2. From the Ratisbon Gradual (1871).
We have already seen that Plain Song was introduced into England by S. Augustin, in the year 596. That it nourished vigorously among our countrymen is proved by abundant evidence: but the difference observable between the Sarum, York, and Hereford Office-Books proves that the English Clergy were far from adopting an uniform Use. Some of us, perhaps, may find little to regret in this, seeing that many of the Melodies contained in those venerable tomes—more especially those belonging to the Diocese of Sarum—are of indescribable beauty: yet none the less are such interpolations fatal hindrances to that uniformity of practice which alone can lead to true purity of style. No sooner was the old Religion abolished by Law than the Litany was printed in London, with the antient Plain Song Melody adapted to English words. This work was published by Grafton, the King's printer, on June 16, 1544; and six years later, in 1550, John Marbecke published his famous 'Booke of Common Praier, noted,' in which Plain Song Melodies, printed in the square-headed Gregorian character, are adapted to the Anglicised Offices of 'Mattins,' 'Euen Song,' 'The Communion,' and 'The Communion when there is a Buriall,' with so perfect an appreciation of the true feeling of Plain Song, that one can only wonder at the ingenuity with which it is not merely translated into a new language, but so well fitted to the exigencies of the 'vulgar tongue' that the words and Music might well be supposed to have sprung into existence together.
Except during the period of the Great Rebellion, Marbecke's adaptation of Plain Song to the Anglican Ritual has been in constant use in English Cathedrals from the time of its first publication to the present day. Between the death of Charles I. and the Restoration, all Music worthy of the name was banished from the Religious Services of the Anglican Church; but, after the Accession of Charles II, the practice of singing the Plain Song Versicles and Responses, was at once resumed, but the Gregorian Tones to the Psalms fell into entire disuse, giving place in time to a form of Melody, of a very different kind, known as the 'Double Chaunt.' This substitute for the time-honoured inflections of the more antient style reigned with undisputed sway, both in English Cathedrals, and Parish Churches, until long after the beginning of the present century. Little more than thirty years have elapsed since the first attempts were made to dethrone it. The campaign was opened by Mr. W. Dyce, who, in 1843–44, brought out his 'Book of Common Prayer Noted,' on the system of Marbecke, in two splendid quarto volumes, which, unfortunately, were much too costly for general use. Mr. Oakeley soon afterwards published his 'Laudes Diurnæ,' containing the Psalms and Canticles, adapted to Gregorian Tones, for the use of Margaret Street Chapel. A more important step was taken by the Rev. Thomas Helmore, who produced his 'Psalter and Canticles Noted' in 1850, his 'Brief Directory of Plain Song' in the same year, and his 'Hymnal Noted' in 1851. These works, more especially the first, obtained immediate recognition. The 'Psalter and Canticles' and the 'Brief Directory' were used with striking effect at S. Mark's College, Chelsea, which soon came to be regarded as a sort of normal School of Gregorian Singing: and, at the Church of S. Barnabas, Pimlico, not these two works only, but the 'Hymnal Noted' also, became as familiar to the Congregation as is now the popular Hymnbook of the present day. Since that time adaptations of Plain Song to English words have appeared in numbers calculated rather to confuse than to assist the well-wishers of the movement. Warmly encouraged by the so-called 'High Church Party,' and willingly accepted by the people, 'Gregorians' now form the chief attraction at almost every 'Choir Festival' in the country, are sung with enthusiasm in innumerable Parish Churches, and frequently heard even in Cathedrals.
Having now presented our readers with a rapid survey of the history of Plain Song, from its first appearance in the Christian Church, to the present day, we shall proceed to treat, with equal brevity, of its laws, its constitution, and its distinctive character.
Plain Song Melodies are arranged in several distinct classes, each forming part of a comprehensive and indivisible scheme, though each is marked by certain well-defined peculiarities, and governed by its own peculiar laws. Of these Melodies, the most important are the Tones, or Chaunts, adapted to the Psalms a series of Inflections usually described by modern writers as the 'Gregorian Tones,' though four of them, at least, might be more fairly called 'Ambrosian.' [See Tones, the Gregorian.] That the Psalm Tones are by far the most antient examples of Ecclesiastical Music in existence, has never been doubted. In structure they are nothing more than the simplest imaginable Chaunts, each written in one of the first eight Modes, from which it derives its name or rather, number and each consisting of two distinct members, corresponding to the two responsive phrases into
- Witness the glorious Melody to 'Sanctorum meritis' (printed in the Rev. T. Helmore's 'Hymnal Noted'), which finds no place in the 'Vesperale Bomanum.'
- Now the Church of All Saints', Margaret Street.