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Domination of the Psalter in English Hymnody

This disappearance in England of the work of the Reformers in church music was due not only to the lack of great translators but also to many other causes. Early in the Renaissance England came to think of the Reformation as her own movement, and therefore casting aside all suggestions from other countries wished to study history and hymns of English sources only. The few men at this time who recognized Germany as the mother country of the Reformation and a seat of literary accomplishments had no wide influence in England. All German residents in England belonged exclusively to the commercial class and brought no literary influence with them; also a reason for the literary alienation at this time was the fact that Germany did not enter the religious wars in which Englishmen were so deeply interested. To men like Jonson and Fletcher Germany was famous only as a land of magicians and conjurers such as Paracelsus and Dr. Faustus. In short, for nearly two centuries England knew little of Germany except what booksellers found it to their profit to advertise on their sign directories as the "wonderful strange Newes from Germany," and the satires of Brant, Dedekind, and Fischart.112112For a good account of contemporary German drama and satire in England, cf. Herford: The Literary Relations of England and Germany in the XVIth. Century. Ch. IV-VII.

Another most vital cause of the retardation of the development of hymnody in Great Britain so soon after the Reformation was the example and influence of Geneva. Calvin was organizing his ecclesiastical system at Geneva, and introduced into it Marot's Psalter113113Clement Marot, valet de chambre to Francis I of France, collaborated with Theodore Beza on a metrical translation of the Old Testament Psalms. The work appeared about 1540. which was then very fashionable. This example produced in England the translation commonly known as the Old Version of the Psalms begun in the reign of Henry VIII (1509-1547). In this collection are eleven metrical versions of the "Te Deum" and "Da pacem, Domine," two original hymns of praise, two 30 penitential and a hymn of faith. The tunes which accompanied the words were German.114114Cf. Barney: History of Music. Therefore, although the religious influence of the Reformation was always strong in England from the beginning of the movement, the influence of Luther from a literary standpoint early in the Renaissance ceased to exist in England and was replaced by Calvin's stern rule. These narrower canons admitting nothing but paraphrases of scripture and even of scripture little outside the Psalms became the firm fashion of English hymnody for the next century and a half.


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