Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 1.djvu/336

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psalms, canticles, versicles, responses, and creeds were sung invariably in plainsong, which signifies a certain specific mode of chanting in unison, guided by definite rules that can still be ascertained, and implying to a great extent the use of certain well-known melodies appropriated to particular parts of the service. Of this mode of chanting the Gregorian chants used at the present day are a regular form. [Chant.] So far then as regards simple melody we are fairly well informed as to pre-Reformation church music. But there is less certainty as to the use of harmony. It is true that a rude style of part-singing, called 'organising,' had been known for centuries before the Reformation, and later on the development of counterpoint had resulted in the composition of masses and motets, of which we have specimens by English composers, e. g. Byrd, Taverner, Fayrfax, and Tye, dating from before the Reformation. But though these compositions show that harmony was recognised in English church music before 1550, it is difficult to show to what extent they were used, and whether they were regularly introduced in the way that anthems by various composers are now employed in cathedral service. Possibly at ferial times plainsong may have predominated, and at festal times harmonised compositions, chants, and canticles, as well as anthems, may have been used; though these would interfere with the plainsong, which invariably formed the 'subject' to which the parts were adapted.

Such was the general character of English church music as it was found by the reformers of the 16th century. We must now enquire in what way it was dealt with by them in the transition from the Romish to the reformed service, and in what form it appeared after the change had taken place. The two works which directly illustrate the mind of the English church as to the musical rendering of her reformed services are, (1) the Litany published by Cranmer with its musical notation; (2) the more important work containing the musical notation of the remainder of the then Common Prayer Book, edited by John Marbeck. Now both these works seem to show that the aim of the reformers was not to discard but to utilise the ancient plainsong, by adapting it to the translated services. In the first place the music of Cranmer's litany is a very ancient chant, almost identical with that appointed for the Rogation days in the Roman processional, and with that which occurs in the Salisbury ritual for the procession of peace: hence we see that it was from the oldest sources that Cranmer obtained the musical setting of the new litany in English. Secondly, the music of Marbeck's work consists of the old plainsong simplified and adapted to the new services. Mr. Dyce, in his 'Preface and Appendix to the Book of Common Prayer,' shows conclusively that Marbeck intended to follow the ancient Salisbury use (the great standard of English choral music) note for note, as far as the rules of plainsong would permit; and that where his notation varies from that of Salisbury, the variation is due to the difference between the English and Latin syllables, and as such is merely what the technical rules of plainsong would dictate.

It would appear then that as regards plainsong, the Reformation brought little or no change to our services; the ancient melodies were preserved intact, except where change was required to adapt them to the new liturgy.

As to compositions in harmony, these, as we saw above, had been undoubtedly introduced into the service to some extent before the Reformation, but were sung to Latin words. During the changing times of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary, and Elizabeth, when the form of church service was not yet settled, the great church composers wrote and arranged for whatever services were established at the time—for the Latin words of mattins, vespers, the little hours, and the mass, or for the English canticles of Morning and Evening Prayer, and for the English Communion Service, according as the Romish or Protestant liturgy was recognised. Sometimes, as in the case of Byrd's 'Ne irascaris, Domine,' and 'Bow thine ear, O Lord,' the same music was set to the two languages, or what had been written for the one was adapted to the other. And thus the change of ritual may be said to have affected compositions in harmony even less than it affected the mere melodic forms or plainsong.

Though a complete scheme for the musical service was set forth in Marbeck's book (except for the litany, which Cranmer had already supplied, and the Psalms, which no doubt Marbeck intended to be sung in the manner he indicated for the Canticles, viz. in the old plainsong); the canticles and other parts of the service were set very frequently in harmony, about the time when Marbeck's book appeared. All the church musicians whose harmonised compositions remain to us, from the time of Edward VI onwards, have set the canticles anthemwise as 'services'; and thus, even while Marbeck's was the only authorised musical-service book, a more perfect system was displayed alongside of it. Hearers could not fail to be struck by the superiority of harmonised canticles and services over the simple melodies sung in unison, of which Marbeck's book consists. Dr. Jebb considers that the latter work was only meant as an elementary and tentative one, and that it never became authoritative. However this may be, it was superseded by a work containing harmonized compositions, contributed by Tallis, Shepherd, Taverner, and some others. This was John Day's book, published in 1560, and entitled, 'Certaine Notes, set forth in foure and three partes, to be sung at the Morning, Communion, and Evening Praier, … and unto them be added divers Godly praiers and psalmes in the like forme.'

The latter clause leads us to the consideration of the anthem, with reference to which Blunt (Introduction to the Book of Common Prayer) says as follows:—'It is difficult to ascertain the exact time when the practice of popular hymn