Early New England Psalmody: An Historical Appreciation, 1620-1820

Early New England Psalmody: An Historical Appreciation, 1620-1820

Early New England Psalmody: An Historical Appreciation, 1620-1820

Early New England Psalmody: An Historical Appreciation, 1620-1820

Excerpt

What music did the Pilgrims and Puritans of New England use when singing their psalms? What is its history? How did it find the way to Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay? When did the New England singers begin to write their own psalm tunes? Who were these singer-composers? What were their musical standards? What is the value of their music, judged by twentieth century taste? When did it become obsolescent?

In the following discussion of such questions, it will be noted that here is a study of the music itself, the book not concerning itself with biographical, religious, or musicological detail; such latter surveys have had full treatment from various authors.

The Puritan psalmody per se, however, has received comparatively little attention. When treated, it has been laughed at, possibly because of the writers' ignorance of its origins and history.

The origin of the early psalm tunes used in New England may be traced to the music of the Protestant Reformation in Germany, France, Scotland, and England; their histories may be interestingly followed in the Genevan, Scottish, and English psalters of the sixteenth century, up to their inclusion in The Bay Psalm Book and the works of John Tufts, Thomas Walter and others.

It was William Billings (1770) who was the first New Englander to make his own music and to influence his contemporaries, Andrew Law, Lewis Edson, Jacob French, Oliver Holden, Samuel Holyoke, Joseph Kimball and others. Billings's influence was great; he vitalized the music of his group for a full thirty years. Particularly with his 'fuguing tunes' did Billings capture the enthusiastic imitation of the music-writers of the day who agreed with him in his admiration of the fugue form.

Owing to various causes, (a) revolt against the Billings technique . . .

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