Vox Humana Posted November 5, 2011 Share Posted November 5, 2011 I've never really "done" the nineteenth century, so this is a subject I know very little about, but it's one in which I have recently become quite interested and I'm hoping that there are one or two of you here who actually know about this period and can save me some work by filling me in a little. I guess the essential reading for this topic is Bernarr Rainbow's The Choral Revival in the Anglican Church and Nicholas Temperley's The Music of the English Parish Church. I have yet to get around to these, though I know that portions of Rainbow's book are available on Google books. Our cathedrals have always had music. They have ploughed their own furrow and I am not concerned with them. What particularly interests me is the ordinary parish church and its support for choral music. The received history of the Anglican Choral Revival makes much of the Oxford Movement, F.A.G. Ouseley and St Michael's College Tenbury* and puts its start in the second quarter of the nineteenth century. However, it started slowly and it all took time to catch on and this is where I am focusing. My interest was aroused while trawling through my local newspapers of the 1870s and '80s in search of needles in haystacks. What struck me particularly was the number of accounts dealing with the reopening of churches in Devon and Cornwall after extensive internal alterations (often involving new organs) - the reason, I assume, being because priest-centered preaching in the puritan tradition in the body of the churches was being superseded by a wish for dignified ceremonial in the chancels. Choirs were a desirable part of this ceremonial and the music at these re-opening ceremonies, which is usually noted, more often than not included choral items. I've not looked extensively yet at the '60s or '90s and for all I know they may present a similar picture, but the '70s and '80s were undoubtedly a time when "it was all happening". St Andrew's, Plymouth, was inevitably caught up in this. Its re-odering took place in 1875, when, amongst a lot of other things, the west gallery was taken down. The organ was moved to a chapel in the west transept and the choir presumably to the chancel. The church has always rather fancied itself as a cathedral and in 1883 it made its position plain in its parish magazine: The Church Choir has lately been considerably augmented, and with the return of Mr. Clark, the Organist and Choirmaster, we believe that still further enlargement is contemplated, and we trust at the same time that some steps may be taken to place the Choir of St Andrew's in its proper position at the head of all the church choirs in the locality. Our church is looked upon as the Cathedral of Plymouth, and why should we not have a highly efficient Choir and a thoroughly Choral Service? [...] We feel sure that the bulk of the congregation would welcome a change which would enable them to hear such services and anthems as are heard Sunday after Sunday in the Cathedral Church at Exeter, and we cannot understand why it should be considered out of place to copy in our large parish churches the style and order of our cathedrals. We venture to open this question here in the hope that some members of the congregation may be led to express their views upon this and other points, and to induce the Vicar and Churchwardens to give more attention to this highly attractive part of our delightful service. The days of objecting to surpliced choirs have passed away, many other things that a past generation thought ritualistic and of a Romish tendency, are now, not only tolerated, but approved; why then should the highest and best form of worship not also be introduced, and thus, the Mother Church of St. Andrew's set the fashion to her numerous offspring in this as well as in all other matters. In 1937 the IAO held its annual congress in Plymouth and a leaflet for "Congress Sunday" was published containing the music lists of some of the local churches (presumably those where members of the local organists' association presided). No less than 18 churches mounted a choral item of some sort. In some it was just an anthem, but seven of them sung choral settings of the canticles (or the Eucharist) at both the morning and evening services, often with an anthem as well. I am told by one who is old enough to remember this that the war was a watershed. Many choirs then became depleted, some churches were blitzed and the scene never really recovered. My own experience elsewhere in the country suggests that the parish church choral tradition held up reasonably well until the 1950s, but that a sharp decline set in during the 1960s. Notwithstanding some excellent churches that still maintain good choral standards today, for the vast majority of the Anglican Communion such services are now a thing of the past. All of which suggests to me that the heyday of classical choral music in the parish church was a merely transient blip lasting... what?... 80 years? * Incidentally I see from the NPOR page for St Michael's, Tenbury, that the organ is currently having its pneumatic actions renovated. Good to see it being looked after. Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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