Eclectic Ethereal Encyclopedia

Preface to the English Hymnal, 1906


THE music of this hymnal is divided into two main sections the plainsong melodies and the comparatively modern music. The modern music only is dealt with here. The plainsong is discussed separately.


The music is intended to be essentially congregational in character, and this end has been kept in view both in the choice of tunes and in the manner of setting them out. Fine melody rather than the exploitation of a trained choir has been the criterion of selection: the pitch of each tune has been kept as low as is consistent with the character of the melody.

Where there is congregational singing it is important that familiar melodies should be employed, or at least those which have stood the test of time: therefore the 'specially composed tune'--that bane of many a hymnal--has been avoided as far as possible. There are already many hundreds of fine tunes in existence, so many indeed that it is impossible to include more than a small part of them in any one collection.

The task of providing congregations with familiar tunes is difficult; for, unfortunately, many of the tunes of the present day which have become familiar and, probably merely from association, popular with congregations are quite unsuitable to their purpose. More often than not they are positively harmful to those who sing and hear them. The committee were therefore placed in the hard position of having to decide whether they should risk momentary unpopularity by discarding certain tunes, or whether they should sacrifice the greater ultimate good for the lesser and more immediate advantage. The problem, however, solved itself in a happy and unforeseen manner because the insertion of several of the tunes in question was not allowed by the owners of the copyright. Thus the committee, while regretting that they are not able for a few years to include such beautiful tunes as Dykes' 'Dominus regit me' or Stainer's 'In Memoriam', yet feel that nothing but gain can result from the exclusion of certain other tunes, which are worthy neither of the congregations who sing them, the occasions on which they are sung, nor the composers who wrote them.

The committee believe that many clergymen and organists are now realizing their responsibility in this matter, and will welcome a tune-book in which enervating tunes are reduced to a minimum. The usual argument in favour of bad music is that the fine tunes are doubtless 'musically correct', but that the people want 'something simple'. Now the expression 'musically correct' has no meaning; the only 'correct' music is that which is beautiful and noble. As for simplicity, what could be simpler than 'St. Anne' or 'The Old Hundredth', and what could be finer?

It is indeed a moral rather than a musical issue. No doubt it requires a certain effort to tune oneself to the moral atmosphere implied by a fine melody; and it is far easier to dwell in the miasma of the languishing and sentimental hymn tunes which so often disfigure our services. Such poverty of heart may not be uncommon, but at least it should not be encouraged by those who direct the services of the Church; it ought no longer to be true anywhere that the most exalted moments of a church-goer's week are associated with music that would not be tolerated in any place of secular entertainment.

There are, however, many who recognize this bad state of things, but are timid about removing old favourites. Those who have this fear should remember that most of our 'old favourites' are of very recent growth, dating at the earliest from the year 1861--a very short life for a hymn tune; also that it does not take more than a couple of years to make a tune which congregations like into an 'old favourite', and furthermore that it is not by any means necessarily bad music which is popular. The average congregation likes fine melody when it can get it, but it is apt to be undiscriminating, and will often take to bad melody when good is not forthcoming. Is it not worth while making a vigorous effort to-day for the sake of establishing a good tradition? Especially should this be the case with children's hymns. Children at all events have no old association with any particular tune, and incalculable good or harm may be done by the music which they sing in their most impressionable years.

An attempt has been made to set a minimum standard in the music selected for this work. This does not mean that austerity has been unduly sought, or that difficult and colourless music has been preferred to that which is vigorous and bright. A tune has no more right to be dull than to be demoralizing. Indeed, anxiety to ensure the co-operation of the congregation may have caused the boundary to be occasionally overstepped, so that a few tunes have been retained which ought to have been rejected, but on this borderland individual tastes must necessarily differ, and the committee have done their best to select the most suitable tune for each hymn. To make the possibilities of selection wider, numerous cross-references have been given, which should be freely used, and a short appendix is added of alternative tunes to certain hymns for the use of those who do not agree with the choice of the musical editor.


(a) Pitch.--The pitch of all the tunes has been fixed as low as possible for the sake of mixed congregations. Except in the case of tunes with an extended compass the highest note is not above D or E. Some choirmasters may object to this on the ground that it places the hymns in the worst part of the boy-chorister's voice, and that it takes the basses and altos rather low. The obvious answer is that hymns are essentially for the congregation; the choir have their opportunity elsewhere, but in the hymn they must give way to the congregation, and it is a great mistake to suppose that the result will be inartistic. A large body of voices singing together makes a distinctly artistic effect, though that of each individual voice might be the opposite. And it may be added that a desire to parade a trained choir often accompanies a debased musical taste.

Where a tune occurs twice in the book it is usually given in two different keys, and in one or two cases a higher version of certain well-known tunes is given in the appendix. If this is not sufficient it is always possible to transpose the tunes to a higher key. Where a tune is only given once it is obvious why it should be printed in a lower key. Such a key is particularly suitable for village churches where the organist is rarely able to transpose. On the other hand, in churches where it is desired to give the first consideration to a trained choir, the organist will certainly be competent to transpose at sight into the key desired.

(b) Unison singing.--Every hymn is so arranged that it can be sung in unison accompanied by the organ. Certain verses are marked as being specially suitable for unison singing, and it is suggested that the first verse of most hymns should be sung in unison as well as all the doxologies. In any case the congregation must always sing the melody, and the melody only.

In these circumstances it has been thought advisable occasionally to introduce harmonizations (especially those of J. S. Bach) rather more elaborate than usual. These will no doubt add greatly to the beauty and the popularity of the tunes. If some choirs find them difficult the tunes can be sung in unison accompanied by the organ; the organist will find no difficulty in playing them, if they are taken at the proper speed. It is a great mistake to suppose that untrained musicians are insensible to fine harmony. They may not be able to analyse the effect, but there can be no doubt that a well-harmonized tune makes a more powerful appeal than one in which the harmonies are bad or unsuitable. Choirs would be much better occupied in learning these beautiful settings of Bach (which are not hard if practised a little) than in rehearsing vulgar anthems by indifferent composers.

(c) Choir and people.--There are churches in which the experiment has been successfully tried of making choir and people sing some hymns antiphonally. By this means the people are given a distinct status in the services, and are encouraged to take an intelligent interest in the music they sing, while the eternal war between choir and congregation, each considering the other an unnecessary appendage to the services of the church, is done away with.

The congregation might be encouraged to sing and appreciate the finer melodies if a system of monthly congregational practices were held, at which the less known tunes could be made familiar in some such way as the following:--The first two verses might be sung by the choir alone, or some body of singers with good voices who already knew the melody: at the third verse the congregation would be irwited to join in, and would finally sing a verse unaided by the trained singers. A hymn recital, at which some of the less familiar hymns might be sung by the choir, would also be a pleasant variety from the Sunday evening organ recital.

(d) Speed.--The custom in English churches is to sing many hymns much too fast. It is distressing to hear 'Nun Danket' or 'St. Anne' raced through at about twice the proper speed. Metronome marks are added to each hymn, which, the editor believes, indicate the proper speed in a fairly large building with a congregation of average size. The speed indications should not be judged at the pianoforte.

Another painful experience is to hear an organist trying to play through a C. M. or L. M. tune, in absolutely strict time, regardless of the slight pauses which the congregation, with unconscious artistic insight, are inclined to make at the end of every line. Pauses have been marked wherever they should be made, and, a sign , has also been extensively used to designate a very short break, less than the ordinary pause (^). Sometimes ^ and , are used together, signifying a pause as well as a complete break in the sound.

Some of the hymns are marked to be sung 'in free rhythm'. This direction is especially applicable to unmeasured tunes, but all hymn tunes should be sung more or less freely; at all events a stiff clock-work rendering should be avoided. If this is borne in mind, and the hymn are not sung too fast, the bad effect will be largely avoided of those false accents which inevitably occur when several verses of a hymn are sung to the same tune.

(e) Expression.--Expression marks have been altogether omitted, as it is considered that subtleties of expression are entirely unsuitable for congregational singing. The organist can use his own judgement as to the general dynamics of each verse, and convey his idea to the congregation by his registering. All sudden 'pianos' or small 'crescendos' and 'diminuendos' should be avoided as destroying the broad and massive effect which congregational singing should convey.

(f) Notation.--Both minims and crotchets have been employed, the former for the slower and more solemn hymns and the latter for those of a brighter nature. The point of division has been fixed at M. 85 for hymns in duple time, and 100 in triple time in the more ordinary hymns, but special rules have been framed to govern special cases.


No particular country, period, or school has been exclusively drawn upon to supply material, but an attempt has been made to include the best specimens of every style. In settling the form which each melody shall take, no rules have been made, but each case has been decided on its merits. The object has been to print the finest version of every tune, not necessarily the earliest. Thus the later forms of 'Wachet Auf', 'Nun Danket', and 'London New', to give a few examples, have been preferred to the originals. But the old method of mutilating tunes to suit new metres has been as far as possible avoided--only in one or two cases have a composer's rhythms been very slightly adapted, and then for some very special purpose. In cases where such a slight adaptation from a composer's rhythm is made the general outline is never destroyed, so that the original can at any time be restored without disturbing a congregation. But adaptations already made have been occasionally retained when the result is a fine and popular tune: thus 'Dix', 'Narenza', and 'Ravenshaw' have not been discarded, though the fact of their adaptation is duly acknowledged. On the other hand the committee are glad to be able to restore the true metres of such tunes as 'Innsbruck', 'Weimar', or 'Les commandemens', which have been disfigured into dullness in so many hymnals.

The original rhythms of many of the old psalter tunes have also been restored, especially the long initial on the first syllable, which gives such a broad and dignified effect to these tunes. Attempts to adapt them to the procrustean bed of the nineteenth century hymn tune have merely taken away their character and made them appear dull. For the same reason no attempt has been made to square the irregular times of some tunes. These irregularities are always easy to sing by ear--and this is the way in which a hymn melody should be learnt--so that choirmasters should not let the fear of what may appear to be irregular deter them from using many splendid and essentially congregational melodies.

The following classification shows the chief sources from which the tunes come:--

A. GERMAN.--(1) Lutheran chorale tunes 16th and 17th centuries. (2) Tunes from the 16th and 17th century Catholic song books (chiefly Leisentritt's, 1567, and the Andernach Gesangbuch, 1608). (3) Tunes of the 18th century, chiefly by Bach and Freylinghausen. (4) Modern German tunes. (5) German traditional melodies.

B. FRENCH AND SWISS.--(1) Tunes from the Genevan Psalters of the 16th century. (2) Ecclesiastical melodies from the paroissiens of various French uses (chiefly those of Rouen and Angers). (3) French and Swiss traditional melodies.

C. ITALIAN, SPANISH, FLEMISH, DUTCH.--Ecclesiastical, traditional, and other melodies from these countries are also included.

D. AMERICAN.--Among American tunes may be mentioned Lowell Mason's tunes, certain tunes from 'Sacred Songs and Solos' and a few 'Western melodies' in use in America as hymn tunes.

E. BRITISH ISLES.--I. Ireland. (1) Irish traditional melodies. (2) Tunes by Irish composers.

II. Scotland. (1) Melodies from the Scottish Psalters of the 16th and 17th centuries. (2) Melodies from the Scottish tune-books of ihe 18th and 19th centuries. (3) Scottish traditional melodies.

III. Wales. (1) Archdeacon Prys' Psalter, which contains the. famous tune 'St. Mary'. (2) Welsh traditional melodies. (3) Tunes by 18th and 19th century Welsh composers, which partake decidedly of the nature of their traditional melodies.

IV. England. (1) Tunes from Day's, Damon's, Este's, Ravenscroft's, and Playford's Psalters of the 16th and 17th centuries (the original versions of these, with the melody in the tenor, are occasionally included as alternatives to the modern version). (2) Tunes by Tallis, Gibbons, Lawes, &c., from their own collections. (3) Tunes from 18th century books--especially those by J. Clark and Dr. Croft. (4) English carol, and other traditional melodies. (5) Tunes by 19th and 20th century composers.

R. Vaughan Williams


1861: ed. note: First publication of Hymns Ancient and Modern.

From: The English Hymnal, 1906 (2nd ed., 1933)

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