The English Plainchant Revival

The English Plainchant Revival

The English Plainchant Revival

The English Plainchant Revival


This study provides a general introduction to the sources of the plainchant revival in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century England. Part I examines the eighteenth-century Catholic revival, in particular the work of John Frances Wade, a Roman Catholic plainchant scribe and publisher. His work centred on the Roman Catholic foreign embassy chapels in London during the waning years of the recusancy period, and his collaboration with contemporary publishers and musicians is evidenced in numerous contemporary letters, music manuscripts, and printed works. In Part II the starting point for the Roman Catholic revival is Novello's A Collection of Sacred Music and for the Anglican revival, Reinagle's A Collection of Psalm & Hymn Tunes. Pro-Gregorian enthusiasts monitored the progress of the revival well into the nineteenth century, but it was not until the late 1830s that plainchant became a cause c¿l¿bre in Anglican and Catholic worship alike. A multiplicity of plainchant publications followed well into the 1870s, with Thomas Helmores ranking first among them. By this time plainchant had become an integral, albeit controversial, part of musical worship in both churches. Bennett Zon brings together a host of previously undiscovered or unknown eighteenth- and nineteenth-century sources, drawing mainly upon printed and manuscript works. Contemporary periodical and occasional literature provide further insight into their musical and social contexts. This is as much a source book for ecclesiastical history of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as it is a chronicling of the plainchant revival, and it will be of interest to ecclesiastical historians, plainchant enthusiasts, church musicians, and bibliographers.


The church music of Britain, like its church buildings and liturgical texts, is a national heritage that transcends religious controversy and the decline of faith. Unlike them--because of the ephemeral nature of music-- it needs revival, interpretation, and advocacy if it is to be preserved and appreciated. Such processes must rest on a sound basis of fact and understanding. This series serves to encourage and present some of the best efforts of modern scholarship in the field.

The great Anglican cathedral tradition, with its roots in the Middle Ages, naturally takes the central place in this heritage. For centuries it has raised the music of worship to a high art, with its own style and history and its own series of composers, performers, and critics. It constitutes a school of musical art that is effortlessly distinctive, recognizably English, without being in the least nationalistic. Much though we may appreciate cathedral music as art, it also has a function in religious worship, and indeed in society. It shares this function with many other kinds of British church music--not all Anglican, not all English, not all achieving or even attempting high artistic value, but each playing a certain part in the life of a denomination and a community. The books in this series all, in their several ways, link developments in church music with the life of the individuals and societies that produced them.

When the Anglo-Catholics rediscovered plainsong in the early Victorian period, they focussed their scholarly attention on the Sarum use before the Reformation, and made this the basis of their revival. The controversies that followed in the Church of England have been discussed by many writers. By contrast, little or no attention has been paid to the much earlier efforts of English Roman Catholics to revive plainsong. This is the core of Bennett Zon's book, and he has broken entirely new ground in his study of the motivations, sources, and aesthetic principles that lay behind the movement.

Towards the end of the book, Dr Zon finally reaches the more familiar territory of the Anglican plainsong revival, which now appears in a completely new perspective, and is seen to be the end of a development rather than the beginning of one. His patient and often abstruse researches have led to a rewriting of history in this particular branch of British church music.


Urbana, Illinois, September 1996 . . .

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