On the Music of the English Church

title 222x300 On the Music of the English ChurchThe following extract on church music is taken from the Directorium Anglicanum, one of the earliest references on Catholic ceremonial for Anglicans.

One of the gravest defects of the offices of Mattins and Evensong in the Book of Common Prayer is the absence of the Office Hymns which are an integral part of the Divine Office in the Western Church.

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.

dsp 36zz1 225x300 On the Music of the English ChurchAccording to the Rev'd Dr. John Mason Neale, that this treasury of ancient hymns might not be lost forever, "Cranmer, indeed, expressed some casual hope that men fit for the office [of translating the Office Hymns into English] might be induced to come forward."  Ultimately, it would be Dr. Neale himself who would be fit for that office, though, by then, the Office Hymns had long since fallen into desuetude.

Fortunately, the omission of the Office Hymns from the Prayer-book is an easy fix.  The Right Rev’d Peter D. Wilkinson, OSG, of the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada (TAC) has compiled the wonderful book Ancient Office Hymns with Versicles, Responses, and Antiphons for all Propers and Commons at Mattins and Evensong according to Anglican Use.  The appropriate hymn, with its corresponding versicle and response, need only be inserted into the Office in its traditional place immediately before the Benedictus or Magnificat.  Bishop Wilkinson's book also supplies the appointed antiphons on these Gospel canticles.  These restorations do much to restore the traditional integrity of the Prayer-book Offices.

Ancient Office Hymns may be had by contacting the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Evangelist.

Deanery & Parish Office
980 Falmouth Road
Victoria, BC  V8X 3A3
(250) 920-9990
FAX (250) 920-5723

* * *

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.

Merbecke title pg On the Music of the English ChurchThe 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.

Merbecke intro On the Music of the English ChurchThe 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.[1]

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.[2]

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.



1 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.

2 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.)

* * *

Be sure to follow our Moderator at Eccentric Bliss, his personal blog,
and also his professional web site (he's an IT consultant) Three Fish Consulting, LLC!

About Christian Clay Columba Campbell

Christian Clay Columba Campbell is a Roman Catholic of the Anglican Use. As Senior Warden of the Cathedral of the Incarnation (Orlando, FL), he organized the process by which the parish accepted the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus, petitioning to join the Catholic Church. The Anglican Cathedral is now the Church of the Incarnation in the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. He is also the CEO of Three Fish Consulting, LLC, an Information Technology consultancy based in Orlando, FL. He can be reached via email at ccampbell at threefish dot co.

8 thoughts on “On the Music of the English Church

  1. I have seen these very difficulties in forming a musical tradition for the vernacular liturgy in French. In has been much worse trying to graft a musical tradition onto the banal ICEL translations in English in the Catholic liturgy since the reforms. There are many articles in the New Liturgical Movement on this subject and the alarming tendency of copyrighting the texts in such a way as to limit the kinds of music composed to set the texts in question.

    Perhaps, these copyrighted texts could become moot as the Anglican texts become more mainstream with our Use – and perhaps even with the modern Roman rite in the new ICEL translation yet to be officially approved by Rome and promulgated. Who knows?

    This history of the same process in the Anglican tradition will certainly be a salutary lesson to those interested in the development of vernacular liturgy in the Catholic Church. Our Anglican tradition took centuries to build from those clumsy beginnings in the sixteenth century with simplified plainsong and metrical psalms. The greatest progress was in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with the process being perfected in the twentieth century and taken to unprecedented heights.

    The Liturgia Horarum in French also lost the ancient Office hymns to a large extent, unless they were sung in Latin, and often replaced by stuff of unbelievable sappiness and banality. I have seen some good progress in French vernacular liturgy through the composition of Masses, anthems and settings for the Office. The psalms are pointed for unison chants in six “points”: one, two, three: one, two, three. They were adopted from the six-point polyphonic faux-bourdon chants often used in France for the old Latin psalms.

    It is vital for us to rediscover our own Anglican musical tradition, which is not easier when we left the Church of England or the American Episcopal Church twenty or thirty years ago and have been worshipping in chapels of fortune in the Continuum. In foundations like the Atonement Parish, Fr Phillips could tell us what they do. My English background would ask them whether they have a boys’ choir that rehearses every day and sings daily Evensong at least. We need flagship foundations and the English Cathedral formula of the choir school with boarding pupils. You need a minimum of twenty boys, two altos, two tenors and two basses, and preferably four of each in the mens’ voices. The men need to be musicians of professional standard, and preferable working as teachers in the choir school. You also need an Organist and Master of the Choristers with an assistant organist also of professional standard.

    I know Pope Benedict XVI is keenly interested in church music, being German – and cathedrals in Germany and Austria also have boys’ choirs and a terrific musical tradition. France has a few distinguished choirs, like at the Cathedral of Saint Bénigne in Dijon, but these foundations have generally been victims of the ideology and the liturgical reforms taken to extremes. The Catholic Church in England and I believe also in America in a musical and cultural desert, except for Westminster Cathedral that still has its traditional surpliced choir and the London Oratory that has a good “cock and hen” (church musicians’ jargon for a mixed choir with women instead of boys) choir.

    I was trained since my tender age in the Anglican musical tradition and had my first organ lessons back in 1972. I sang in my school choir and in parishes. I have held a few organist and choirmaster posts, and am also familiar with the music of the Catholic Latin liturgy. I am not of cathedral standard, and am far out of practice with – for example – accompanying the English psalms with Anglican chant. But, I do know how it all works. If anyone needs any practical advice, I’ll do what I can to get the right ideas over for the situation in hand.

  2. Are these antiphons original reworking, or are they the republication of the ancient heritage of the Church, thus becoming public domain?

    The Book of Common Prayer (1928 in the U.S) is, if I understand correctly, public domain. Would the antiphons from the Sarum Use also be?

    Also, has anyone looked at the Creative Commons License for antiphonal works and hymns for the Office that would give protection with latitude for the individual choir director.

  3. The English translations of the Sarum Missal which you will find here:

    http://www.archive.org/search.php?query=sarum

    are all public domain like the Prayer Book. You are free to use any of these texts and compose musical settings or do what you want.

    I dare say you could appropriate everything and slam it under copyright under your own name – and make sure the rest of us can't use it! At least, without paying royalties. I'm sure you wouldn't do that – would you? ;-)

    1. A rich treasure trove indeed. I especially appreciated finding the melody for Vexilla Regis in there as well.

      Thank you very much.

  4. Indeed not. In fact, here is the Creative Commons License website, which has structures for defining such uses, or making it public domain.

    As for putting things under royalties, I'll leave that to Doubleday in England & GIA in the States for the Grail translations.:-<

  5. Fr. Chadwick expressed interest in knowing something of the music at our parish:

    The choral tradition is a major element in our parish school. Every student, beginning in the third grade, sings in a choir, with a daily rehearsal. Students younger than that (beginning in pre-Kindergarten) also have an organized program for music in class, but not in a formal choir. If my count is accurate, there are eleven different choirs in the school (plus an additional four choirs for the church), and each one takes turns providing music at the daily Mass. In the Upper School (high school) we have the Honors Choirs, which is an award-winning choir on the state level. Some of our choirs are strictly boys' choirs, including a fine "changed voices" choir of young men, who provide beautiful Gregorian chant at many of our Masses.

    Because of the daily Mass, we are unable to fit daily Evensong into our school schedule; however, we do have Solemn Evensong on Feast Days, which gives our choirs the opportunity to learn some excellent settings of the canticles, and the whole student body sings the Psalms set to Anglican chant. I haven't yet figured out how to make the public chanting of the daily offices part of our schedule, but it's on my "to do" list!

    Fine music takes a serious commitment, and we have a staff of two full-time and one part-time professional choral teachers, two of whom are also concert-quality organists. I also felt it was extremely important to have a first-class pipe organ, and we installed a fine Casavant.

    I probably sound like a broken record, but the establishment of schools is an essential ingredient in developing and maintaining our Anglican patrimony, and it's particularly important in preserving our musical heritage.

Leave a Reply