Complete Encyclopaedia of Music/A/Alterations in ancient psalmody
Alterations in ancient psalmody, illustrated in the history of "Old Hundred." We take the following interesting and dole article from the columns of the "New Engand Puritan."
The melody of "Old Hundred" was printed for he first time, as we conclude after a careful investigation, without any accompanying part whatever, about the year 1550, and set to the French version of the 134th psalm ; and it was printed alone, in England, in 1562, to Sternhold aid Hopkins's version of the 100th psalm. but differing from the French copy in several notes, probably through mistake, in part, at least. It was harmonized or arranged in parts, in France, by Claude Goudimel, and printed in 1565, to the 134th psalm, three parts being added to the original melody ; and a few years after, it was done by Claude Le Jenne, and set to the same psalm, but was not printed till 1613, several years after his death.
It was harmonized in England, by William Damon, in 1579, and again by the same author, differently, in 1591 ; also by Dr. Dowland, in 1594, and set to the 100th psalm; likewise by Richard Allison, in 1599, and by Ravenscroft, still differently from. the rest, and published in 1621, to the 134th psalm, Dowland's copy being included in the same volume with the latter. We have it again, in three parts, in John Playford's collection, published in 1671, which was very popular, and continued in use during a much longer period than any other ever made.
Various arrangements of this tune have been made in different ages and countries, times al-most without number, in two, three, four, and five parts. Many of the greatest composers have exercised their ingenuity upon it ; yet among all the arrangements that have ever been made of this tune, no one can claim, by its superior merit, to be established as the standard for all after ages ; and we venture to predict that no such arrangement will ever appear. In the reign of George IV., Gardiner, the author of "Music of Nature," made the trial, under the sanction of the king, to supply the churches with a collection both of poetry and music, as a "standard book of psalmody ; " and although the work produced was highly creditable and much admired, the result was no less than a royal failure, in respect to the object for which it was designed.
What one age considers perfect, or looks upon with complacency, another may view in a very different light. This fact is exemplified in all our experience, and perhaps in nothing more strikingly than in music and metrical psalmody. Stern-hold and Hopkins's version of the Psalms, in England, was satisfactory for a long time ; but at length complaints being made and improvements demanded, almost every succeeding impression was altered to the fashion of the day. So it was with that of Marot and Beza in France, which, it is believed, is still used to some extent in that country. They have been altered from time to time, through a great number of editions, so as to correspond with those variations to which all languages are liable.
The melody of "Old Hundred" is common property, and any qualified composer has both a legal and a moral right, as we think, to add to it such harmony as he believes will be an improvement : if he succeeds, it is well ; if he fails, he will have his trouble and the expense as his re-ward ; and how many have experienced this re suit ! But what true lover of the art would stay the hand of improvement, or forbid the correction of errors, in a case wherein all have an equal right to try their skill ? and who will relinquish the use of this tune, as it is now arranged, because in the course of time it has undergone the said changes ? On such a principle, we should have to relinquish a considerable portion of the English language.
Some of the most celebrated musicians have constructed parts upon the simple melody of "Old Hundred." English publications of different ages present it with different harmony from those that preceded them, and different from others of the same age. One work, published more than two hundred years ago, contains two different arrangements ; a later one gives us five, and one edition of Tate and Brady's Psalms, which was accompanied with music, presents six variations of the melody, as it is repeated to different psalms ! Dr. Croft only rearranged "London," and Kirby "Windsor," both of which had already been done by Ravenscroft, and probably by others ; and John Milton (father of the poet) altered his own arrangement of "York," and issued both copies at the same time ; and the one now in use is neither of his. The melody, says Ravenscroft, was originally a Northern tune. The melody of "St. David's," which was harmonized by Ravenscroft, was of Welsh origin ; those of "Dundee" [Dundy] and "Martyrs" were Scotch.
The feelings of our nature require a constant succession of new tunes, (we do not mean to the exclusion of all former ones,) and neither choir nor congregational singing can long be sustained without them. Dr. Busby says, "In general, without variety, pleasure ceases, and nothing more urgently requires relief than an old song."
Metrical psalmody had its rise in Germany, and there is no doubt but German musicians were authors of some of the old melodies ; and tradition, in Germany, accords to Luther the author-ship of several. Schamelus and Walther assert that one John Galliculus had a share in them. Many persons have entertained the belief that "Old Hundred" was at least Lutheran, while others have been disposed to grant it still higher antiquity. Its origin is very uncertain, and enveloped in great obscurity, although it is generally ascribed to Luther in the American singing books. But history supports a much stronger claim for a musician by the name of William Franc as its author. Yet it may have been one of those very "secular tunes, such as were easy to learn and play on the viol and other instruments ; " or one of the "most favorite songs of the times ; " 5 or one of those "ballad airs as would best suit its metre ; " or an "opera song ; " [?] all which were sung to the psalms early in the reformation, not only by Lutherans and Calvinists, but Roman Catholics : the latter, however, soon became alarmed, and pronounced psalm singing heretical, and forbade its practice. But it may have originated in an ancient Roman chant, some of which, or adaptations the refrom, were long retained in the Protestant service. One author says it was a "love ditty written long before Luther's time." Ravenscroft, who published it in 1621, was ignorant of its author even at that early day.
Adaptations of the melodies of profane songs to sacred poetry, three hundred years ago, were not uncommon ; and Luther himself, it appears, was not very scrupulous about it, for he set the Lord's prayer, or the following words, "Our Father, who art in heaven," to a melody of this kind, one which had been used in singing "histories in rhyme, something like the romances or ballads of the present day ; e., near the middle of the eighteenth century. The King of Navarre sang, "Stand up, O Lord," to the air of a fashionable dance ! and in an ancient religious work occurs a Christmas subject set to the tune of "O caper and frisk it," and another to the tune of "O Mother Rogers." But such examples we highly deprecate, and hope never to see followed in our times. It is probable, nay, almost certain, that some tunes of the above character crept into the number which were afterwards adopted and printed to the Psalms, and which have come down to us ; but it should be borne in mind that, whether the association was ever offensive or not, no objection on this score can be made by us at the present time, as relates to these tunes, for we have only known them as used for sacred purposes.
In justice to Luther, the fact should be stated that, before Marot and Beza's Psalms were printed with the melodies, the Lutheran reformers in Germany made great use of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Luther himself published a small psalm book, with a few melodies, in 1524 which was subsequently enlarged ; and, before his time, Huss and the Bohemian Brethren had been psalm singers. The latter, also, had a small hymn or spiritual song book, with notes, printed at Ulm in 1538.
The people, high and low, were every where infatuated with the notion of psalm singing, on the appearance of Marot and Beza's version ; and, before the melodies were printed, each one sang such tunes as he thought fit - dances, jigs, operas, and merry tunes. (Bayle.) New tunes were, also, set to the psalms, by "excellent composers, that chimed so sweetly that every one desired a new psalter." (Strada.)
It is well settled that some of the old melodies had their origin in Germany, whence they were transferred by the reformers to other parts of Europe, where many were adopted or imitated : thus they may have become an ingredient in Marot and Beza's collection ; but whether or not " Old Hundred "was among the number so transferred is unknown. In no German choral book, nearly all of which contain this tune, do we find Luther's name attached to it - a circumstance which would be very strange if the Germans could rightfully claim their countryman as its author ; and it was not ascribed to him, we believe, in any English publication until the time of Handel, who expressed an opinion that Luther wrote it ; but of that Burney and other writers say they have not been able to find authentic proof. Ravens-croft, who published his work in 1621, calls it a "French tune," which he would not have been likely to do, if there had been any chance of its having been written in England. He states that his work consists of "psalms, with such tunes as have been and are usually sung in England, Scot-land, Wales, Germany, Italy, France, and the Netherlands."
Most of the old melodies were at first sung alone, by the whole congregation, and subsequently underwent the same dressing up, and have had almost as many new suits as "Old Hundred." They have been harmonized at different times, in from two to six parts.
The practice of choir singing, that is, singing performed by a few select persons, sufficiently skilled in music to sing each by himself the part assigned him, arose soon after the melodies be-came harmonized. Extemporaneous descant was practised, to some extent, by artists, before the harmonies were printed. In England, in the reign of Queen Mary, the psalms were sung sotto voce ; but after the accession of Queen Elizabeth, "like orgies, they were roared aloud in almost every street, as well as church, throughout the kingdom." (Burney.) And at one time, such was the rage, they were sung by soldiers on march and parade, and at lord mayor's dinners and city feasts." (Hawkins.) The enthusiasm in favor of psalm singing, at the same time, pervaded all France, Holland, and the adjacent countries, both in the church and out of it. Roger Ascham, in a letter dated Augsburg, in 1551, says, "Three or four thousand singing at a time in a church in this city is but a trifle."
We condense these facts from Hawkins, Burney, Choron, and other authentic sources. We have also enjoyed the opportunity of examining and comparing most of the original books of psalmody and music referred to, which are very "rare and curious ; " and we have endeavored to embody, in as small a space as possible, all the reasonable hints and suggestions concerning the origin of "Old Hundred,� and other old tunes. That "Old Hundred" came from one or the other of these sources, we apprehend there will be little difficulty in believing - precisely which, will probably forever remain a matter of conjecture.
We subjoin a transcript of several early arrangements of this tune ; and also of the oldest copy of the simple melody that has been pre-served ; together with others of nearly the same age : the latter, while they gratify curiosity, show that alterations were made long ago, even in the very outset, in this part. And we would here express our disapprobation of altering the melody of any tunes without the strongest reasons.
Compare these early arrangements with most of those which appear in the singing books of the present time, and we think there will be no question but some progress has been made in the art of composition since "Old Hundred" was first harmonized. ; notwithstanding the author of one of the early copies (Dr. Dowland) was a great favorite, and, Anthony Wood says, was styled the rarest musician that the age did behold." Yet Dr. Burney has since said of this author's compositions, "I have been equally disappointed and astonished at his scanty abilities in counterpoint, and the great reputation he obtained with his contemporaries." We are not told that the copy in the above-mentioned work is therein original ; indeed, but a small part of it, if any, appears to be so.
Regarding the old tunes, generally, as used in this country at a former period, we adopt the following language of the venerable and highly respectable editor (the Hon. Nahum Mitchell) of the "Bridgewater Collection " ; which work, we will steal this opportunity to say, was the most popular singing book published in its day, and one of the most important in the musical reformation of New England. "When the English books, containing these tunes, were first brought to this country, as Tansur, Williams, Knapp, J. Arnold, &c., who were by no means musicians of the first class, they were evidently set or harmonized, as Tansur professes, in the most simple manner ; containing principally the common chords, without any regard to the modern rules of relation and progression."
Music, says Dr. Burney, "is pursuing her slow and steady course towards taste, elegance, simplicity, and invention, under the guidance of judgment and science." Choron, a French author, says, "Within the space of three centuries, all parts of the musical system, namely, the melody, the principles of musical construction and design, and every kind of composition, have arrived, successively, at a degree of excellence which, it would seem, can hardly be surpassed; but let us not indulge the idea that nothing more is to be done." The Rev. Dr. Hooker, of Vermont, an able advocate for musical education, in a late tract, says, "It is gratifying to observe that both the art and the profession of teaching it are advancing." This is undoubtedly true in regard to music in this country, more than in any other. Who has been acquainted with its state, here, for any length of time, but knows that since the first efforts of such men as Mitchell, Hastings, Mason, and others that might be named, natives of this country, the progress of music has been most rapid and sure? To others, also, who have come among us from abroad, we are indebted for its advancement, in no small degree.