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The musical productions that have emanated from the Church of England possess no such independent interest as works of art as those which so richly adorn the Catholic and the German Evangelical systems. With the exception of the naturalized Händel (whose few occasional anthems, Te Deums, and miscellaneous church pieces give him an incidental place in the roll of English ecclesiastical musicians), there is no name to be found in connection with the English cathedral service that compares in lustre with those that give such renown to the religious song of Italy and Germany. Yet in spite of this mediocrity of achievement, the music of the Anglican Church has won an honorable historic position, not only by reason of the creditable average of excellence which it has maintained for three hundred years, but still more through its close identification with those fierce conflicts over dogma, ritual, polity, and the relation of the Church to the individual which have given such a singular interest to English ecclesiastical history. Methods of musical expression have been almost as hotly contested as vital matters of doctrine and authority, and the result has been that the English people look upon their national religious song with a respect such as, 328[324] perhaps, no other school of church music receives in its own home. The value and purpose of music in worship, and the manner of performance most conducive to edification, have been for centuries the subjects of such serious discussion that the problems propounded by the history of English church music are of perennial interest. The dignity, orderliness, tranquillity, and graciousness in outward form and inward spirit which have come to distinguish the Anglican Establishment are reflected in its anthems and “services,” its chants and hymns; while the simplicity and sturdy, aggressive sincerity of the non-conformist sects may be felt in the accents of their psalmody. The clash of liturgic and non-liturgic opinions, conformity and independence, Anglicanism and Puritanism, may be plainly heard in the church musical history of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, and even to-day the contest has not everywhere been settled by conciliation and fraternal sympathy.

The study of English church music, therefore, is the study of musical forms and practices more than of works of art as such. We are met at the outset by a spectacle not paralleled in other Protestant countries, viz., the cleavage of the reformed Church into two violently hostile divisions; and we find the struggle for supremacy between Anglicans and Puritans fought out in the sphere of art and ritual as well as on the battlefield and the arena of theological polemic. Consequently we are obliged to trace two distinct lines of development—the ritual music of the Establishment and the psalmody of the dissenting bodies—trying to discover how these contending principles acted upon each other, and what instruction can be drawn from their collision and their final compromise.


The Reformation in England took in many respects a very different course from that upon the continent. In Germany, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands the revolt against Rome was initiated by men who sprung from the ranks of the people. Notwithstanding the complication of motives which drew princes and commoners, ecclesiastics and laymen, into the rebellion, the movement was primarily religious, first a protest against abuses, next the demand for free privileges in the Gospel, followed by restatements of belief and the establishment of new forms of worship. Political changes followed in the train of the religious revolution, because in most instances there was such close alliance between the secular powers and the papacy that allegiance to the former was not compatible with resistance to the latter.

In England this process was reversed; political separation preceded the religious changes; it was the alliance between the government and the papacy that was first to break. The emancipation from the supremacy of Rome was accomplished at a single stroke by the crown itself, and that not upon moral grounds or doctrinal disagreement, but solely for political advantage. In spite of tokens of spiritual unrest, there was no sign of a disposition on the part of any considerable number of the English people to sever their fealty to the Church of Rome when, in 1534, Henry VIII. issued a royal edict repudiating the papal authority, and a submissive Parliament decreed that “the king, our sovereign lord, his 330[326] heirs and successors, kings of this realm, shall be taken, accepted, and reputed the only supreme head in earth of the Church of England.” The English Church became in a day what it had often shown a desire to become—a national Church, free from the arbitrary authority of an Italian overlordship, the king instead of the pope at its head, with supreme power in all matters of appointment and discipline, possessing even the prerogative of deciding what should be the religious belief and manner of worship in the realm. No doctrinal change was involved in this proceeding; there was no implied admission of freedom of conscience or religious toleration. The mediaeval conception of the necessity of religious unanimity among all the subjects of the state—one single state Church maintained in every precept and ordinance by the power of the throne—was rigorously reasserted. The English Church had simply exchanged one master for another, and had gained a spiritual tyranny to which were attached no conceptions of right drawn from ancestral association or historic tradition.

The immediate occasion for this action on the part of Henry VIII. was, as all know, his exasperation against Clement VII. on account of that pope’s refusal to sanction the king’s iniquitous scheme of a divorce from his faithful wife Catherine and a marriage with Anne Boleyn. This grievance was doubtless a mere pretext, for a temper so imperious as that of Henry could not permanently brook a divided loyalty in his kingdom. But since Henry took occasion to proclaim anew the fundamental dogmas of the Catholic Church, with the old bloody penalties against heresy, it would not be proper to speak of him as the originator of the Reformation in England. That event properly dates from the reign of his successor, Edward VI.


It was not possible, however, that in breaking the ties of hierarchical authority which had endured for a thousand years the English Church should not undergo further change. England had always been a more or less refractory child of the Roman Church, and more than once the conception of royal prerogative and national right had come into conflict with the pretensions of the papacy, and the latter had not always emerged victorious from the struggle. The old Germanic spirit of liberty and individual determination, always especially strong in England, was certain to assert itself when the great European intellectual awakening of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries had taken hold of the mass of the people; and it might have been foreseen after Luther’s revolt that England would soon throw herself into the arms of the Reformation. The teachings of Wiclif and the Lollards were still cherished at many English fire-sides. Humanistic studies had begun to flourish under the auspices of such men as Erasmus, Colet, and More, and humanism, as the natural foe of superstition and obscurantism, was instinctively set against ecclesiastical assumption. Lastly, the trumpet blast of Luther had found an echo in many stout British hearts. The initiative of the crown, however, forestalled events and changed their course, and instead of a general rising of the people, the overthrow of every vestige of Romanism, and the creation of a universal Calvinistic system, the conservatism and moderation of Edward VI. and Elizabeth 332[328] and their advisers retained so much of external form and ceremony in the interest of dignity, and fixed so firmly the pillars of episcopacy in the interest of stability and order, that the kingdom found itself divided into two parties, and the brief conflict between nationalism and Romanism was succeeded by the long struggle between the Establishment, protected by the throne, and rampant, all-levelling Puritanism.

With the passage of the Act of Supremacy the Catholic and Protestant parties began to align themselves for conflict. Henry VIII. at first showed himself favorable to the Protestants, inclining to the acceptance of the Bible as final authority instead of the decrees and traditions of the Church. After the Catholic rebellion of 1536, however, the king changed his policy, and with the passage of the Six Articles, which decreed the doctrine of transubstantiation, the celibacy of the clergy, the value of private masses, and the necessity of auricular confession, he began a bloody persecution which ended only with his death.

The boy king, Edward VI., who reigned from 1547 to 1553, had been won over to Protestantism by Archbishop Cranmer, and with his accession reforms in doctrine and ritual went on rapidly. Parliament was again subservient, and a modified Lutheranism took possession of the English Church. The people were taught from the English Bible, the Book of Common Prayer took the place of Missal and Breviary; the Mass, compulsory celibacy of the clergy, and worship of images were abolished, and invocation of saints forbidden. We must observe that these changes, like those effected by Henry VIII., were 333[329] not brought about by popular pressure under the leadership of great tribunes, but were decreed by the rulers of the state, ratified by Parliament under due process of law, and enforced by the crown under sanction of the Act of Supremacy. The revolution was regular, peaceful, and legal, and none of the savage conflicts between Catholics and Protestants which tore Germany, France, and the Netherlands in pieces and drenched their soil with blood, ever occurred in England. Amid such conditions reaction was easy. Under Mary (1553-1558) the old religion and forms were reënacted, and a persecution, memorable for the martyrdoms of Cranmer, Ridley, Latimer, Hooper, and other leaders of the Protestant party, was carried on with ruthless severity, but without weakening the cause of the reformed faith. Elizabeth (1558-1603) had no pronounced religious convictions, but under the stress of European political conditions she became of necessity a protector of the Protestant cause. The reformed service was restored, and from Elizabeth’s day the Church of England has rested securely upon the constitutions of Edward VI.

With the purification and restatement of doctrine according to Protestant principles was involved the question of the liturgy. There was no thought on the part of the English reformers of complete separation from the ancient communion and the establishment of a national Church upon an entirely new theory. They held firmly to the conception of historic Christianity; the episcopal succession extending back to the early ages of the Church was not broken, the administration of the sacraments never ceased. The Anglican Church 334[330] was conceived as the successor of the universal institution which, through her apostasy from the pure doctrine of the apostles, had abrogated her claims upon the allegiance of the faithful. Anglicanism contained in itself a continuation of the tradition delivered to the fathers, with an open Bible, and the emancipation of the reason; it was legitimate heir to what was noblest and purest in Catholicism. This conception is strikingly manifest in the liturgy of the Church of England, which is partly composed of materials furnished by the office-books of the ancient Church, and in the beginning associated with music in no way to be distinguished in style from the Catholic. The prominence given to vestments, and to ceremonies calculated to impress the senses, also points unmistakably to the conservative spirit which forbade that the reform should in any way take on the guise of revolution.

The ritual of the Church of England is contained in a single volume, viz., the Book of Common Prayer. It is divided into matins and evensong, the office of Holy Communion, offices of confirmation and ordination, and occasional offices. But little of this liturgy is entirely original; the matins and evensong are compiled from the Catholic Breviary, the Holy Communion with collects, epistles, and gospels from the Missal, occasional offices from the Ritual, and the confirmation and ordination offices from the Pontifical. All these offices, as compared with the Catholic sources, are greatly modified and simplified. A vast amount of legendary and unhistoric matter found in the Breviary has disappeared, litanies to and invocations of the saints and the Virgin 335[331] Mary have been omitted. The offices proper to saints’ days have disappeared, the seven canonical hours are compressed to two, the space given to selections from Holy Scripture greatly extended, and the English language takes the place of Latin.

In this dependence upon the offices of the mother Church for the ritual of the new worship the English reformers, like Martin Luther, testified to their conviction that they were purifiers and renovators of the ancient faith and ceremony, not violent destroyers, seeking to win the sympathies of their countrymen by deferring to old associations and inherited prejudices, so far as consistent with reason and conscience. Their sense of historic continuity is further shown in the fact that the Breviaries which they consulted were those specially employed from early times in England, particularly the use known as the “Sarum use,” drawn up and promulgated about 1085 by Osmund, bishop of Salisbury, and generally adopted in the south of England, and which deviated in certain details from the use of Rome.

Propositions looking to the amendment of the service-books were brought forward before the end of the reign of Henry VIII., and a beginning was made by introducing the reading of small portions of the Scripture in English. The Litany was the first of the prayers to be altered and set in English, which was done by Cranmer, who had before him the old litanies of the English Church, besides the “Consultation” of Hermann, archbishop of Cologne (1543).


With the accession of Edward VI. in 1547 the revolution in worship was thoroughly confirmed, and in 1549 the complete Book of Common Prayer, essentially in its modern form, was issued. A second and modified edition was published in 1552 and ordered to be adopted in all the churches of the kingdom. The old Catholic office-books were called in and destroyed, the images were taken from the houses of worship, the altars removed and replaced by communion tables, the vestments of the clergy were simplified, and the whole conception of the service, as well as its ceremonies, completely transformed. Owing to the accession of Mary in 1553 there was no time for the Prayer Book of 1552 to come into general use. A third edition, somewhat modified, published in 1559, was one of the earliest results of the accession of Elizabeth. Another revision followed in 1604 under James I.; additions and alterations were made under Charles II. in 1661-2. Since that date only very slight changes have been made.

The liturgy of the Church of England is composed, like the Catholic liturgy, of both constant and variable offices, the latter, however, being in a small minority. It is notable for the large space given to reading from Holy Scripture, the entire Psalter being read through every month, the New Testament three times a year, and the Old Testament once a year. It includes a large variety of prayers, special psalms to be sung, certain psalm-like hymns called canticles, the hymns comprising the chief constant choral members of the Latin Mass, viz., Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, and Sanctus—the Te Deum, the ten commandments, a litany, besides 337[333] short sentences and responses known as versicles. In addition to the regular morning and evening worship there are special series of offices for Holy Communion and for particular occasions, such as ordinations, confirmations, the burial service, etc.

Although there is but one ritual common to all the congregations of the established Church, one form of prayer and praise which ascends from cathedral, chapel, and parish church alike, this service differs in respect to the manner of rendering. The Anglican Church retained the conception of the Catholic that the service is a musical service, that the prayers, as well as the psalms, canticles, and hymns, are properly to be given not in the manner of ordinary speech, but in musical tone. It was soon found, however, that a full musical service, designed for the more conservative and wealthy establishments, was not practicable in small country parishes, and so in process of time three modes of performing the service were authorized, viz., the choral or cathedral mode, the parochial, and the mixed.

The choral service is that used in the cathedrals, royal and college chapels, and certain parish churches whose resources permit the adoption of the same practice. In this mode everything except the lessons is rendered in musical tone, from the monotoned prayers of the priest to the figured chorus music of “service” and anthem. The essential parts of the choral service, as classified by Dr. Jebb,7777Jebb, Choral Service of the United Church of England and Ireland. are as follows:


1. The chanting by the minister of the sentences, exhortations, prayers, and collects throughout the liturgy in a monotone, slightly varied by occasional modulations.

2. The alternate chant of the versicles and responses by minister and choir.

3. The alternate chant, by the two divisions of the choir, of the daily psalms and of such as occur in the various offices of the Church.

4. The singing of all the canticles and hymns, in the morning and evening service, either to an alternated chant or to songs of a more intricate style, resembling anthems in their construction, and which are technically styled “services.”

5. The singing of the anthem after the third collect in both morning and evening prayer.

6. The alternate chanting of the litany by the minister and choir.

7. The singing of the responses after the commandments in the Communion service.

8. The singing of the creed, Gloria in excelsis, and Sanctus in the Communion service anthem-wise. [The Sanctus has in recent years been superseded by a short anthem or hymn.]

9. The chanting or singing of those parts in the occasional offices which are rubrically permitted to be sung.

In this manner of worship the Church of England conforms to the general usage of liturgic churches throughout the world in ancient and modern times, by implication honoring that conception of the intimate union of word and tone in formal authorized worship which has been expounded in the chapters on the 339[335] Catholic music and ritual. Since services are held on week days as well as on Sundays in the cathedrals, and since there are two full choral services, each involving an almost unbroken current of song from clergy and choir, this usage involves a large and thoroughly trained establishment, which is made possible by the endowments of the English cathedrals.

The parochial service is that used in the smaller churches where it is not possible to maintain an endowed choir. “According to this mode the accessories of divine service necessary towards its due performance are but few and simple.” “As to the ministers, the stated requirements of each parochial church usually contemplate but one, the assistant clergy and members of choirs being rarely objects of permanent endowment.” “As to the mode of performing divine service, the strict parochial mode consists in reciting all parts of the liturgy in the speaking tone of the voice unaccompanied by music. According to this mode no chant, or canticle, or anthem, properly so called, is employed; but metrical versions of the psalms are sung at certain intervals between the various offices.” (Jebb.)

This mode is not older than 1549, for until the Reformation the Plain Chant was used in parish churches. The singing of metrical psalms dates from the reign of Elizabeth.


The mixed mode is less simple than the parochial; parts of the service are sung by a choir, but the prayers, creeds, litany, and responses are recited in speaking voice. It may be said, however, that the parochial and the mixed modes are optional and permitted as matters of convenience. There is no law that forbids any congregation to adopt any portion or even the whole of the choral mode. In these variations, to which we find nothing similar in the Catholic Church, may be seen the readiness of the fathers of the Anglican Church to compromise with Puritan tendencies and guard against those reactions which, as later history shows, are constantly urging sections of the English Church back to extreme ritualistic practices.

The music of the Anglican Church follows the three divisions into which church music in general may be separated, viz., the chant, the figured music of the choir, and the congregational hymn.

The history of the Anglican chant may also be taken to symbolize the submerging of the ancient priestly idea in the representative conception of the clerical office, for the chant has proved itself a very flexible form of expression, both in structure and usage, endeavoring to connect itself sometimes with the anthem-like choir song and again with the congregational hymn. In the beginning, however, the method of chanting exactly followed the Catholic form. Two kinds of chant were employed,—the simple unaccompanied Plain Song of the minister, which is almost monotone; and the accompanied chant, more melodious and florid, employed in the singing of the psalms, canticles, litany, etc., by the choir or by the minister and choir.


The substitution of English for Latin and the sweeping modification of the liturgy did not in the least alter the system and principle of musical rendering which had existed in the Catholic Church. The litany, the oldest portion of the Book of Common Prayer, compiled by Cranmer and published in 1544, was set for singing note for note from the ancient Plain Song. In 1550 a musical setting was given to all parts of the Prayer Book by John Marbecke, a well-known musician of that period. He, like Cranmer, adapted portions of the old Gregorian chant, using only the plainer forms. In Marbecke’s book we find the simplest style, consisting of monotone, employed for the prayers and the Apostles’ Creed, a larger use of modulation in the recitation of the psalms, and a still more song-like manner in the canticles and those portions, such as the Kyrie and Gloria, taken from the mass. To how great an extent this music of Marbecke was employed in the Anglican Church in the sixteenth century is not certainly known. Certain parts of it gave way to the growing fondness for harmonized and figured music in all parts of the service, but so far as Plain Chant has been retained in the cathedral service the setting of Marbecke has established the essential form down to the present day.7878An edition of Marbecke’s Book of Common Prayer with Notes, edited by Rimbault, was published by Novello, London, in 1845.

The most marked distinction between the choral mode of performing the service, and those divergent usages which have often been conceived as a protest against it, consists in the practice of singing or monotoning the prayers by the minister. The notion of impersonality which underlies the liturgic conception of worship everywhere, the merging of the individual 342[338] in an abstract, idealized, comprehensive entity—the Church—is symbolized in this custom. Notwithstanding the fact that the large majority of congregational hymns are really prayers, and that in this case the offering of prayer in metrical form and in musical strains has always been admitted by all ranks of Christians as perfectly appropriate, yet there has always seemed to a large number of English Protestants something artificial and even irreverent in the delivery of prayer in an unchanging musical note, in which expression is lost in the abandonment of the natural inflections of speech. Here is probably the cause of the repugnant impression,—not because the utterance is musical in tone, but because it is monotonous and unexpressive.

It is of interest to note the reasons for this practice as given by representative English churchmen, since the motive for the usage touches the very spirit and significance of a ritualistic form of worship.

Dr. Bisse, in his Rationale on Cathedral Worship, justifies the practice on the ground (1) of necessity, since the great size of the cathedral churches obliges the minister to use a kind of tone that can be heard throughout the building; (2) of uniformity, in order that the voices of the congregation may not jostle and confuse each other; and (3) of the advantage in preventing imperfections and inequalities of pronunciation on the part of both minister and people. Other reasons which are more mystical, and probably on that account still more cogent to the mind of the ritualist, are also given by this writer. “It is emblematic,” he says, “of 343[339] the delight which Christians have in the law of God. It bespeaks the cheerfulness of our Christian profession, as contrasted with that of the Gentiles. It gives to divine worship a greater dignity by separating it more from all actions and interlocutions that are common and familiar. It is more efficacious to awaken the attention, to stir up the affections, and to edify the understanding than plain reading.” And Dr. Jebb puts the case still more definitely when be says: “In the Church of England the lessons are not chanted, but read. The instinctive good taste of the revisers of the liturgy taught them that the lessons, being narratives, orations, records of appeals to men, or writings of an epistolary character, require that method of reading which should be, within due bounds, imitative. But with the prayers the case is far different. These are uttered by the minister of God, not as an individual, but as the instrument and channel of petitions which are of perpetual obligation, supplications for all those gifts of God’s grace which are needful for all mankind while this frame of things shall last. The prayers are not, like the psalms and canticles, the expression, the imitation, or the record of the hopes and fears, of the varying sentiments, of the impassioned thanksgivings, of the meditative musings of inspired individuals, or of holy companies of men or angels; they are the unchangeable voice of the Church of God, seeking through one eternal Redeemer gifts that shall be for everlasting. And hence the uniformity of tone in which she seeks them is significant of the unity of spirit which teaches the Church universal so to pray, of the unity of means by which her prayers are made available, of the perfect unity with God her Father which shall be her destiny in the world to come.”


The word “chant” as used in the English Church (to be in strictness distinguished from the priestly monotoning), signifies the short melodies which are sung to the psalms and canticles. The origin of the Anglican chant system is to be found in the ancient Gregorian chant, of which it is only a slight modification. It is a sort of musically delivered speech, the punctuation and rate of movement being theoretically the same as in spoken discourse. Of all the forms of religious music the chant is least susceptible to change and progress, and the modern Anglican chant bears the plainest marks of its mediaeval origin. The modifications which distinguish the new from the old may easily be seen upon comparing a modern English chant-book with an office-book of the Catholic Church. In place of the rhythmic freedom of the Gregorian, with its frequent florid passages upon a single syllable, we find in the Anglican a much greater simplicity and strictness, and also, it must be admitted, a much greater melodic monotony and dryness. The English chant is almost entirely syllabic, even two notes to a syllable are rare, while there is nothing remotely corresponding to the melismas of the Catholic liturgic song. The bar lines, unknown in the Roman chant, give the English form much greater steadiness of movement. The intonation of the Gregorian chant has been dropped, the remaining four divisions—recitation, mediation, second recitation, and ending—retained. The Anglican chant is 345[341] of two kinds, single and double. A single chant comprises one verse of a psalm; it consists of two melodic strains, the first including three measures, the second four. A double chant is twice the length of a single chant, and includes two verses of a psalm, the first ending being an incomplete cadence. The double chant is an English invention; it is unknown in the Gregorian system. The objections to it are obvious, since the two verses of a psalm which may be comprised in the chant often differ in sentiment.

The manner of fitting the words to the notes of the chant is called “pointing.” There is no authoritative method of pointing in the Church of England, and there is great disagreement and controversy on the subject in the large number of chant-books that are used in England and America. In the cathedral service the chants are sung antiphonally, the two divisions of the chorus answering each other from opposite sides of the choir.

There are large numbers of so-called chants which are more properly to be called hymns or anthems in chant style, such as the melodies sometimes sung to the Te Deum and the Gloria in excelsis. These compositions may consist of any number of divisions, each comprising the three-measure and four-measure members found in the single chant.

The modern Anglican chant form is not so old as commonly supposed. The ancient Gregorian chants for the psalms and canticles were in universal use as late as the middle of the seventeenth century. The modern chant was of course a gradual development, 346[342] and was the inevitable result of the harmonization of the old chant melodies according to the new system with its corresponding balancing points of tonic and dominant. A few of the Anglican chants sung at the present day go back to the time of the Restoration, that is, soon after 1660; the larger number date from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The modern chant, however, has never been able entirely to supplant the ancient Plain Song melody. The “Gregorian” movement in the Church of England, one of the results of the ritualistic reaction inaugurated by the Oxford Tractarian agitation, although bitterly opposed both on musical grounds and perhaps still more through alarm over the tendencies which it symbolizes, has apparently become firmly established; and even in quarters where there is little sympathy with the ritualistic movement, musical and ecclesiastical conservatism unites with a natural reverence for the historic past to preserve in constant use the venerated relics of early days. Sir John Stainer voiced the sentiment of many leading English musical churchmen when he said: “I feel very strongly that the beautiful Plain Song versicles, responses, inflections, and prefaces to our prayers and liturgy should not be lightly thrown aside. These simple and grand specimens of Plain Song, so suited to their purpose, so reverent in their subdued emotion, appeal to us for their protection. The Plain Song of the prefaces of our liturgy as sung now in St. Paul’s cathedral are note for note the same that rang at least eight hundred years ago through the vaulted roof of that ancient cathedral which crowned the summit of 347[343] the fortified hill of old Salisbury. Not a stone remains of wall or shrine, but the old Sarum office-books have survived, from which we can draw ancient hymns and Plain Song as from a pure fount. Those devout monks recorded all their beautiful offices and the music of these offices, because they were even then venerable and venerated. Shall we throw them into the fire to make room for neat and appropriate excogitations, fresh from the blotting-pad of Mr. A, or Dr. B, or the Reverend C, or Miss D?”

It must be acknowledged, however, that the Gregorian chant melodies undergo decided modification in spirit and impression when set to English words. In their pure state their strains are thoroughly conformed to the structure and flow of the Latin texts from which they grew. There is something besides tradition and association that makes them appear somewhat forced and ill at ease when wedded to a modern language. As Curwen says: “In its true form the Gregorian chant has no bars or measures; the time and the accent are verbal, not musical. Each note of the mediation or the ending is emphatic or non-emphatic, according to the word or syllable to which it happens to be sung. The endings which follow the recitation do not fall into musical measures, but are as unrhythmical as the reciting tone itself. Modern music, and the instinctive observance of rhythm which is an essential part of it, have modified the old chant and given it accent and time. The reason why the attempt to adapt the Gregorian tones to the English language has resulted in their modification is not far to seek. The non-accented system 348[344] suits Latin and French, but not English. Aside from the instinct for time, and the desire to make a ‘tune’ of the chant, which is a part of human nature, it is a feature of the English language that in speaking we pass from accent to accent and elide the intervening syllables. The first attempts to adapt the Gregorian tones to English use proceeded strictly upon the plan of one syllable to a note. Of however many notes the mediation or cadence of the chant consisted, that number of syllables was marked off from the end of each half-verse, and the recitation ended when they were reached.”7979Curwen, Studies in Worship Music. The attempt to sing in this fashion, Curwen goes on to show, resulted in the greatest violence to English pronunciation. In order to avoid this, slurs, which are no part of the Gregorian system proper, were employed to bring the accented syllables upon the first of the measure.

Doubtless the fundamental and certainly praiseworthy motive of those who strongly desire to reintroduce the Gregorian melodies into the Anglican service is to establish once for all a body of liturgic tones which are pure, noble, and eminently fitting in character, endowed at the same time with venerable ecclesiastical associations which shall become fixed and authoritative, and thus an insurmountable barrier against the intrusion of the ephemeral novelties of “the Reverend C and Miss D.” Every intelligent student of religious art may well say Amen to such a desire. As the case now stands there is no law or custom that prevents any minister or cantor from introducing into the service 349[345] any chant-tune which he chooses to invent or adopt. Neither is there any authority that has the right to select any system or body of liturgic song and compel its introduction. The Gregorian movement is an attempt to remedy this palpable defect in the Anglican musical system. It is evident that this particular solution of the difficulty can never generally prevail. Any effort, however, which tends to restrict the number of chants in use, and establish once for all a store of liturgic melodies which is preëminently worthy of the historic associations and the conservative aims of the Anglican Church, should receive the hearty support of English musicians and churchmen.

If Marbecke’s unison chants were intended as a complete scheme for the musical service, they were at any rate quickly swallowed up by the universal demand for harmonized music, and the choral service of the Church of England very soon settled into the twofold classification which now prevails, viz., the harmonized chant and the more elaborate figured setting of “service” and anthem. The former dates from 1560, when John Day’s psalter was published, containing three and four-part settings of old Plain Song melodies, contributed by Tallis, Shepherd, and other prominent musicians of the time. From the very outset of the adoption of the vernacular in all parts of the service, that is to say from the reign of Edward VI., certain selected psalms and canticles, technically known as “services,” were sung anthem-wise in the developed choral style of the highest musical science of the day. The components of the “service” are to be distinguished from the daily psalms which are 350[346] always sung in antiphonal chant form, and may be said to correspond to the choral unvarying portions of the Catholic Mass. The “service” in its fullest form includes the Venite (Ps. xcv.), Te Deum, Benedicite (Song of the Three Children, from the Greek continuation of the book of Daniel), Benedictus (Song Of Zacharias), Jubilate (Ps. c.), Kyrie eleison, Nicene Creed, Sanctus, Gloria in excelsis, Magnificat (Song of Mary), Cantate Domino (Ps. xcviii.), Nunc dimittis (Song of Simeon), and the Deus Misereatur (Ps. lxvii). Of these the Venite, Benedicite, and the Sanctus have in recent times fallen out. These psalms and canticles are divided between the morning and evening worship, and not all of them are obligatory.

The “service,” in respect to musical style, has moved step by step with the anthem, from the strict contrapuntal style of the sixteenth century, to that of the present with all its splendor of harmony and orchestral color. It has engaged the constant attention of the multitude of English church composers, and it has more than rivalled the anthem in the zealous regard of the most eminent musicians, from the time of Tallis and Gibbons to the present day.

The anthem, although an almost exact parallel to the “service” in musical construction, stands apart, liturgically, from the rest of the service in the Church of England, in that while all the other portions are laid down in the Book of Common Prayer, the words of the anthem are not prescribed. The Prayer Book merely says after the third collect, “In quires and places where they sing here followeth the anthem.” What the 351[347] anthem shall be at any particular service is left to the determination of the choir master, but it is commonly understood, and in some dioceses is so decreed, that the words of the anthem shall be taken from the Scripture or the Book of Common Prayer. This precept, however, is frequently transgressed, and many anthems have been written to words of metrical hymns. The restriction of the anthem texts to selections from the Bible or the liturgy is designed to exclude words that are unfamiliar to the people or unauthorized by ecclesiastical authority. Even with these limitations the freedom of choice on the part of the musical director serves to withdraw the anthem from that vital organic connection with the liturgy held by the “service,” and it is not infrequently omitted from the daily office altogether. The object of the fathers of the Church of England in admitting so exceptional a musical composition into the service was undoubtedly to give the worship more variety, and to relieve the fatigue that would otherwise result from a long unbroken series of prayers.

The anthem, although the legitimate successor of the Latin motet, has taken in England a special and peculiar form. According to its derivation (from ant-hymn, responsive or alternate song) the word anthem was at first synonymous with antiphony. The modern form, succeeding the ancient choral motet, dates from about the time of Henry Purcell (1658-1695). The style was confirmed by Händel, who in his celebrated Chandos anthems first brought the English anthem into European recognition. The anthem in its present shape is a sort of mixture of the ancient motet and the German cantata. 352[348] From the motet it derives its broad and artistically constructed choruses, while the influence of the cantata is seen in its solos and instrumental accompaniment. As the modern anthem is free and ornate, giving practically unlimited scope for musical invention, it has been cultivated with peculiar ardor by the English church composers, and the number of anthems of varying degrees of merit or demerit which have been produced in England would baffle the wildest estimate. This style of music has been largely adopted in the churches of America, and American composers have imitated it, often with brilliant success.

The form of anthem in which the entire body of singers is employed from beginning to end is technically known as the “full” anthem. In another form, called the “verse” anthem, portions are sung by selected voices. A “solo” anthem contains passages for a single voice.

The anthem of the Church of England has been more or less affected by the currents of secular music, but to a much slighter extent than the Catholic mass. The opera has never taken the commanding position in England which it has held in the Catholic countries, and only in rare cases have the English church composers, at any rate since the time of Händel, felt their allegiance divided between the claims of religion and the attractions of the stage. In periods of religious depression or social frivolity the church anthem has sometimes become weak and shallow, but the ancient austere traditions have never been quite abrogated. The natural conservatism of the English people, especially in 353[349] matters of churchly usage, and their tenacious grasp upon the proper distinction between religious and profane art, while acting to the benefit of the anthem and “service” on the side of dignity and appropriateness in style, have had a correspondingly unfavorable influence so far as progress and sheer musical quality are concerned. One who reads through large numbers of English church compositions cannot fail to be impressed by their marked similarity in style and the rarity of features that indicate any striking originality. This monotony and predominance of conventional commonplace must be largely attributed, of course, to the absence of real creative force in English music; but it is also true that even if such creative genius existed, it would hardly feel free to take liberties with those strict canons of taste which have become embedded in the unwritten laws of Anglican musical procedure. In spite of these limitations English church music does not wholly deserve the obloquy that has been cast upon it by certain impatient critics. That it has not rivalled the Catholic mass, nor adopted the methods that have transformed secular music in the modern era is not altogether to its discredit. Leaving out the wonderful productions of Sebastian Bach (which, by the way, are no longer heard in church service in Germany), the music of the Church of England is amply worthy of comparison with that of the German Evangelical Church; and in abundance, musical value, and conformity to the ideals which have always governed public worship in its noblest estate, it is entitled to be ranked as one of the four great historic schools of Christian worship music.


England had not been lacking in eminent composers for the Church before the Reformation, but their work was in the style which then prevailed all over Europe. Some of these writers could hold their own with the Netherlanders in point of learning. England held an independent position during “the age of the Netherlanders” in that the official musical posts in the schools and chapels were held by native Englishmen, and not, as was so largely the case on the continent, by men of Northern France and Flanders or their pupils. This fact speaks much for the inherent force of English music, but the conditions of musical culture at that time did not encourage any originality of style or new efforts after expression.

The continental development of the polyphonic school to its perfection in the sixteenth century was paralleled in England; and since the English Reformation was contemporary with this musical apogee, the newly founded national Church possessed in such men as Tallis, Byrd, Tye, Gibbons, and others only less conspicuous, a group of composers not unworthy to stand beside Palestrina and Lassus. It is indeed good fortune for the Church of England that its musical traditions have been founded by such men. Thomas Tallis, the most eminent of the circle, who died in 1585, devoted his talents almost entirely to the Church. In science he was not inferior to his continental compeers, and his music is preëminently stately and solid. Besides the large number of motets, “services,” etc., which he contributed to the Church, be is now best remembered by the harmonies added by him to the Plain Song of the old régime. Tallis must therefore be regarded as the chief of the founders of the English harmonized chant. His tunes arranged for Day’s psalter give him an honorable place also in the history of English psalmody.


Notwithstanding the revolutions in the authorized ceremony of the Church of England during the stormy Reformation period, from the revised constitutions of Henry VIII. and Edward VI. to the restored Catholicism of Mary, and back to Protestantism again under Elizabeth, the salaried musicians of the Church retained their places while their very seats seemed often to rock beneath them, writing alternately for the Catholic and Protestant services with equal facility, and with equal satisfaction to themselves and their patrons. It was a time when no one could tell at any moment to what doctrine or discipline he might be commanded to subscribe, and many held themselves ready loyally to accept the faith of the sovereign as their own. Such were the ideas of the age that the claims of uniformity could honestly be held as paramount to those of individual judgment. Only those who combined advanced thinking with fearless independence of character were able to free themselves from the prevailing sophistry on this matter of conformity vs. freedom. Even a large number of the clergy took the attitude of compliance to authority, and it is often a matter of wonder to readers of the history of this period to see how comparatively few changes were made in the incumbencies of ecclesiastical livings in the shifting triumphs of the hostile confessions. If this were the case with the clergy it is not surprising that the church musicians should have been still more complaisant. The style of 356[352] music performed in the new worship, we must remember, hardly differed in any respect from that in use under the old system. The organists and choir masters were not called upon to mingle in theological controversies, and they had probably learned discretion from the experience of John Marbecke, who came near to being burned at the stake for his sympathy with Calvinism. As in Germany, there was no necessary conflict between the musical practices of Catholics and Protestants. The real animosity on the point of liturgies and music was not between Anglicans and Catholics, but between Anglicans and Puritans.

The old polyphonic school came to an end with Orlando Gibbons in 1625. No conspicuous name appears in the annals of English church music until we meet that of Henry Purcell, who was born in 1658 and died in 1695. We have made a long leap from the Elizabethan period, for the first half of the seventeenth century was a time of utter barrenness in the neglected fields of art. The distracted state of the kingdom during the reign of Charles I., the Great Rebellion, and the ascendency of the Puritans under Cromwell made progress in the arts impossible, and at one time their very existence seemed threatened. A more hopeful era began with the restoration of the Stuarts in 1660. Charles II. had spent some years in France after the ruin of his father’s cause, and upon his triumphant return he encouraged those light French styles in art and literature which were so congenial to his character. He was a devotee of music after his fashion; he warmly encouraged it in the Royal Chapel, and a number of skilful musicians came from the boy choirs of this establishment.


The earliest anthems of the Anglican Church were, like the Catholic motet, unaccompanied. The use of the organ and orchestral instruments followed soon after the middle of the seventeenth century. No such school of organ playing arose in England as that which gave such glory to Germany in the same period. The organ remained simply a support to the voices, and attained no distinction as a solo instrument. Even in Händel’s day and long after, few organs in England had a complete pedal board; many had none at all. The English anthem has always thrown greater proportionate weight upon the vocal element as compared with the Catholic mass and the German cantata. In the Restoration period the orchestra came prominently forward in the church worship, and not only were elaborate accompaniments employed for the anthem, but performances of orchestral instruments were given at certain places in the service. King Charles II., who, to use the words of Dr. Tudway, was “a brisk and airy prince,” did not find the severe solemnity of the a capella style of Tallis and Gibbons at all to his liking. Under the patronage of “the merry monarch,” the brilliant style, then in fashion on the continent, flourished apace. Henry Purcell, the most gifted of this school, probably the most highly endowed musical genius that has ever sprung from English soil, was a man of his time, preëminent likewise in opera, and much of his church music betrays the influence of the gay atmosphere which he breathed. But his profound musicianship prevented him from degrading 358[354] his art to the level of the prevailing taste of the royal court, and much of his religious music is reckoned even at the present day among the choicest treasures of English art. As a chorus writer he is one of the first of the moderns, and one who would trace Händel’s oratorio style to its sources must take large account of the church works of Henry Purcell.

With the opening of the eighteenth century the characteristics of the English anthem of the present day were virtually fixed. The full, the verse, and the solo anthem were all in use, and the accompanied style had once for all taken the place of the a capella. During the eighteenth and early part of the nineteenth centuries English choir music offers nothing especially noteworthy, unless we except the Te Deums and so-called anthems of Händel, whose style is, however, that of the oratorio rather than church music in the proper sense.

The works of Hayes, Attwood, Boyce, Greene, Battishill, Crotch, and others belonging to the period between the middle of the eighteenth and the middle of the nineteenth centuries are solid and respectable, but as a rule dry and perfunctory. A new era began with the passing of the first third of the nineteenth century, when a higher inspiration seized English church music. The work of the English cathedral school of the second half of the nineteenth century is highly honorable to the English Church and people. A vast amount of it is certainly the barrenest and most unpromising of routine manufacture, for every incumbent of an organist’s post throughout the kingdom, however obscure, feels that his dignity requires him to contribute his quota to the 359[355] enormously swollen accumulation of anthems and “services.” But in this numerous company we find the names of such men as Goss, Bennett, Hopkins, Monk, Barnby, Sullivan, Smart, Tours, Stainer, Garrett, Martin, Bridge, Stanford, Mackenzie, and others not less worthy, who have endowed the choral service with richer color and more varied and appealing expression. This brilliant advance may be connected with the revival of spirituality and zeal in the English Church which early in the nineteenth century succeeded to the drowsy indifference of the eighteenth; but we must not push such coincidences too far. The church musician must always draw some of his inspiration from within the institution which he serves, but we have seen that while the religious folk-song is stimulated only by deep and widespread enthusiasm, the artistic music of the Church is dependent rather upon the condition of music at large. The later progress in English church music is identified with the forward movement in all European music which began with the symphonies of Beethoven, the operas of Weber and the French masters, and the songs of Schubert, and which was continued in Berlioz, Wagner, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Chopin, and the still more recent national schools. England has shared this uplift of taste and creative activity; her composers are also men of the new time. English cathedral music enters the world-current which sets towards a more intense and personal expression. The austere traditions of the Anglican Church restrain efforts after the brilliant and emotional within distinctly marked boundaries. Its music can never, as the Catholic mass has often done, relapse into 360[356] the tawdry and sensational; but the English church composers have recognized that the Church and its art exist for the people, and that the changing standards of beauty as they arise in the popular mind must be considered, while at the same time the serene and elevated tone which makes church music truly churchly must be reverently preserved. This, as I understand it, is the motive, more or less conscious, which actuates the Church of England composers, organists, and directors of the present day. They have not yet succeeded in bringing forth works of decided genius, but they have certainly laid a foundation so broad, and so compounded of durable elements, that if the English race is capable of producing a master of the first rank in religious music he will not be compelled to take any radical departure, nor to create the taste by which he will be appreciated.

English church music has never been in a more satisfactory condition than it is to-day. There is no other country in which religious music is so highly honored, so much the basis of the musical life of the people. The organists and choir masters connected with the cathedrals and the university and royal chapels are men whose character and intellectual attainments would make them ornaments to any walk of life. The deep-rooted religious reverence which enters into the substance of English society, the admiration for intellect and honesty, the healthful conservatism, the courtliness of speech, the solidity of culture which comes from inherited wealth largely devoted to learning and the embellishment of public and private life,—have all permeated ecclesiastical 361[357] art and ceremony, and have imparted to them an ideal dignity which is as free from superstition as it is from vulgarity. The music of the Church of England, like all church music, must be considered in connection with its history and its liturgic attachments. It is inseparably associated with a ritual of singular stateliness and beauty, and with an architecture in cathedral and chapel in which the recollections of a heroic and fading past unite with a grandeur of structure and beauty of detail to weave an overmastering spell upon the mind. Church music, I must constantly repeat, is never intended to produce its impression alone. Before we ever allow ourselves to call any phase of it dry and uninteresting let us hear it actually or in imagination amid its native surroundings. As we mentally connect the Gregorian chant and the Italian choral music of the sixteenth century with all the impressive framework of their ritual, hearing within them the echoes of the prayers of fifteen hundred years; as the music of Bach and his contemporaries stands forth in only moderate relief from the background of a Protestantism in which scholasticism and mysticism are strangely blended,—so the Anglican chant and anthem are venerable with the associations of three centuries of conflict and holy endeavor. Complex and solemnizing are the suggestions which strike across the mind of the student of church history as he hears in a venerable English cathedral the lofty strains which might elsewhere seem commonplace, but which in their ancestral home are felt to be the natural speech of an institution which has found in such structures its fitting habitation.

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