, and exercises a stronger influence than almost any other volume. We will take those words as our guide to-day. In dealing with Church music let us "consider the end."
The end of Church music is simply one thing and no other. It is worship--worship of the Creator by the human soul. Remembering this we see how tremendous a thing it is we are dealing with. If we really believe it then the thing we are speaking of is surely the most important in the world. It was so considered by the ancient Jewish Church, it was by the early Christian Church; it is only in these late hard, worldly, utilitarian times that a different opinion has come to be held.
To fulfil this its mission sacred music depends upon three things: (1) its performers, (2) the material they use, (3) their manner of using it.
(1) For our directors of Church music, our organists and choirmasters, we want to-day idealists--men who see visions, men who dream dreams. It is the idealist, who is the practical man, it is the dreamer who helps the world along. It is the man who sees a vision of what his work might be, and is never satisfied with it as it is, who is ever striving after the perfect and never gives in though often baffled--he it is who is wanted to-day. Will he gain his end? Perhaps not. But he will help in the world's advance, and who knows but that the ideal of to-day will become the real of to-morrow, the dream of the present the waking fact of [3/4] the future.
(2) The music used in church should be of the highest quality. It should be written by the best composers, and written, as a rule, specially for Church worship. Much that is heard at present in our churches is far from conforming to this standard, so far indeed that in some cases it amounts to a positive scandal. I have seen, and heard, so-called Church music that has not even been correctly written, only fit for the waste paper basket. To perform this kind of thing in our Churches is as much a breach of seemliness as would be the use of books of words in which faults of spelling and grammar were apparent on every page. And yet it is allowed and tolerated. It should be one of the aims of all earnest Church musicians to abolish such things from our midst. On the other hand, music may be perfectly correct and even highly artistic from a technical standpoint and yet unsuitable for Church use. Although written to sacred words it may fail to express their meaning. Cases like these are more difficult to decide, and require the taste and judgment of the expert.
Again music may be both artistically good and solemn in tone and yet, through its association with secular subjects, be highly unsuitable for Church purposes. I think that this applies to all operatic selections, which, it is painful to notice, are becoming more and more frequently introduced into sacred worship. There is a vast storehouse of splendid and devotional music specially written for Church use, and eminently adapted for it. If our musical directors would take more pains to find out and familiarize themselves with this, they would find that they had no time left for the introduction of alien and exotic productions into their music lists.
The essential elements of sacred music are that it should be (a) Vocal, as distinguished from instrumental, (b) Choral, as distinguished from solo music.
True vocal music is the perfect expression of words, their meaning [4/5] and their spirit. Choral music is the expression of the feelings of a whole body and is therefore impersonal, and best adapted for shewing forth and assisting the worship of the Church. I do not here want to be misunderstood. I yield to none in appreciation of beautiful solo singing, or in realizing its value as a part of Church music. But I consider that it should be used as an ornament, an addition to the really important foundation work of the chorus, not allowed to usurp the first place. Church music could do very well with a chorus alone if no good soloists were available, but could not, and should not, depend upon the work of soloists to the sacrifice of the chorus.
(3) What is radically wrong with vocal music, with choral music, and especially with Church choral music to-day?
The answer to this will be manifest when we take a backward glance at the history and evolution of vocal music.
First were invented and evolved the words themselves, those wonderful combinations of vowels and consonants which are capable of conveying thought from one human being to another. How many of us musicians stop to consider this wonder of the world! How do words convey thought? Through memory, through association, through sound, through appearance. The spoken word is the thing; the written word is only an attempt, sometimes inadequate, to indicate the sound. A great deal cannot be shewn in writing. In all languages it is recognised that the words, in addition to their bare mechanical sounds, have rights of their own as regards quantity, accent, and stress; further, that the speaker has the right to modify these characteristics to assist his own meaning and feeling.
Vocal music was originally a development of the natural movements of the voice in speaking, and from this we get our idea of the 'music of the poets'. There is not to-day, in the strict technical [5/6] sense of the word, music in poetry. The musical sounds, if desired, must be supplied by the musician. But originally this was not the case. The poet himself sang his words, and so was both reciter and singer. All that we know of ancient and mediaeval music shews that this was the case. Then, quite recently in the history of the world, about the 15th and 16th centuries, there commenced the instrumental usurpation. The dance tune, with its necessarily strict rhythm, began to be developed side by side with the development and perfecting of instruments, and it has gone on ever since, advancing through sonata and symphony and tone poem, until its original source has been quite lost to sight.
As time went on the attention of musicians became so engrossed with this fascinating study that they allowed vocal music of the old true style to suffer neglect and decay, until its very memory became a thing of the past. To-day we are going round the cycle and beginning to see that by a return to the old methods and principles a new and greater start can be made. Instrumental music implies harmony and strict rhythm: vocal music can exist in a high state of perfection and beauty without either. An anomalous thing has happened with regard to Church music. While the rest of the world has laid aside and forgotten the old music, the Church, more conservative, has retained some of the old forms but forgotten the manner of using them, with the result that a strange hybrid form of art has appeared, with no justification in either common sense, taste or authority.
The old choral music of the Church should be free and unfettered, guided in its rhythm entirely by the proper pronunciation of the words. When the true rendering of this can be restored, it will be seen that more will follow. The vocal style once established will breathe its spirit into the rendering of all Church music, down to the most modern composition of the 20th century, and the inspiration of sacred words will resume its powerful influence.
The simplest form of Church music is what is known as the monotone, [6/7] the pronunciation of words continuously upon one pitch--a seemly and reverent method of rendering sacred words, one easy to acquire by the humblest worshipper, and one expressive of the unity that should pervade Church worship.
The use of the monotone, now almost universal in the English Church, is only occasionally found in this country. But when it is, it is unfortunate that the worst faults of the imperfect English revival, which have been imported over here (free of duty, I presume) are carefully reproduced. To illustrate what I mean, only recently I attended the worship of an important Church and this is what I heard. The words used were those of the Confession of sins. It would not be seemly for me to repeat those actual words here, but, instead, I will take a paragraph from the first book that lies near my hand and read it to you as nearly as possible in the same manner.
"It has always been a characteristic of Oxford theoloGY that from time to time it has produced writings which have appealed to and interesTED a circle wider than that of the professional theologiAN. We have not, as a rule, been indebted to IT for works of the same solid characTER as the greatest productions of the sister UniversiTY. We have no Westcott and HORT, we have nothing to rival Lightfoot's Apostolic FaTHERS. But what Oxford has given us has not only been more widely READ, but has in some cases marked a distinct ePOCH in the religious thought of the counTRY."
If you had not known that I was purposely distorting these words in order to illustrate to you what I had heard, you might now be inclined to think that I was preparing for residence in a sanitarium, and yet without exaggeration this is a description of what goes on regularly in our Churches. And people listen or join in, some impatiently wishing they could be without 'the Choral Service', others meekly submitting because they think it is the proper 'catholic' custom. Now I ask in all seriousness, is it right and [7/8] reasonable that this sort of thing should go on? There is not a shadow of justification for such distortion of words. They should be pronounced in monotoning just as in speaking, only with more care and more reverence. The explanation is very simple (though, again, I blush to name it), this method has been imported from England where things have been and still are in a transition state. A brighter day is however dawning over there, and these blemishes will, I trust, soon be things of the past. Let us not be behindhand in this country, but attack the matter without a moment's delay.
All can be corrected by applying our maxim 'consider the end'. The end of words used in divine worship (or anywhere else) is to convey sense: the end of the person who renders these words should be to preserve and elucidate this sense.
I believe that the monotone, correctly rendered, is an important part of Church worship. It has undoubtedly been used for religious services all down the history of the world, as far back as it is possible to penetrate. But if it is to survive and be a living part of our services to-day, it must be employed in a proper, reasonable, intelligent way, otherwise, grievous as the loss would be, it would be better to banish it altogether.
From the monotone has developed the chant. Chanting is nothing more nor less than a monotone with a rising or falling inflexion at the end. The principles of rendering that apply to the one apply equally to the other. But here the distressing faults commonly prevalent to-day are, if anything, still more marked.
I wish I had time to enter fully into this very important subject; and I wish it were possible for me to convince you of my meaning by sung illustrations. I can only just mention now that the chanting heard to-day is an invention of a few misguided Englishmen of some 50 years ago. It has had its day--an evil day, but it is now, I am happy to say, passing away and a new era of [8/9] greater truth and beauty is dawning.
I make this forecast with confidence, for since the last occasion upon which I spoke upon Church music, a remarkable thing has happened. The greatest obstacle to chanting reform in England has been the fact that the book in which the worst errors have been embodied has been one backed by powerful influence, financial and otherwise, to such an extent that it had become more widely used than any other, and it seemed almost hopeless to expect that its faults could be successfully combated in the present generation. Now, as I say, a remarkable thing has happened. The well known firm which owns and publishes this book has actually issued another psalter in which the false teaching of the first is contradicted, and is now advertising the two side by side.
The teaching of the book I have referred to will be known to you all. Its rules have been, with too trusting courtesy, reprinted in the appendix to the American Hymnal. A good idea of what correct chanting should be would be gained by taking these directions and inserting the word 'not' into each, as follows:
"On reaching the accented syllable, and beginning with it, the Music of the chant commences (does not commence), in strict time, a tempo, (not in strict time), the upright strokes corresponding to the bars. The Recitation must therefore be considered (must not be considered) as outside the chant, and may be of any length. If there is no syllable after that which is accented, the accented syllable must (not) be held for one whole bar or measure."
All the faults of chanting have originated from those dreadful bars! When harmony began to make its way into Church music there were at first no bars. All was free and unfettered. By degrees, for the sole purpose of keeping the voices together, the bars were introduced. Then the associations of secular dance music crept in, and the belief that the bar demanded a strong accent and rigid grouping of beats was gradually and unconsciously accepted, and [9/10] chanting, the one thing above all others that should have been exempt, fell under this evil influence.
Sir Hubert Parry, in his "Art of Music" has a fine passage upon this point. "It was the necessity", he writes, "of regulating the amount of time which should be allowed to particular notes when singers sang together, which brought about the invention of the standard of relative duration of notes, and the whole system of breves, semibreves, minims, and crotchets; and also the invention of the time signatures, which do not necessarily imply rhythm but supply the only means by which various performers can be kept together, and irregular distribution of long and short notes made orderly and coherent. It is perfectly easy to keep instruments or voices together when the music is regulated by a dance rhythm; but in pure choral music, such as was cultivated from the 10th century till the 16th, it is quite another matter, for the parts were so far from moving upon any principle of accent, that one of the most beautiful effects, which composers sought after most keenly, was the gliding from harmony to harmony by steps which were so hidden that the mind was willingly deceived into thinking that they melted into one another. The mystery was effected by making some of the voices which sang the harmony move and make a new harmony, while the others held the notes that belonged to the previous harmony; so that the continuity of the sound was maintained though the chords changed."
The mystery of gliding harmonies melting into one another, this is the one essential element of Churchly music. Where is it found to-day? The style of rendering prevalent in our Churches is the very opposite. In order to advance, in order to have a real school of Church music, different from, and superior to, secular music, we must first retreat, we must recover lost ground, we must resume possession of the riches of the past; then can we go forward with a knowledge of the essential elements of churchly music; then can we achieve the end we have set before us, and [10/11] cause the worshipper to feel the power of music to
"Dissolve him into ecstasies
And bring all heaven before his eyes."
Knowledge may be acquired by direct study or it may by acquired by analogy.
"Architecture" it has been said "is frozen music". What has not yet been achieved in one branch of Church art is now being realized in another. To musicians desirous of perfecting their art I would say go and study the new churches by Messrs. Cram, Goodhue, and Ferguson. It is really remarkable how nearly the principles of the one art apply to the other. This country, with its many achievements in other directions, has not, I suppose, been able hitherto to rival the lands across the water in the matter of ecclesiastical architecture. Now things are changed. Now has arisen in this country a new school of architecture which can advantageously be compared with any other and which has, it appears to me, solved the problem as to what shall be the future of this important art. What is the secret of this wonderful success? It is the spirit that I have been proposing for the conduct of Church music--it is a return to the true and great principles in force before the sixteenth century, not with slavish imitation, but using them with freedom, adapting them to modern conditions, and so bringing out from the old, a new form of art, its true and legitimate descendent.
The builders and the musicians of the early period were guided by one pervading principle. Joining hands with them we can be guided by the same--"In omnibus rebus respice finem''.
It is for this work that we need the idealist. Here is the vision our Church musician should see. This is the dream of the true Essential Elements of Churchly Music.