Anglican Chant and Chanting in England, Scotland, and America, 1660-1820

Anglican Chant and Chanting in England, Scotland, and America, 1660-1820

Anglican Chant and Chanting in England, Scotland, and America, 1660-1820

Anglican Chant and Chanting in England, Scotland, and America, 1660-1820


This book presents, for the first time, a history of English liturgical chant as performed in the Church of England and its transmission to churches in Scotland and the United States. In the mid-sixteenth century Reformation, the complex ritual of the latin rite was replaced by a one-volume Book of Common Prayer, in English. The general nature of the new rubrics, expecially for music, left many of the details of performance to be worked out in traditional ways. Thus the music evolved from its Latin roots in oral, and later, written practice. The body of music that makes up the chanting practice of Anglican and related churches around the world is indeed diversified. Some texts of the liturgy are harmonized in four or more voive parts, often with organ accompaniment, and others are sung in plainsong. The largest group of chants, those for the psalms and canticles, has an idiosyncratic written form and a performance practice that continues to evolve in oral tradition. This music is commonly known as Anglican chant. Its origins in the seventeenth century and its codification in the eighteenth are explored in the choral establishments of the Church of England and parish churches in England, Scotland, and the United States.


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.

Ruth M. Wilson's study of Anglican chant does, indeed, involve a great deal more than the cathedral tradition in which it had its roots. Originating in the practice of singing plainchant in faburden, Anglican chant gradually took on a distinct character, which was remarkably transformed during the eighteenth century into the form that is now familiar: the miniature, balanced melody of ten or twenty notes in a set rhythm, adapted, with more or less flexibility, to a prose text. Although this process certainly began in cathedrals and choral foundations, it was already, early in the eighteenth century, beginning to be imitated in English parish churches. Dr Wilson follows these developments, and traces them further into almost completely unknown territory, as she explores the beginnings of Anglican chanting in Scotland and the United States.

Anglican chant is a distinctively British practice, so much so that when comedians adapt it to the Highway Code, or to less innocuous texts, it is instantly recognizable. But it is no longer evolving. On the contrary, its standing is precarious in the profoundly altered conditions of worship today. It could be called an endangered species, carefully maintained and preserved in . . .

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