Sunday, 4 November 2012

Church History (full-time) 4.1: An introduction to Church Music

Six English composers who shaped Anglican choral liturgy: top (from left): John Taverner, Thomas Tallis and John Marbeck; bottom (from left): William Byrd, Orlando Gibbons and Thomas Tomkins (Photomontage, Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford,

Church of Ireland Theological Institute,

Church History Elective (TH 7864)

Week 6 (Residential Weekend I):

Sunday 4 November 2012:

4.1, An introduction to Church Music


Saint Augustine … did he ever say “He who sings, prays twice”?

Saint Augustine of Hippo (died 430) is often quoted as saying: “He who sings, prays twice.” The Latin citation is “Qui bene cantat bis orat or “He who sings well prays twice.”
However, although I sorry to disappoint you, Augustine said nothing of the sort. What he actually said was: “cantare amantis est … Singing belongs to one who loves.”

And Saint Augustine also wrote:

Qui enim cantat laudem, non solum laudat, sed etiam hilariter laudat; qui cantat laudem, non solum cantat, sed et amat eum quem cantat. In laude confitentis est praedicatio, in cantico amantis affection… “For he who sings praise, does not only praise, but also praises joyfully; he who sings praise, not only sings, but also loves him whom he is singing to. There is a praise-filled public proclamation in the praise of someone who is acknowledging Go), in the song of the lover there is love.”

On the other hand, Thomas Aquinas defined the Christian hymn in these words: “A hymn is the praise of God with song; a song is the exultation of the mind dwelling on eternal things, bursting forth in the voice.”

Of course we can say that singing and music enhance our worship, prayers and liturgy, especially here at the beginning of the week. But think of just how deadpan our Eucharist for All Saints’ Day would have been without those four hymns.

Indeed, I was asked afterwards why, apart from those four hymns, we sang only the Kyrie, Sanctus and Benedictus, and why we did not also take the opportunity to sing Gloria, Creed and Agnus Dei.

Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis … part and parcel of the history of the Anglican choral and liturgical tradition

Sung and Vested Evensong on Thursdays falls flat without singing at least two of the canticles, Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis.

Singing canticles and the set parts of the Eucharist seem so natural as Anglicans we almost become proprietorial about them, thinking they are quintessentially Anglican, and forgetting both their Biblical and historical roots and the Biblical and historical roots of liturgical music.

Music can go places where words can never go. It can touch, and heal, and liberate us in ways that theology can only stand back and envy.

The Temple Mount in Jerusalem … We can trace Church Music back to the music of the Temple and the synagogue

We can trace Church Music back to Biblical roots and the music of the Temple and the synagogue. It seems so natural that Anglican liturgical texts that are based on the Psalms and the Psalter should be such a major part of the Book of Common Prayer in all its shapes and editions.

According to the Mishnah, the Temple orchestra consisted of 12 instruments, and the choir had 12 male singers. A number of additional instruments were known to the ancient Hebrews, though they were not included in the regular orchestra of the Temple, including : the uggav (small flute) and the abbuv (a reed flute or oboe-like instrument).

After the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jewish people, music was initially banned:

How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? (Psalm 137: 4)

Of course, these restrictions were relaxed later.

Jewish music began to crystalise into definite form with the piyyutim or liturgical poems. The cantor sang these poems to melodies selected by their writer or by himself, introducing fixed melodies into synagogue music.

The music may have preserved a few phrases in the reading of Scripture that recalled songs from the Temple itself.

On Thursday, at Choral Evensong for All Saints’ Day [1 November 2012], one of the Psalms we read, Psalm 150, called on us to worship God with a variety of music instruments:

● trumpet;
● harp;
● lyre;
● timbrel;
● strings;
● pipe;
● cymbals;
● clashing cymbals.

The earliest music in synagogues was based on the same system as the system used in the Temple in Jerusalem. According to the Talmud, Joshua ben Hananiah, who had served in the Levitical choir in the sanctuary, told how the choristers went to the synagogue from the orchestra by the altar (Talmud, Suk. 53a), and so took part in both services.

Biblical and contemporary sources mention the following instruments being used in the Temple:

● the nevel, a 12-stringed harp;
● the kinnor, a lyre with 10 strings;
● the shofar, a hollowed-out ram’s horn;
● the chatzutzera, or trumpet, made of silver;
● the tof, a small drum;
● the metziltayim or cymbal;
● the paamon or bell;
● the halil or big flute.

The only record of communal song in the Gospels is at the end of the Last Supper, when Christ and the disciples sing hymns before going out to the Mount of Olives (Matthew 26: 30).

The first Christians continued to attend the Temple in Jerusalem and the synagogues. Can we presume the same musical traditions ere carried over into separate Christian meetings?

The earliest Christian hymns are mentioned by Saint Paul in his letters, where he encourages the Ephesians and Colossians to use psalms, hymns and spiritual songs:

but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts – Ephesians 5: 18-19.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. – Colossians 3: 16.

The 24 elders singing around the Lamb on the Throne ... the main panel in the Ghent Altarpiece

In his vision in the Book of Revelation, Saint John the Divine describes seeing the four living creatures with six wings, gathered around the throne and never ceasing to sing day and night (Revelation 4: 8) – an echo of Isaiah’s vision (Isaiah 6: 2-3), but they are singing rather than saying their praises – and they are joined by the 24 elders in singing too (see Revelation 4: 10-12), the saints who sing a new song (Revelation 5: 9-10), and the angels, living creatures, myriads and myriads, and thousands of thousands, “singing with full voice (Revelation 5: 11-12), and every creature “in heaven and on earth and under the earth … singing (Revelation 5: 13). And the singing goes on (Revelation 7: 12) and on (Revelation 11: 17-18), and on (Revelation 15: 3-4) … and on. There’s a lot of singing in the heavenly worship described in the Book of Revelation.

Later, there is a reference in Pliny who writes to the Emperor Trajan (61–113) asking for advice about how to prosecute the Christians in Bithynia, and describing their practice of gathering before sunrise and repeating antiphonally “a hymn to Christ, as to God.”

Saint Ignatius of Antioch … had a vision of angels singing in alternate choirs

Saint Ignatius of Antioch (died 107) had a vision in which the angels were singing in alternate choirs. The Greek hymn Φῶς Ἱλαρόν (Phos Hilaron), Hail gladdening light was mentioned by Saint Basil around 370. Latin hymns appear at around the same time, influenced by Saint Ambrose of Milan. Prudentius, a Spanish poet of the late 4th century was one of the most prolific hymn writers of the time.

The use of instruments in early Christian music seems to have been frowned upon. In the late fourth or early fifth century, Saint Jerome wrote that a Christian maiden ought not even to know what a lyre or flute is like, or to what use it is put.

Early Celtic hymns, associated with Saint Patrick and Saint Columba, including Saint Patrick's Breastplate, are traced by some sources to the 6th and 7th centuries.

Hymnody in the Western church introduced four-part vocal harmony as the norm, adopting major and minor keys, and came to be led by organ and choir.

The introduction of church organ music is traditionally believed to date from the time of Pope Vitalian in the sixth century.

Gregorian chant is the main tradition of Western plainchant, a form of monophonic liturgical chant of Western Christianity that accompanies the celebration of the Eucharist and other services. This musical form originated in monastic life, in which singing the hours nine times a day was part of the Rule of Saint Benedict. Singing psalms made up a large part of the life in a monastic community, while a smaller group and soloists sang the chants.

Gregorian Chant has gone through many gradual changes and reforms. It was organised, codified, and notated mainly in the Frankish lands of western and central Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries, with later additions and redactions. But the texts and many of the melodies have antecedents going back several centuries earlier.

Although popular belief credits Pope Gregory the Great with introducing Gregorian chant, scholars now believe that Gregorian chant began as a later Carolingian synthesis of Roman and Gallican chant.

During the centuries that followed, the chant tradition was at the heart of Church music, but it changed and acquired various accretions.

Polyphonic music arose from the venerable old chants in the Organa by Léonin and Pérotin in Paris (1160–1240), and ended in monophonic chant. In later traditions, new composition styles were practised alongside monophonic chant.

Although chant had mostly fallen into disuse after the Baroque period, it went through a revival in the 19th century in the Roman Catholic and Anglo-Catholic traditions.

The Requiem Mass has a long tradition in Western liturgical music

Mass settings are found in and shared by the liturgical traditions of Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Lutherans, and there are many Mass settings in English in the Anglican tradition.

Masses can be a cappella, for the voice alone, or they can be accompanied by instrumental obligatos up to and including a full orchestra.

Generally speaking, a full Mass includes five invariable sections, which together constitute the Ordinary of the Mass.

Kyrie (“Lord have mercy”)
Gloria (“Glory be to God on high”)
Credo (the Nicene Creed)
Sanctus (“Holy, Holy, Holy”), with Benedictus ("Blessed is he who comes”)
Agnus Dei (“Lamb of God”)

The Requiem Mass has a long tradition in Western liturgical music, with requiems by Palestrina, Victoria, Mozart, Berlioz, Brahms, Bruckner, Fauré, Liszt, Verdi, Benjamin Britten, Duruflé, Stravinsky and others.

The Proper of the Mass is usually not set to music, except in a Requiem Mass, but may be the subject of motets or other musical compositions. The sections of the Proper of the Mass include the Introit, Gradual, Alleluia or Tract (depending on the time of year), Offertory and Communion.

In the meantime, the Reformation created two conflicting attitudes to hymns. Many Zwinglians, Calvinists and other radical reformers, considered anything that was not directly authorised by the Bible to be a novel and a Catholic introduction to worship that was to be rejected.

All hymns that were not direct quotations from the Bible fell into this category. They were rejected, along with instrumental musical accompaniment. Organs were removed from churches, and hymns were replaced by chanted Psalms, often unaccompanied. This is a tradition that has continued to this day among the “free churches” of western Scotland.

The second Reformation approach, favoured by Martin Luther, produced a burst of hymn writing and congregational singing. Luther and Lutherans often used their hymns, or chorales, to teach the faith.

The earlier English writers tended to paraphrase biblical texts, particularly Psalms. Isaac Watts followed this tradition, but is also credited as having written the first English hymn which was not a direct paraphrase of Scripture.

Later writers took even more freedom, some even including allegory and metaphor in their texts.

Charles Wesley’s hymns helped to promote the spread of Methodist thinking far beyond the boundaries of Methodism. The Methodist Revival in the 18th century created an explosion of hymn that continued into the 19th century.

This morning, I would like to just briefly look at four traditions that continue to influence and shape our present understandings of liturgical music:

1, Anglican choral tradition

2, Classical composers and Christian liturgical music

3, Christmas Carols

4, American evangelistic hymns

1, Anglican choral tradition

John Taverner ... other composers modelled their work on his

In the century or two after the Anglican Reformation, Anglican theology was developed not only by academic theologians and bishops, but by poet-priests such as John Donne and George Herbert, by architects, and by composers.

Six composers in particular stand out in this period:

1, John Taverner (ca 1490-1545) is regarded as one of the most important English composers of his era. Most of Taverner’s music is vocal, and includes masses, Magnificats and motets. Most of his works were probably written in the 1520s.

2, Thomas Tallis (ca 1505-1585) is considered the father of English choral music. Tallis occupies a primary place in anthologies of English church music, and is considered one of England’s greatest early composers. He is honoured for his original voice in English musicianship, and is also remembered as the teacher of William Byrd. The Motet we shall hear at the Eucharist in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, this morning is O Sacrum Convivium by Tallis.

3, John Marbeck (ca 1510–ca 1585) produced a standard setting of the Anglican liturgy. In the 19th century, the Oxford Movement inspired renewed interest in liturgical music, and the Irish-born John Jebb drew attention to Marbeck’s Prayer Book settings in 1841. In 1843, William Dyce published plainsong music for all Anglican services, with almost all of Marbeck’s settings, adapted for the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Later in the 19th century, many editions of Marbeck’s settings were published, especially for the Holy Communion, with arrangements by noted musicians including Sir John Stainer and Charles Villiers Stanford.

4, William Byrd (1539/1540-1623) was a Renaissance composer who wrote in many of the forms current in England at the time, including various types of sacred and secular polyphone, keyboard and consort music. Byrd played a role in the emergence of the new verse anthem. His four Anglican service settings range in style from the unpretentious Short Service to the magnificent Great Service. The setting for the Eucharist we are taking part in this morning in Christ Church Cathedral Dublin is Byrd’s Mass for Five Voices.

5, Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625) was one of the most versatile English composers of his time. One of the most versatile English composers of his time, he wrote a quantity of keyboard works, around 30 fantasias for viols, a number of madrigals, and many popular verse anthems.

His choral music is distinguished by his complete mastery of counterpoint, combined with his wonderful gift for melody. He produced two major settings of Evensong, the Short Service and the Second Service. The former includes a beautifully expressive Nunc Dimittis, while the latter is an extended composition, combining verse and full sections.

6, Thomas Tomkins (1572-1656) was a prolific composer of verse anthems in the late Tudor and early Stuart period. His life links the great Anglican composers of the Tudor and Stuart eras with the Laudian era and the Caroline Divines.

Tallis, Merbecke and Byrd are honoured, together with a feast day on 21 November in the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church. All six have contributed immeasurably to the corpus of Anglican liturgical music.

2, Classical composers and Christian liturgical music

Mozart and Bach ... does anybody know who was Catholic and who was Protestant, and does anyone care?

Open with the Credo from Mozart’s Mass in C Minor

Bach or Mozart? Does anybody know, or does anyone care whether Mozart or Bach was a Catholic or a Protestant?

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750):

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), has been described as “the most stupendous miracle in all music.” He was the child of the German Lutheran Church, but was deeply influenced by Vivaldi, who began his career as a priest at the Pieta in Venice.

Bach saw himself not as a genius but as one of God’s craftsmen. Music should, he wrote, have no aim other than the glory of God and the “re-creation of the soul … Where this is not kept in mind there is no true music, but only an infernal clamour and ranting.” His scores bear dedicatory abbreviations like “S.D.G.” (Soli Deo Gloria, “To God alone be praise”) or “J.J.” (Jesu Juva, “Help me, Jesus”).

However, the great Swiss theologian Karl Barth disagreed: “It may be that when the angels go about their task praising God, they play Bach. I am sure, however, that when they are together en famille, they play Mozart.”

So let us hear the canticle Magnificat written by Bach for first Christmas in Leipizig. This canticle has retained a similar traditional use in Evening Prayer for Lutherans as it has among Anglicans.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791):

May I offer another version of that quote from Karl Barth: “Whether the angels play only Bach praising God, I am not quite sure. I am sure, however, that en famille they play Mozart.” Indeed, it is said that wittily that Barth lived with lifelong guilt that he liked Mozart better than Bach.

Barth’s devotion to Mozart is well known, and he claimed that through the music of Mozart he could hear the praise of Creation. He began each day listening to Mozart; he included Mozart in the Church Dogmatics, and he remarked: “If I ever get to heaven, I would first of all seek out Mozart and only then inquire after Augustine, Saint Thomas, Luther, Calvin, and Schleiermacher.”

Towards the end of his life, Barth even experienced his first and only mystical vision – a vision of Mozart gazing at him benignly from the stage during a concert. Hans Urs von Balthasar was very impressed by this vision.

Barth wrote a short book, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, published in 1956 in celebration of the 200th anniversary of Mozart’s birth. In this book, Barth collected some of his writings and addresses about Mozart. With wonderful hyperbole, he describes the musical uniqueness of Mozart, suggesting that Mozart’s “characteristic basic sound” might in fact be “the primal sound of music absolutely,” saying Mozart “struck this ‘tone’ in its timelessly valid form.”

Theologically, too, Barth speaks of Mozart’s utter uniqueness: “In the case of Mozart, we must certainly assume that the dear Lord had a special, direct contact with him.” His music “evidently comes from on high.” Indeed, Barth “leaves open” the question “whether Mozart could possibly have been an angel.”

Above all, it is the dialectical character of Mozart’s music that Barth admires. In this music, everything comes to expression: “heaven and earth, nature and man, comedy and tragedy … the Virgin Mary and the demons.” (Mozart simply contains and includes all this within his music in perfect harmony. This harmony is not a matter of “balance” or “indifference” (like the balance of Schleiermacher’s system!) – it is “a glorious upsetting of the balance, a turning in which the light rises and the shadows fall … in which the Yes rings louder than the ever-present No.”

In all this, however, Mozart “does not wish to say anything: he just sings and sounds.” Unlike Bach, he has no doctrine or message, and thus “he does not force anything on the listener …; he simply leaves him free.” (This note of freedom is what most impresses Barth. “Mozart’s music always sounds unburdened, effortless, light. This is why it unburdens, releases, and liberates us.”

In a lecture in 1956, Barth rejoiced that in Mozart’s music “the sun shines, but without burning or weighing upon the earth” and “the earth also stays in its place, remains itself, without feeling that it must therefore rise in titanic revolt against the heavens.” He bowed before an art in which “the laugh is never without tears, tears are never unrelieved by laughter.”

According to Barth, Mozart – who, though Roman Catholic and yet a Freemason – was utterly free of all institutional deformations, whether ecclesiastical or political. He confessed the reality and the peace he finds in an art which embraces nature, humanity and God, which is as true to life as it is to death.

As a Protestant, Barth was troubled that Mozart insisted on being a Catholic. To be sure, Mozart was not an active Catholic. Still, there was a Catholic piety that never left Mozart, and he said he would never want to live outside a Catholic country. He had critical things to say about Protestants: he thought their religion was all in their head! Once he said that an “enlightened Protestant” would never be able to understand his Masses, especially his settings for Agnus Dei.

Barth wanted to argue with Mozart about all this. In a dream one night, he was given the chance. In this dream, Barth was supposed to give Mozart an oral examination in theology. He knew in advance that “under no circumstances would [the composer] be allowed to fail.” And so he did everything he could to make things easy for him; he filled the exam with friendly prompts and hints about his masses. But in answer to Barth’s question about Dogmatics and “Dogma” and what they might mean, Mozart’s response was total silence.

Perhaps the Mozart of Barth’s dream had the right idea. Why worry about 13 volumes of Dogmatics when you can write a mass, a symphony, a serenade? We can imagine him inwardly chuckling at a theologian’s questions.

Thomas Merton was profoundly moved by the dream, and said that it is about our salvation. Merton wrote: “Barth is perhaps striving to admit that he will be saved more by the Mozart in himself than by his theology.” He suggests that, by playing Mozart every morning, the theologian may have been unconsciously trying to awaken the hidden Mozart within himself, “a central wisdom that comes in tune with the divine and cosmic music and is saved by love, even by eros.”

Thomas Merton, addressing Karl Barth, says: “Fear not, Karl Barth! Trust in the divine mercy. Though you have grown up to be a theologian, Christ remains a child in you. Your books (and mine) matter less than we might think! There is in us a Mozart who will be our salvation!”

Over the last two centuries, many people have tried to explain Mozart’s distinctiveness. Barth is not the only theologian to have loved him – Soren Kierkegaard and Hans Kung are two others. Even a sceptic like Bernard Shaw said that Mozart’s was “the only music yet written that would not sound out of place in the mouth of God.”

In that lecture in Geneva in 1956, Barth reached out, in gratitude and respect, towards the ultimate mystery of Mozart, working alternately on the Requiem and The Magic Flute as the shadows of early death visibly closed in about him. He concluded his homage to Mozart with his very personal estimate of some of the great composers:

Bach? Profondément respectable! Beethoven? Hautement admirable! Tel autre, ou tel autre? Plus ou moins remarquable! Mozart? Aimable!

When Barth’s book was republished in 1986, there was a brilliant foreword by John Updike, who highlighted the deep affinity between the music of Mozart and the theology of Barth: “Those who have not felt the difficulty of living have no need of Barthian theology; but then perhaps they also have no ear for music.”

3, Christmas Carols

Stainer and Bramley published their collection ‘Christmas Carols New and Old’ in 1871

Christmas carols have a distinct story of their own. A carol is a festive song, often of a popular character. Today the carol is represented almost exclusively by the Christmas carol and the Advent carol, but we often forget the tradition of Easter carols too.

The tradition of Christmas carols dates back to at least the 13th century. They were popular songs originally and it was only later that they began to be sung in church and to be associated with Christmas.

Although Martin Luther wrote carols and encouraged their use, carols declined in popularity after the Reformation in many European countries, although they survived in rural communities until the revival of interest in carols in the 19th century.

The carols God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen, The First Noel, I Saw Three Ships and Hark the Herald Angels Sing first appeared in print in 1833 in Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern edited by William B. Sandys.

Composers like Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900) – born to Irish parents and of Gilbert and Sullivan fame – helped to give new popularity to the carol. This period also saw the publication of carols that would become favourites such as Good King Wenceslas and It Came Upon the Midnight Clear, a New England carol written by Edmund H. Sears and Richard S. Willis.

4, American evangelistic hymns

African-Americans developed a rich hymnody out of the spirituals sung during times of slavery.

Then during the Second Great Awakening in the US, a new popular style emerged with Fanny Crosby, Ira D Sankey, and other hymn writers producing testimonial music for evangelistic crusades. These are often called “Gospel songs” to distinguish them from hymns, and they generally include a refrain or chorus, and usually, though not always, a faster tempo than the hymns.

To distinguish them from each other, we could say Amazing Grace is a hymn, with no refrain, while How Great Thou Art is a Gospel song. During the 19th century the gospel-song genre spread rapidly.

Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic tradition produced many popular hymns such as Lead, Kindly Light, Silent Night, O Sacrament Divine and Faith of our Fathers.

Today, many churches use contemporary worship music that includes a range of styles, often influenced by popular music. This style began in the late 1960s and became very popular during the 1970s.

Supplemental Reading:

Karl Barth, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Clarence K. Pott, trans., foreword by John Updike (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 1986, Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2003).

Edward Darling and Donald Davison (eds), Companion to Church Hymnal (Dublin: Columba, 2005).

Hans Kung, Mozart: Traces of Transcendence, John Bowden, trans., foreword by Yehudi Menuhin (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 1993).

Thomas Merton, “Barth’s Dream” in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (New York: Doubleday, 1966), pp. 11-12.


Church History (full-time) 4.2: An introduction to the history of liturgy, Cathedral Eucharist, Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, William Byrd, Mass for Five Voices, with student participation.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This lecture on 4 November 2012 was part of the residential weekend in Church History Elective (TH 7864).

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