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The Christian Classics Ethereal Hymnary is a database and indexed archive of public-domain hymn tunes and chants in electronic formats including MIDI files, printable sheet music, and editable electronic musical scores, that have been donated to the Christian Classics Ethereal Library. It does not include hymn texts or lyrics.
A "hymn" is hard to define. Augustine thought three (actually four) elements were necessary: it must be words of praise, to be sung, addressing God. But this doesn't distinguish hymns from carols, gospel music, oratorios, cantatas, or motets. And it doesn't include religious music intended for teaching in the public worship -- but that was a part of the canonical Book of Psalms, as well as all collections of "hymns" ever since.
Perhaps it would be better to list more elements, and recognize that not every hymn contains every element. Hymns are texts that meet most of these criteria:
Hymns are distinguishable from:
Hymns which consist of an arrangement of one section of the Bible may be called "Psalms," "Canticles," or "Scripture Songs."
From that definition (however fuzzy) of "hymn", one can identify some attributes that make a composition recognizable as a "hymn tune" (again, not all tunes meet all criteria:)
Hymn tunes may be distinguished from:
A successful "hymn tune" (from whatever source) exists like a "folk song": It is often learned "by rote" rather than "from the book", and sung "as heard" rather than "as composed and written down." Without a living tradition of "folk singing", it may be hard to distinguish between "hymn tunes" and "folk songs"; but a tune is seldom used simultaneously, in the same culture, as both a folk song and a hymn tune.
Personal and cultural differences make the "suitable style" criterion very subjective: one culture's "hymn tune" may be a "trivial dance tune" to another, and might be hardly recognizable as music in yet another. And the musical sophistication of a culture defines just how much "folk" can accept as singable: as musical techniques fall out of popular use, a "folk song" may become a "hymn tune" and finally a "concert piece." (This collection is by design eclectic and inclusive, representing the music of many different cultures and traditions: including some Anglican chants.)
These files are intended (ultimately) to help congregational worship, by providing notation, indexes, and textual and audio introductions. The choice of file formats, arrangements, and settings reflects this; nearly all music is provided in as many of these formats as possible:
All hymns are indexed by tune name (sometimes including multiple names for a tune), by author, arranger, or source (including multiple attributions), and by musical meter and incipit (the first few notes of the tune, encoded in two different ways.) I have provided partial numerical indexes to several common hymnals.Eventually these indexes will be provided in Database import format for others' postprocessing.
This index is gradually incorporating the music files formerly known to CCEL visitors as "200 MIDI Files" -- although they also included some scores and hymn texts. see the notice posted there.
Other public-domain contributions to this collection are welcomed. I have a list of types of contribution that might add to its usefulness or fill already-recognized shortcomings. Please contact me with questions, suggestions, or contributions.
The Christian Classics Ethereal Library has a variety of material -- primary sources, texts, tunes, translations, history and biography, literary analyses -- in its Hymns and Hymnology category.