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The Anglican Choral Revival


Vox Humana

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MM has, as usual, given us well thought out responses in this topic. His knowledge of the history of church music of all denominations, especially in his own home area is, clearly, extensive. I feel confident that we can award him a Thoroughly Honourable Doctorate.

 

It is obvious that the influence of Hook and the free churches in the earlier half of the nineteenth centuries played an important part in the growth of singing in the north. I wonder how much of this revival affected areas further south.

 

In respect of the "targets" in this topic it will be noted that it was headed "The Anglican Choral Revival" and while I am in no way suggesting that the influences cited by MM had little or no effect it does seem to me, at least, that things began to take off in a big way with the advent of the Oxford Movement, as Vox Humana suggests. All that MM tells us about the fact that the singers were poached by the Anglicans from the Non Conformist Churches is, I’m sure, true, but I hope he would agree that the great surge in composition of suitable music for the Anglican Church came later in the century.

 

Of course there was Walmisley in D minor and Wesley in E and other similar settings, not the least those from the Tudor period and the eighteenth century and doubtless some parish church choirs sang them but was not Walmisley writing for the choir of Trinity, Cambridge and Wesley for Hereford? It should also be pointed that the availability of printed music was considerably more of a problem then. What would we do now without Choralwiki!

 

A further point that I’m sure I shall be accused of misunderstanding is the appearance of the church organ as the principal instrument for service accompaniment. In many country churches, the village band had usually led the singing from the gallery at the back before the Oxford Movement which Vox suggests as the time (the 70s and 80s) when the centre of worship shifted in the geography of the churches. There are, certainly, organs which predate this period, but my own observations suggest that there was a major surge in organ building during the period that the "revival" seems to have taken place. I am most certainly not an organ historian and I would be interested to hear from others as to the accuracy of my suggestion. There must have been a reason for this growth of interest in having a church organ and also in it being placed near the choir.

 

I am frequently accused of not explaining myself clearly and I must, probably, hold up my hands with a ‘mea culpa’ in respect of my last post. I was hoping to find out how many church choirs still existed which were run along the lines that I suggested with the story about the church in Heaton. In PG Wodehouse’s Jeeves story entitled "The purity of the turf" which I take to be set in the period between the wars the village choir boasted a large number of men and children, probably boys, in it. I recall a distinguished figure in the RSCM stating, some time ago, that the prep schools could well be the last bastion of the traditional parish church choir and having some experience of such schools I thought it appropriate to include them and their secondary counterparts in my proposed survey. At the time most of the prep and public schools were all male. Let us pray that they are not the last resort, excellent though many of them are. I am sorry if I did not make myself clear.

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MM has, as usual, given us well thought out responses in this topic. His knowledge of the history of church music of all denominations, especially in his own home area is, clearly, extensive. I feel confident that we can award him a Thoroughly Honourable Doctorate.

 

It is obvious that the influence of Hook and the free churches in the earlier half of the nineteenth centuries played an important part in the growth of singing in the north. I wonder how much of this revival affected areas further south.

 

In respect of the "targets" in this topic it will be noted that it was headed "The Anglican Choral Revival" and while I am in no way suggesting that the influences cited by MM had little or no effect it does seem to me, at least, that things began to take off in a big way with the advent of the Oxford Movement, as Vox Humana suggests. All that MM tells us about the fact that the singers were poached by the Anglicans from the Non Conformist Churches is, I’m sure, true, but I hope he would agree that the great surge in composition of suitable music for the Anglican Church came later in the century.

 

Of course there was Walmisley in D minor and Wesley in E and other similar settings, not the least those from the Tudor period and the eighteenth century and doubtless some parish church choirs sang them but was not Walmisley writing for the choir of Trinity, Cambridge and Wesley for Hereford? It should also be pointed that the availability of printed music was considerably more of a problem then. What would we do now without Choralwiki!

 

A further point that I’m sure I shall be accused of misunderstanding is the appearance of the church organ as the principal instrument for service accompaniment. In many country churches, the village band had usually led the singing from the gallery at the back before the Oxford Movement which Vox suggests as the time (the 70s and 80s) when the centre of worship shifted in the geography of the churches. There are, certainly, organs which predate this period, but my own observations suggest that there was a major surge in organ building during the period that the "revival" seems to have taken place. I am most certainly not an organ historian and I would be interested to hear from others as to the accuracy of my suggestion. There must have been a reason for this growth of interest in having a church organ and also in it being placed near the choir.

 

I am frequently accused of not explaining myself clearly and I must, probably, hold up my hands with a ‘mea culpa’ in respect of my last post. I was hoping to find out how many church choirs still existed which were run along the lines that I suggested with the story about the church in Heaton. In PG Wodehouse’s Jeeves story entitled "The purity of the turf" which I take to be set in the period between the wars the village choir boasted a large number of men and children, probably boys, in it. I recall a distinguished figure in the RSCM stating, some time ago, that the prep schools could well be the last bastion of the traditional parish church choir and having some experience of such schools I thought it appropriate to include them and their secondary counterparts in my proposed survey. At the time most of the prep and public schools were all male. Let us pray that they are not the last resort, excellent though many of them are. I am sorry if I did not make myself clear.

 

==============================

 

I think we can pass on the Honorary Doctorate! I was merely going from memory about what I have read previously at various times. However, an apology first of all, because in suggesting that the point had been missed by including schools, puiblic schools and choir schools, I had failed to read the original posting properly. Now I understand the reason for the inclusion thereof, and being rather out of touch with choral music these days, I'll leave that to others and settle for a humble honorary diploma.

 

Elaborating on points made earlier, I think you are right to suggest that the great surge in choral music came in the latter quarter of the century, and this seems to co-incide with a huge wave of organ-building from about 1870 onwards, when it became something of a major industry.

 

Now quite how or why organs moved out of galleries and into chancels, I am not sure, unless it was all part of the anglo-catholic "show," where ceremony and observance blended with theatre. Hoever, if we apply a little logic, the non-confomists had their central pulpit, their choir gallery behind, and an organ behind that: everything being focused forward. The same was also the case in the town-halls, where huge organs supported choral societies with perhaps 500 singers.....it was enormous music-making, and mighty impressive. From my own childhood, I have distinct memories of "Messiah" sung by hundreds, with an orchestra and a large organ offering support, and it wasn't a one-off affair, but something which had two or three performances, with different star soloists, all played before a full house. That tradition goes right back to 1850 or so, and in the case of the Halifax Choral Society, earlier still to around 1820 (?).

 

The brass band movement had a similar following, with massed band concerts, competitions, local rivalry and a number of hilarious stories and mishaps associated with it.

 

I'm sure this is the source, but I'm not sure I could prove it.

 

As for the North/South divide, I wonder if it was quite so important as we feel it should be?

 

Perhaps its no co-incidence that the choral/organ phenomenon developed alongside the route of railways....London, Glasgow, Manchester, Birmingham, Bradford, Leeds, Newcastle, Hull, Huddersfield, Halifax, Liverpool (the list goes on).......all important commercial and artistic centres.

 

Something which I feel is relevant, is a statement I heard on the BBC, when the history of Manchester featured in the history of Britain. (Was it the Jeremy Issacs series?)

 

Anyway, the statement was, "If you wanted to see the future, you went to Manchester."

 

I suspect that in the mid-19th C, people actually came North to marvel at this bold new age, the vast productivity, the sweeping changes and the artistic endeavours. Indeed, there's a whole brace of organists and important composers/conductors who did just that, and if they lived or worked in the south, or took up appointments at the major universities/cathedrals, then they would take that with them. London, after all, was a rather squalid, over-crowded place, full of disease and pestilence, until someone built a decent sewage system, and Prince Albert's vision of art and music created the Kensington museums and arts complex now well established around the Royal Albert Hall and his monument.

 

So although I cannot be certain, I'm fairly sure that parish music started in the north, for the reasons I have already mentioned; possibly because it was only a small step from the already established non-conformist choirs and their potent hymn-singing, and the huge surge of interest in big scale choral music.

 

Imagine what it must have been like, when someone said, "Mr Mendelssohn has written an oratorio for us."

 

It doesn't come much better does it?

 

Furthermore, the organ captured the imagination of people, and from memory, I cannot recall which of the Bronte sisters got carried away on hearing Branwell Bronte play the organ, but whichever it was (probably Emily), she invented a silly nonsense word which I can't remember, but went something like, "thunderwhispersoulmoverwondermachine." (If I find it, I'll insert the actual word).

 

I suspect that any PhD will only be awarded to the person who can painstakingly unravel the sequence of events, and tie it up with some sort of wider musical chronology....again, I leave it to others.

 

MM

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Of course there was Walmisley in D minor and Wesley in E and other similar settings, not the least those from the Tudor period and the eighteenth century and doubtless some parish church choirs sang them but was not Walmisley writing for the choir of Trinity, Cambridge and Wesley for Hereford?

 

Walmisley may be associated with Trinity but did not he have his rooms in Jesus College and did his degree there? Whilst a lot may be written about the Oxford Movement was it not the Cambridge Camden Society that tried to put all the theology into practice and an early example of all this must be Jesus College itself? The restoration/rebuilding of the Chapel in 1849 was accompanied by the introduction of an organ given by Sir John Sutton (built by Bishop in a case supposed to be by Pugin), on the north screen of the chancel, a trained choir of boys (in buckled shoes and surplices) and Gregorian chanting unknown in college chapels except at Kings, Trinity (and St Johns on Sundays). Walmisley played at the re-opening and wrote an anthem for them. Sutton made a collection of anthems for them in 1850. (For more see Davidson's book on Sir John Sutton).

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JB Priestley's play, When We Are Married, written in 1938, but set in the West Riding of 30 years earlier has an interesting few lines of dialogue, which bear out MM's personal experience: Alderman Helliwell and his friends are discussing the shortcomings of the young O&C of their own chapel (Lane End), after his Messiah has failed to arouse much public interest:

 

PARKER: I said to him myself: "I know it's a Christmas piece, but you've got to get in quick, afore the others."

HELLIWELL: Right, Albert. After t'end o' November, there's been so many of 'em you might as well take your Messiah an' throw it into t'canal.

PARKER: And look what happened. Hillroad Baptist gave Messiah. Salem gave Messiah. Tong Congregational gave Messiah. Pickle-brook Wesleyans gave Messiah. And where was Lane End?

SOPPITT: Well, when we did get it — It was a good one.

HELLIWELL: I'm not saying it wasn't, but by that time who cared? But anyhow all that's a detail.

 

Priestley was writing a gentle comedy of manners for a general theatregoing public, and that dialogue could only have been funny if in 1938 the notion of every nonconformist chapel in a small Yorkshire town having a choir capable of singing the Messiah at Christmas was itself unremarkable.

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Walmisley may be associated with Trinity but did not he have his rooms in Jesus College and did his degree there?

 

I can't resist sharing this entry from the list of Previous Directors of Music on the new site of The Choir of St John's College, Cambridge.

 

Thomas Attwood Walmisley (1833–1856)

The son of Thomas Forbes Walmisley (Organist of Croydon Parish Church), Thomas Attwood Walmisley was born in Westminster in 1814. He took up the joint appointment of Organist at St John’s and Trinity Colleges in 1833 at the age of 19. His premature death was, as John E. West has suggested, “hastened by an unwise indulgence in lethal remedies”. Stanford commented that “Walmisley…was a victim of four o’clock dinners in Hall, and long symposiums in the Combination Room after; and being a somewhat lonely bachelor, the excellent port of the College cellars was, at times, more his master than his servant.” As a composer, Walmisley is chiefly known for his setting of the Evening Canticles in D minor.

 

RAC

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JB Priestley's play, When We Are Married, written in 1938, but set in the West Riding of 30 years earlier has an interesting few lines of dialogue, which bear out MM's personal experience: Alderman Helliwell and his friends are discussing the shortcomings of the young O&C of their own chapel (Lane End), after his Messiah has failed to arouse much public interest:

 

 

 

Priestley was writing a gentle comedy of manners for a general theatregoing public, and that dialogue could only have been funny if in 1938 the notion of every nonconformist chapel in a small Yorkshire town having a choir capable of singing the Messiah at Christmas was itself unremarkable.

 

 

=============================

 

Priestley, or "JB" as he was known, was a great character, and his descriptions of meat pies in shop windows is second to none.

 

The extraoprdinary thing is, that at the age of 14, I used to go to a lovely old farmhouse for "high tea" at Thwaite, in North Yorkshire, of a Sunday afternoon. Many is the time that I sat with and spoke to "JB," who similarly made the 50 mile drive to enjoy absolutely magnificent, home-cooked food.....as much as you could eat from an open table.

 

The Messiah description is spot-on, because even I can remember the days when soloists were whizzing around from venue to venue. For soloists and instrumentalists alike, it was quite profitable, and there is reference to it in a film starring James Robertson Justice, (whom I once met in Scotland). I forget what the film was called, but it was a British comedy about a music college, where JRJ was the principal of the college, and Kenneth Williams was a student

 

I think the line which referrred to the Messiah went something like, "You can always earn good money up north on the Messiah circuit at Christmas, if you get the train times right. Afternoon performance in Manchester, and Leeds in the evening."

 

Indeed, I had an uncle who was a magnificent bass/baritone, and on many occasions he sang as a soloist with the likes of Isobelle Bailey and Kathleen Ferrier. Amusingly, he was always a dairy farmer at heart, and when the BBC offered him a contract, he refused, on the grounds that his cows needed him more than they. (He used to sing hymns to the cows, and swore that it improved their milk yield).

 

Even now, there are choirs who roam around singing Messiah wherever they can, and I know that Philip Tordoff, (Organist Emeritus at Halifa Minster), used to do an awful lot of organ accompaniment for these events.

 

He likes to tell the story of the time he played the harpsichord continuo part at St George's Hall, Bradford.

 

"It was so bloomin' loud, I played a semitone up and no-one even noticed!"

 

Then there was another organist, who famously played for one Messiah, where the large chapel organ was still hand-blown.

 

During the "Amen Chrous," he leapt off the organ, ran around to the side and shouted, "Pump you bugger....pump! We need more wind!"

 

Then there were (still are), the great Carol Concerts, when some of the more famous Brass Bands like Black Dyke would play a combination of carols and seasonal delights such as Leroy Andreson's "Sleigh Ride."

 

It was always near Christmas when some of the bands would conveniently open up some fund raising campaign; be it for new music or new uniforms. The band being something of a Christmas feature much loved by the natives, it was a good time to pluck at the heart strings.

 

There is a famous story about Haworth Brass Band, when one of their ranks went out with a collection box knocking on doors.

 

"Hello love, I'm from t'aworth band and we're collectin' for t'new uniforms."

 

"Eh?" Replied the old girl.

 

"I said......" (he repeated the reason for his visit)

 

The old girl cupped her ear and said, "Tha'll af ta speak up lad, I'm very deaf."

 

Repeating his patter once more, at greatly increased volume, the old girl still looked blank and shook her head.

 

With that, the bandsman turned away, and said out of the corner of his mouth, "Oh bugger yer."

 

The old girl replied, "Aye, 'an bugger 'aworth band an'all." :(

 

 

Incidentally, talking of Haworth, it was Charlotte Bronte who described the sound of the organ at the parish church as, "rollroarthunderandsqueakandotheroreimus."

 

She obviously wrote better things than this, but at least she gave us a literary straw to clutch at.

 

As for the quality of the non-conformist choirs, I swear that they were all as good as the Hudderfield Choral, and they worked all year to perform "Olivet to Calvary", "The Creation" and "Messiah," taking enormous pride in doing so to the best of their abilities.

 

It didn't get any better at Hudderfield, it just got a lot louder and grander.

 

Sir David Wilcocks was the master, and he would often start rehearsals by saying, "I hear that you have some quite good singers in York-shire."

 

That got them fired up!

 

MM

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=============================

The Messiah description is spot-on, because even I can remember the days when soloists were whizzing around from venue to venue. For soloists and instrumentalists alike, it was quite profitable, and there is reference to it in a film starring James Robertson Justice, (whom I once met in Scotland). I forget what the film was called, but it was a British comedy about a music college, where JRJ was the principal of the college, and Kenneth Williams was a student

 

I think the line which referred to the Messiah went something like, "You can always earn good money up north on the Messiah circuit at Christmas, if you get the train times right. Afternoon performance in Manchester, and Leeds in the evening."

 

This is going a bit off topic, but I can't resist a response to MM's most entertaining post.

 

The film to which you refer is "Raising the Wind"; it's a Carry On film in all but name with most of the usual regulars including a marvellous contribution from the incomparable Kenneth Williams who was trying to conduct the William Tell Overture for a competition prize.

 

Both incidental music and the script were written by Bruce Montgomery who, as well as writing music was an author of crime novels, my favourite being "Holy Disorders", required reading for any organist/choirmaster. No spoilers but the way in which the cathedral organist was murdered will not fail to bring a smile to your lips. As well as the incidental music for the early Carry on films he was no mean crafter of some church music; should you require a simple but beautifully written little anthem for a choir of modest aspirations you need look no further than "My joy, my life, my crown". He wrote, too, "An Oxford Requiem" and "Christ's Birthday" both of which look interesting enough to suggest further investigation. Incidentally, Montgomery himself was conducting "For unto us a child is born" during the sequence to which MM refers.

 

David Harrison

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The film to which you refer is "Raising the Wind"; it's a Carry On film in all but name

 

David Harrison

 

Is that the film in which an organ teacher declines to hear his student's performance on the grounds that "I know exactly what it will sound like"?

 

Ian

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=============================

 

 

Then there was another organist, who famously played for one Messiah, where the large chapel organ was still hand-blown.

 

During the "Amen Chrous," he leapt off the organ, ran around to the side and shouted, "Pump you bugger....pump! We need more wind!"

 

 

MM

 

And there was the - shall we say? - over-enthusiastic organist whose wind supply disappeared altogether part way through "Worthy is the Lamb". An unrepentant blower told him "Messiah teks two thousand four 'undred and thirty-seven pumps, and tha's had 'em".

 

Ian

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And there was the - shall we say? - over-enthusiastic organist whose wind supply disappeared altogether part way through "Worthy is the Lamb". An unrepentant blower told him "Messiah teks two thousand four 'undred and thirty-seven pumps, and tha's had 'em".

 

Ian

 

===========================

 

 

 

Now you can understand the perils of peace work! :(

 

 

MM

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JB Priestley's play, When We Are Married, written in 1938, but set in the West Riding of 30 years earlier has an interesting few lines of dialogue, which bear out MM's personal experience: Alderman Helliwell and his friends are discussing the shortcomings of the young O&C of their own chapel (Lane End), after his Messiah has failed to arouse much public interest:

 

 

 

Priestley was writing a gentle comedy of manners for a general theatregoing public, and that dialogue could only have been funny if in 1938 the notion of every nonconformist chapel in a small Yorkshire town having a choir capable of singing the Messiah at Christmas was itself unremarkable.

 

 

===============================

 

 

For some strange, and completely off-topic reason, this reminds me of that wonderful line from Ken Dodd, when he looked down from the stage at Bradford and saw that the front row was full of blonds.

 

"Everytime I told a joke, they would laugh.....eeeee, aaah, aaaaye, baaah. It was only when the lights went up, I reaslised they were sheep."

 

MM

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I thank MM and themythes in particular for their thoughts on this topic. I am sorry not to have replied sooner, but I have been quite stupidly busy with various things recently and have only now managed to surface briefly to respond.

 

I am sure MM must be broadly on the right track. I did admit in my initial post that my view might be skewed and it does seem that highlighting the 1870s and '80s in the south-west was probably too simplistic. After all there were (and are) an awful lot of churches in this area and it is perfectly possible that there was an equal amount of activity in the 1860s and maybe earlier. I'll just have to look into it further one day.

 

Last week I stumbled across a snippet that, although well before the period under consideration and nothing to do with the Anglican Choral Revival, conjured up a thumbnail of one Devon village choir. In April 1772 the parish of West Alvington, near Kingsbridge, decided to form a choir "consisting of so many as are willing to learn according to the best of their skill". They engaged a Willliam Bennett from Combeinteignhead (nearly 30 miles to the north) to teach them twice a week for the first two months and once a month for the next eleven months, agreeing to pay him 6s 6d per session, but also being careful to stipulate that Bennett was responsible for paying his own expenses. No suggestion of an all-male choir here and it would be interesting to know what exactly they were taught. Interestingly, although the first signature on the agreement is the vicar, there is no mention of the church whatsoever: it is just a "Choir of singers in the parish of Westalvington". However, it is hard to see where it might have been based if not in the church, for that is where village life must have centered.

 

Incidentally, one of Bennett's sons, also called William, became a musician too and achieved enough repute to get himself an entry in Sainsbury's dictionary of 1824 as a composer, pianist and organist - though he is completely forgotten today.

 

Well it interested me anyway.

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Why "Revival"? What was there before that? I assume that up to the Reformation it was entirely plainsong, but apart from some disconnected vague mental images of boxes in chains, Serpentines, hurdy-gurdys and drunken bawdy fiddlers I realise I haven't a clue about what happened in parish churches between 1550 and 1800...

 

Surely though, The Anglican Choral Revolution would be a better description?

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(contrabordun @ Nov 14 2011, 09:42 AM)

Why "Revival"? What was there before that? I assume that up to the Reformation it was entirely plainsong, but apart from some disconnected vague mental images of boxes in chains, Serpentines, hurdy-gurdys and drunken bawdy fiddlers I realise I haven't a clue about what happened in parish churches between 1550 and 1800...

 

Surely though, The Anglican Choral Revolution would be a better description?

 

I'll have to take your word for it. I don't know much about this period and I'd want a proper grasp of the whole musical scene prior to the change before I could tell whether it was really a revolution. I suspect you're right though. I was just paraphrasing Bernarr Rainbow's term, which I assumed might be familiar to forum members.

 

As for music in the pre-Reformation parish church, there isn't anything like the range of information that survives for cathedrals and collegiate churches, but some parish churches were able to support polyphonic music. Probably a majority of small village churches had to make do without, but there is evidence of polyphonic music in around 130 parish churches, some of them in quite out-of-the-way places. Sometimes, as at St Botolph's, Boston (where Taverner went as a lay clerk (probably) and Master of the Choristers (just possibly) after leaving Oxford), one of the local gilds would maintain a choir, principally to sing votive antiphons and, in some places, masses too for the souls of its members. This music could be very elaborate. The tiny church of All Saints', Bristol, had choirbooks containing masses by people such as Fayrfax and its parish clerk William Brygeman (who appears in the Eton Choirbook) and I seem to remember a reference to seven-part polyphony at some church in Kent. At the other extreme, a city church might simply borrow singers on feast days from elsewhere. It is thought that most churches probably had an organ even if they didn't have anyone to play it regularly (these would likely be very small instruments, like the two-stop organ that still survived at Chagford in 1594).

 

It is important to understand how music was viewed in the pre-Reformation church. The Use of Sarum went into great detail about the ceremonial for its services and how this varied with the importance of the day - numbers of candles, censing, whether and when copes were worn, whether the choir was "ruled", how many singers of what superiority began the chants, etc, etc. The more important the feast, the more elaborate was the ceremonial. The great developments in medieval polyphony postdated the codification of these "rules" and so it is not catered for, but polyphony came to be adopted as just another aspect of the ceremonial - a means of lending extra solemnity to feast days. It wasn't a daily observance except at the Lady Mass (whose ceremonial was festal) and at the daily votive antiphons (which were extra-liturgical). It was presumably similar in the other secular uses. The Use of Sarum was framed specifically for Salisbury Cathedral. Lesser churches had to adapt it to their circumstances, e.g. if you didn't have an enclosed choir you couldn't do the processions exactly as prescribed. In the later Middle Ages, with music now being regarded as part of the ceremonial, parish churches would inevitably have aspired to adorning feast days with some sort of polyphony, however modest. The cut-price way of doing this was with organ music. Even if there wasn't a player locally, it might be expedient to have an organ anyway so you could grab any itinerant player who happened to be visiting, or even just as a thing "one ought to have". Choral music was for those churches with better resources.

 

All of this had disappeared by Elizabeth's reign. I think I am right in believing that the number of parish/household church choirs thereafter can be counted on one hand. Ludlow and Chirk Castle come to mind.

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I'll have to take your word for it. I don't know much about this period and I'd want a proper grasp of the whole musical scene prior to the change before I could tell whether it was really a revolution. I suspect you're right though. I was just paraphrasing Bernarr Rainbow's term, which I assumed might be familiar to forum members.

 

As for music in the pre-Reformation parish church, there isn't anything like the range of information that survives for cathedrals and collegiate churches, but some parish churches were able to support polyphonic music. Probably a majority of small village churches had to make do without, but there is evidence of polyphonic music in around 130 parish churches, some of them in quite out-of-the-way places. Sometimes, as at St Botolph's, Boston (where Taverner went as a lay clerk (probably) and Master of the Choristers (just possibly) after leaving Oxford), there was a choir maintained by a local gild, principally to sing votive antiphons and, in some places, masses too for the souls of its members. This music could be very elaborate. The tiny church of All Saints', Bristol, had choirbooks containing masses by people such as Fayrfax and its parish clerk William Brygeman (who appears in the Eton Choirbook) and I seem to remember a reference to seven-part polyphony at some church in Kent. At the other extreme, a city church might simply borrow singers on feast days from elsewhere. It is thought that most churches probably had an organ even if they didn't have anyone to play it regularly (these would likely be very small instruments, like the two-stop organ that still survived at Chagford in 1594).

 

It is important to understand how music was viewed in the pre-Reformation church. The Use of Sarum went into great detail about the ceremonial for its services and how this varied with the importance of the day - numbers of candles, censing, whether and when copes were worn, whether the choir was "ruled", how many singers of what superiority began the chants, etc, etc. The more important the feast, the more elaborate was the ceremonial. The great developments in medieval polyphony postdated the codification of these "rules" and so it is not catered for, but polyphony came to be adopted as just another aspect of the ceremonial - a means of lending extra solemnity to feast days. It wasn't a daily observance except at the Lady Mass (whose ceremonial was festal) and at the daily votive antiphons (which were extra-liturgical). It was presumably similar in the other secular uses. The Use of Sarum was framed specifically for the cathedral. Lesser churches had to adapt it to their circumstances, e.g. if you didn't have an enclosed choir you couldn't do the processions exactly as prescribed. In the later Middle Ages, with music now being regarded as part of the ceremonial, parish churches would inevitably have aspired to adorning feast days with some sort of polyphony, however modest. The cut-price way of doing this was with organ music. Even if there wasn't a player locally, it might be expedient to have an organ anyway so you could grab any itinerant player who happened to be visiting, or even just as a thing "one ought to have". Choral music was for those churches with better resources.

 

All of this had disappeared by Elizabeth's reign. I think I am right in believing that the number of parish/household church choirs thereafter can be counted on one hand. Ludlow and Chirk Castle come to mind.

 

==============================

 

 

We're all so very different in our particular areas of knowledge, and I thank "Vox" for this, because I know absolutely nothing about pre-reformation music except Byrd and a few others. I don't ever recall hearing anything about English polyphony going so far back, but I expect it must have done.

 

I was lucky, (not being a particularly knowledgable choral expert), that I just happened to know about the local history, and the possible influences thereof across the land.

 

 

 

MM

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(themythes @ Nov 7 2011, 04:56 PM)

It is might be fanciful of me to link the Oxford Movement in Anglican Church with the growing and greater awareness of the Roman Catholic Church, but look at the dates Vox has suggested for the "sharp decline" of the Anglican Choral Tradition; would it be equally mischievous to point to "Vatican II" and its undoubted effect on the Anglican Liturgy as being not entirely unconnected with the dates which he proposes?

 

I have not had the time recently to give much further thought to this topic, but David's point here set me thinking. I am not sure whether Vatican II was cause or effect, but it is undeniable that it did coincide with a growing clamour for congregational participation. But that alone does not, I think, account for the decline in the extent of parish choir-only performances. It was a fast changing world in the post-war years. The advent of television changed the concepts of broadcasting and home entertainment for ever. TV surely played an important part in increasing the secularisation of society. Added to this, the increasingly widespread availability of pop music and the evolution of a mostly very secular pop culture discouraged interest in classical music. There may be other factors as well, but these are the ones that stand out for me as explanations for the change in emphasis from classical choral music to lighter forms of congregational entertainment.

 

One other thing that struck me, though, is that our church congregations have never been larger than when the "Parish Choral Revolution" (to tweak contrabourdon's term slightly) was at its height. In December 1884 the re-opening of the rebuilt organ at St Andrew's, Plymouth, was celebrated by a choir that numbered nearly 60, nearly all of whom were regular members - and it stayed at that sort of level for many decades. When Harry Moreton had the old Parsons/Gray and Davison instrument utterly transformed 10 years later it was because "the organ was then merely a specimen of an old-fashioned and out-of-date instrument, with a poor, thin tone, utterly incapable of holding together the increasingly large congregations or fulfilling the requirements of a full cathedral service, which was rapidly developing." Plymouth wasn't alone. At least some of this increase in congregations was undoubtedly due to the increase in the population generally, but is that the whole explanation? I would love to believe that the dignity of the ceremonial, including its music, was a major factor in encouraging the large congregations of that time, but I suspect it is not quite that simple.

 

I can't see when, if ever, I am going to have time to look more deeply into this subject, but from the little digging I have been able to do, it does look as though my estimate of 80 years for this "flash in the pan" was little pessimistic, though I still doubt that it lasted more than 100 - from, say, 1860 to 1960.

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One thing: I'm quite sure it is quite wrong to project our notion of standards back onto the nineteenth century. I have an interesting example I'll post later.

 

In 1861 a London church appointed a (clerical) precentor to train the choir. The organist, who had previously undertaken this role, but had been persuaded to relinquish it, was much put out and, when in 1863 he related the subsequent events in The Musical Standard, he did not pull his punches in ridiculing the man (though, sadly, no names or places are mentioned). The particular traits in the precentor that the organist lampooned were:

 

-- the constant flexing of the tempi

-- teaching the boys tonic solfa and musical theory (including the meaning of terms like vivace, forte, piano)

-- making the boys sing long, sustained notes to learn breath control

-- teaching the boys to breathe in hymns according to the punctuation instead of indiscriminately at the end of every line

-- the precentor's double standards in asking the choirmen to arrive punctually for practice while slipping into his stall after services had started.

 

The final straw was a rehearsal of the Tudor anthem "Rejoice in the Lord alway" during which the precentor insisted on sharpening a note towards the end. The organist objected, but was overruled. The organist said nothing, but vowed never to attend another rehearsal.

 

The following March the two bumped into each other in the street. After exchanging civilities, the following conversation ensued:

 

P: "Why, you never come to our practice: you haven't been since Christmas."

O: "I am aware of it, Mr_____."

P: "But why don't you come then?"

O: "I have particular engagements."

P: "Teaching?"

O: "No: at home with my family."

P: "But your not attending the practices is the reason why the Organ and Choir don't keep together, you see."

O: "No, I don't see that: if the Choir sing correctly, the Organ will be played properly."

P: "But, my dear Sir, the Organ often puts the Choir out."

O: "The Choir often puts the Organist out. There is the other side to be considered."

P (getting warm): "But, my dear Sir, the Choir are much improved under my instruction and you are not!"

O: "Why, I am frequently disgusted with my playing: I can't play as I would wish. Indeed, I am disgusted with it altogether. The singing is perfectly horrifying: if there is not some alteration, I shall be compelled to give up the situation."

P (very pale): "But my dear Sir, where is the difference? The Choir cannot get on so well as they ought if you do not attend the practice."

O: "I cannot possibly see that my coming to the practice can have any effect on the singing. I cannot attend."

P: "My dear Sir, I do not know what were your original arrangements, but I consider you are bound to come."

O: "Well, after what has passed I will not attend any more practices." (Exit)

 

Then began an extended exchange of letters, the precentor imploring the organist to attend practices, the organist resolutely refusing on the ground that if he were not permitted to play as he used to do, it would only be a waste of his time coming to practices - this despite an instruction from the senior curate that he was bound to follow the precentor's lead. What irked the organist most was that he was no longer allowed to take the musical lead, particularly in the matter of time, but - horror of horrors - had to accompany the choir. Only when the precentor was absent was the organ "allowed to speak in exultant tones and accents of rejoicing." The precentor's "discomforting presence ... obliged the tormented organist to put his noble instrument into mourning." Other points adduced were that (in the organist's opinion) the boys could not sight-read hymns, the psalms and canticles were never practised and in anthems the boys and men frequently had no idea how the music was to be sung. Meanwhile, unknown to the organist, a large number of the congregation had complained formally to the senior curate about the poor standard of the music and the differences between the precentor and the organist. In June the organist was sacked on the grounds that his relationship with the precentor had broken down irretrievably.

 

The Musical Standard sided entirely with the organist.

 

Probably there were faults on both sides, but it is perfectly clear that the organist had no concept of how to accompany a choir musically, or even that this might have been desirable. His job, as he saw it, was to lead the services rhythmically and loudly. The organist's intransigence has something of S. S. Wesley about it. It is not him, but one could imagine SSW taking the same line. Whether the organist had a point might have depended on the standard of the choir - and The Musical Standard also printed a humourous piece on the general standard of unpaid choirs too.

 

I am reminded of an anecdote about old Harry Moreton (who got his first organist's post in 1874 at the age of 10) accompanying one of his last services on the foghorn he so lovingly designed. Apparently he completely drowned the very capable choir, using everything up to the Tromba chorus quite liberally. True, by this time he was over 90 and hearing impaired, but I can't escape a slight suspicion that this was his style anyway. I must ask.

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