John R. Parker.

A musical biograhy: or Sketches of the lives and writings of eminent musical ... online

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tenanced.

But to return to the responses. As the words are principally
the language of the most solemn application, and, as in the
instance of the word Ameny there is implied an assent and
consent to all and every thing contained in the previous pray-
er, many well meaning persons have objected to their being
sung at all— having a notion that real prayer can have no alli-
ance with music . It is an absurd notion. There is no feeling
of the heart, no emotion of the soul, that can find utterance
in words, which may not also have a natural association
with harmonious sounds. The powers of music are co-ex-
tensive with those of language. They may not all have
been yet developed, and of those which have been, many
may have been unskilfully employed ; but enough has been
done and felt to prove that the mind, in its strongest pa-
roxysms of excitement, finds its most appropriate vent in mu-
sic. Dr. Blair says " that man is bom both a poet and a mu-
sician, and that the same impulse which prompts the en-
thusiastic poetic style, prompts a certain melody or modula-
lation of sound, suited to the emotions of joy or grief, of ad-
miration, love or anger." Well adapted music, therefore,
that is, such as correct taste teaches, is the proper channel
for the expression of intense feeling. It is the vernacular
idiom of nature. Whether the music may not be some-
times employed when the feeling is wanting, or whether
that circumstance may not detract from its solemnity, and
impair or destroy its effect on the minds of the hearers, are
quite diiTerent points of inquiry to that which we have been
treating, and may hereafter come under our notice.

The ancient ecclesiastical chant, of which mention has
already been made, was characterized by the utmost sim-
plicity. The addition of harmony of course rendered it
somewhat more complicated ; but still the principal part or
melody, was such as might be sung with the greatest ease.
With some slight modification, both the name and the thing
are still retained.

Chanting has this advantage over all other methods af
singing, that by means of it prose may be sung without the
previous study necessary for the performance of an anthem.
Thus the very words of holy writ may be employed, in this
delightful part of divine worship, without the mutilation or



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238 ON CHANTING.

redundancy which it must necessarilj undergo if turned in-
to metre.

When properly conducted this is the easiest method of
singing, and therefore it is much to be wondered at that it
is not in use among " all sorts and conditions of men ;" but
the same prejudice which has operated to the rejection and
continued exclusion of the organ from an entire division of
the national church has been connected with chanting also.

But the practice of the legitimate style o£ church music
is reviving. In many parochial churches the hymns follow*-
ing the lessons are regularly chanted, and the congrega-
tions begin to take a part in the performance. This is a»
it should be. If, after recovering from the attacks of fan-
aticism and bigotry ,it be not choked by the thorns and briars
of empiricism, it will be well ; but there is a danger. The
taste of finery, which seems to pervade, more or less, all the
productions of the present day, has crept eyen into the
church, and instead of the sober simplicity which actuated
th^ devotional harmony of our forefathers, modem refine-
ment has introduced difficult passages and chromatic inter-
vals^ as though intending to prevent the interference of any
in their execution, excepting those who may have attended
previous rehearsals. It is for this reason that chanting is
so generally and so improperly confined to the choir. It
should not be. The music of a chant is not the proper
place for the display of the agility of some voices to the
discouragement of others, but should be such as tbat all
might comfortably join in it. All therefore that is requir-
ed is a simple and natural melody of moderate compass—
for the most part, if pot exclusively, written in semibreves
and minims, and accompanied by a well-digested harmony.
These are the characteristics of an othordox chant. Ail
fine turns, and running passages, and excessive leaps, and
difllicult intervals, should be condemned as musical heresies.
The congregation should not seek for preUy music, but
for that in which they can most easily join, and which will
least distract their minds from the business which they ought
to be upon. Nor does this hinder that the music be as in-
trinsically good as the ingenuity of man can bring forth, if
that only be good which best fulfils its destined purpose.

Thus much for music. It will be well now to bestow a
few words upon the manner of its performance, in doing
which the writer hopes he shall be excused if he mention a
few particulars which to some persons may appear too well



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ON CHANTING. ftS9

known to need repetition, but which he believes are not so
generally apprehended as is imagined.

Ttie only part of the service commonly chanted, besides
the hymns before mentioned, is the portion of Psalms for
the day. The whole book of Psalms, which, as Hooker
expresses it, contains " the flower of all things profitable
in other books," is undoubtedly better adapted to the daily
use of the church than any other entire section of the
scriptures ; nevertheless no good reason can be assigned
why portions selected from other parts of the sacred Writ-
ings may not be sung in like manner and thus, in the cele-
bration of divine worship, entirely supercede the use of
uninspired metrical compositions, which have within the
last three centuries so generally obtained. In that case,
it would only be necessary that they should be previously
"pennferf" to be sung in churches.

Perhaps there are thousands who have read this phrase
in the title page of their prayer book, and never compre-
hended its meaning : it may not therefore be altogether
useless to explain it.

There will be noticed then in the psalter, as dso in some
other parts of the prayer-book, a colon near the middle of
every verse. This colon is not there placed as commonly
used in the body, but to guide the singers in the act of
chanting, which explanation will be satisfactory to those
who have supposed that the passage should be rendered
" appointed to be sung," &c.

The geneiral rule is as follows. Of the syllables occur-
ring before this colon, all excepting three are to be repeat-
ed [in the manner of reading in an even tone] upon the first
note ; the three so reserved will be found just enougfi to
conclude the first section or division of the chant : then,
of the syllables occurring after the colon, ail excepting Jive
must be pronounced upon the next nf>te [viz. the first of
the second section] and the five reserved will carry the
singer to the end of the chant, if a single one, and just half
way if double : in either case the next verse will be treat-
ed precisely in the same manner.

A person desirous of chanting ^without hesitation, would
find it a considerable help to mark or underline these three
and five syllables, alternately in his prayer-book ; observ-
ing, that if there happen to be too few in any verse, the
principal or accented syllable must be longer dwelt upon
to fill up the music of the chant, that is, by singing the



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240 ON CHANTING.

same wotd to two or more consecutive notes. A verj little
practice will soon make the student expert.

It is by no means necessary that the words be gabbled
over, as some scandalously abuse them, and thus bring dis-
credit upon the method itself. All the words should be
pronounced distinctly, with but little more celerity than in
ordinary speech, and those which require it emphaiically.
When performed wjth the organ [which for various reasons
is almost mdispensably necessary^ as technically speaking,
there is no time in chanting — ^notwithstanding some foolishly
and ignorantly attempt, whatever the length or shortness
of the verses, to bring all to their standard, and Procustes
like, mangle or stretch them miserably if they do not hap-
pen to tit. The organist is bound to hold out or contract
notes, according to the number of syllables, till he hears
them orderly pronounced, and then, and not till then, to
proceed, somewhat briskly or otherwise, according to the
spirit of the language.

In some places, it is usual to hurry out the words as fast
as the mouth can utter them, and then go on with the mel-
ody quite in the dead march style, making a long pause
between each section, this is woeful, and beti*ays either
stupidity or want of authority in the director.

Again you may hear the organ driving on the voices
from one section to the other, scarcely allowing time
to draw brea th ; this is inHecent, and only manifests
the light and careless mind of the organist. The old cus-
tom of alternate singing, if revived in our churches, would
have an admirable tendency to enliven our dull devotions.
How pleasant would it be, thus to witness a large congre-
gation, divided into two bodies, singing alternately the
songs of Zion, and how would it interest the soul to hear
them all joining in the close with one heart and voice, say-
ing " Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy
Cffwat,^^ How much like the situation of the Prophet
when he saw the Seraphim about the throne, and heard
them cry " one unto the other,^^ saying, '< Holy, holy^ holy, «
the Lord of Hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory ^^^

Every age has its fashion. The music now in vogue
delights in noise and bustle. Rapidity is more commend-
ed than precision, and force more highly valued than feel-
ing.

The genius of harmony, or some other pretending to
that title, has converted the piano forte into a velocipede,



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ON CHANGING. Ml

and reckons her su<2cess by tbe number of miles which
she ckn traverse in an hour, not regarding the awkward-
ness or ungracefulness of her method of traTelling. Other
departments of the art have caught the inflection ; andnow
all the rage, even in vocal music, is for velocity of ex-
ecution ; and the principal singers have, for many
years past, with but few exceptions, truckled to this de-
I praved public feeling. This perversion of taste will, it is to
be hoped, like the ludicrous machine from which the meta-
phor has been borrowe<l, run its little day, and tiien drop
into oblivion.

A hundred years ago nothing was esteemed, in the church
or out of it, but the plodding motion of fugUe or canon.-^
The producUons of that day were, for the most part, sound
and of good body ; and although they sometimes appear to
be deficient in animation and vivacity, especially if mea-
sured by a modern standard, yet they will generally bear the
strictest examination. On the contrary, ours are rather,frivo-
lous and superficial, but sparkling as the momentpy efier-
vescence of soda water. Thin as this music is, there are
many who can relish none other ; they look for it even in
the house of God ; and, by their improper influence over
the perforiners, have, it is to be presumed, against their
better judgment, succeeded in introducing a style which
may be denominated, without speaking passionately, afoul
disgrace to the church. However, it must be acknowledg-
ed — and it is a circumstance for which all lovers of the art
ought to be sincerely thankful-^hat this spirit of jingle has
not as yet made so much inroad upon services as upon some
other descriptions of church music.

It is to be lamented that even wher« there is a ^ood choir,
the music is not invariably performed as it should be . It is
oftentimes indecently hurried over, as a mere task, in which
the vocal organs only are concerned. Suppose yourself
dpaf, and then present yourself before some choir when in
the ordinary execution of their duty, and endeavor to make
a probable guess at the nature of their occupation. Who
would for a moment imagine that they were singing the
praises of their Maker ? Who would but for an instant sup-
pose that they were supplioating for mercy at the foot-stool
of the Judge of the quick and the dead ? Who would con-
jecture that they were petitioning for grace at the hands of
the Giver of every good and perfect gift ? Who would
not rather sometimes incline to fancy th?it they were chant-

3i



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24S ON CHANTING.

ing the praises of some celebrated toast^ or, at best, that
** Ohriaua ApoUo^^ formed the burden of the song ?

Perhaps it is an evil incident to the stated performance
of any moral duty, that there will be a tendency to the

^ |Mreponderance of mere form ; but it is an evil which may
and which ought to be checked. Of the two, open levity is
more hopeful and therefore more desirable (if even the les-
ser of two great evils can in any sense be desirable) than
hypocritical sanctity.

However, it is not always that devotion is swallowed up
by formality. Sometimes, when tlie selection of music is
judicious, and appropriate to the circumstances of the meet-
ing as well as to the powers of the performers, those en^faged
in it evidently enter into the spirit of the language, and then,
and only then, impart to the words an expression which a
^oper feeling of their purport exclusively communicates.

: Ulien may be seen " the rapt soul setting in the eye," as
though, like the first martyr, it were favored with some bea-

' tific vi^n. Then is it that the powers of harmony are ap*
]^ed to their proper use, when tney thus carry the soul, on
the wings of ttie purest devotion, into the celestial regions,
where, purified from the grossness of secular considerations,
it sports itself in an angehc atmosphere, and acquires a fore-
taste of its future occupation.

Whether these words are barely permissive, or whether
they amount to a command, may perhaps be thought dis-
putable. Those who are adverse to the cause of church
music will of course maintain the former ; but perhaps were
something which they approve substituted for that, which
they dislike, they might soon learn to eojo^true the sentence
<^ompulsorily. The plain meaning seems to be, that in. all
places where the singing of an.anthem is at all practicable, it
shall form a regidar piit of tiie service. Were there but
half this authority for some other things, we should see how
i;reedily it would be asserted, and how tenaciously maintaii^

-id.



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THE ANTHEM. ^43

TBBAKTBSM.



It is much to be regretted, that the anthem is so vei^y
rare as it is now become. With a few solitaiy jexceptions
on very extraordinary occasions, an anthem in a parochial
church is perfectly obsolete ; not, it is to be charitably sup-
posed, from adeficiency of musical talent, but through want
of "encouragement and opportunity for its exertion and im-
provement.

Still anthems do maintain their ground in cathedrals ; yet
to obtain even permission for their occasional use in a par-
ish church is a matter requiring the exertion of considera-
ble influence. To this circumstance may be distinctly traced
many of the extravagancies which have made their Appear-
ance in other departments of church music. It has been at-
tempted to convert psalm tunes, from the sober character of
congregational melodies, into anthems, by filling them with
fugue and imitation points, difficult chromatic passages, and
extraneous modulations, fit only for the use of well-trained
choirs. This is an absurdity.

An anthem is properly a musical composition on some
sacred subject, and generally adapted to words taken from
the Holy Scriptures. It admits of the utmost variety, and
embraces every possible topic which may be fit to introduce
into the church. It follows of course that in the anthem,
more than in an any other part of the service, we may look
for something appropriate to the peculiar circumstances of
the meeting, whether grave or cheerful. It is not adapted
to any determinate number of voices — ^it is not confined to
any particular style — ^it is not restricted to any definite
length — ^it is not embarrassed with any precise laws. Some-
times it very properly occupies but three or four minutes^
and at others as many hours ; for an oratorio is but an ex-
panded anthem, in which a unity of subject is observed, and
some definite action kept constantly in view. The oratorio
and the anthem stand precisely in the 8an.e relation one to
the other as the epic and lesser poems.

This is ^e highest walk of church music. In its compo-
sition the most exalted genius may find unlimited scope for



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244' . THE ANTHEM.

the employment of bis Htmost powers The Book of Re-
velation m his hand from which to choose his sacred theme,
the volumes of Nature and Providence spread before him
from which to select bis illustrations, and the eternal wel-
fare of his fellow creatures as an object to stimulate his ex-
ertions — ^where can be found a field more extensive, mate-
rials more boundless, or a motive more sublime ? He
may adopt the simplicity of unsophisticated melody, or
he may wander through all the mazes of the most intricate
harmony. He may recal in doleful strains the lamentactions
of the weeping prophet, or he. may join in the exultation of
the children of Israel when delivered from the hands of
their enemies. He may enter into the sorrowful cry of the
penitent and disconsolate sinner, or he may unite with the
rapturous hallelujahs of disembodied spirits.

It is with remarkable propriety placed between the pray-
ers, near the end of the service, as a relief which in that
particular place is most sensibly felt. And truly nothing^
can be more delightful ; it is the summit or top^stone of our
devotions. It refreshes and comforts the heart, it revives
and exhilarates the spirits, it lifts the soul above the cares
and disquietudes of mortality, and carries it to the mansions
of the I'-st.

It Is peculiarly appropriate at a funeral. On such occasions
the heart is open and the feelings sdftened, and the sterner
features of character relaxed, and the mind by the very
circumstances half-severed from the world, so that we be-
come peculiarly susceptible of solemn emotions.

Surely those who would deprive the celebration of Divine
Worship of this its most celestial part, must possess afiec-
tions dull as the groimd on which they tread. We have
asylums for the blind, hospitals for the sick, infik*maries for
the maimed, receptacles for the insane, penitentiaries for
the imfortunate, and workhouses for the destitute ; but for
this class of beings, as much objects of pity and compas-
sion as either, neither hospital nor workhouse is provided,
but they are suffered to range at large and even to deter
others from the proper exercise and enjoyment of facul-
ties which they themselves do not possess.

Great names may be adduced of individuals, who have
ffelt no enthusiasm with regard to this most pleasing,
most sacred of the arts, and who may have manifested ev-
en something like an antipathy to it. But what then ? —
This only proves that their minds though large were not



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THE ANTHfiM* 246

sufficiently capacious to contain more than their own pecu-
liar object of study and regard.

<« Oii« science only will one gei^ius fit ;
So vast is art, so narrow human wit."

Those vvho would shelter their own insensibility by such
examples, should be in other respects such as they whose
authority they quote ; they might then produce an approx-
imation to an excuse, though even this would not amount
to a justification.

Thus, as we have seen, has the Church of England made
abundant provision for the solace and comfort for all the
sons of harmony. Vocal and instrumental music, separate-
ly and conjointly, and in every possible gradation, from the
single utterance of words upon one continued sound, to
the grandest combinations, and most scientific evolutions of
the art, enter alike into the composition of her service.
Were but her provisions carried into effect, the most en-
thusiastic would have nothing to desire. But, alas ! laws
however excellent, regulations however salutary, cannot
enforce themselves. Whatever the constitution in theo-
ry, it will be in practice just what the disposition and ca-
pacities of the multitude make it ; and therefore we can-
not hope for any sensible improvement in church music^
without a vast moral change in the great body of the peo-
ple ; nor will that change take place unaccompanied by
the former : they will be simultaneous and mutually indi-
cative .

If any feel inclined to say, what they have repeatedly
said already, " all this music is unnecessary," it is at once
granted that in a sense it is so. For instance, it is not
a^s necessary as medicine i:o the sick, as food to the
the hungry, or as clothing to the naked. But if not neces-
sary, it cannot be denied that it is useful. Even ornament
has a use, when it tends to render that delightful which is
too often esteemed irksome, and to allure by its beauty a
class of persons who might otherwise be repelled by the se-
verer features of religious observances.

Certainly it is unfortunate that the performance of mu-
sic occupies such a space of time as it necessarily consumes;
as this circumstance makes it obnoxious to a very respecta-
ble portion of the clergy, who might not otherwise perhaps
be classed among its adversaries and oppugners. Still it
behoves them seriously to consider whether, by depriving
the outward forms of religion of their pomp and splendor^



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246 THE ANTHEM.

they do not incur the risk of rendering them Ices attractire
to those who might, hj their instrumentality, -under the
blessing of Grod, become subjects of its regenerating influ-
ence.

There is another objection, .which indeed, for its su-
preme folly, hardly deserves mention. There- has been
sometimes and somewhere ventured the groundless opinian
that services and anthems, and chanting also, should be ut-
terly disallowed in parochial churches ; and the reason as-
signed is the most ridiculous that can be imagined, viz. least
they become too common. If the objection were serious
enough to warrant a reply, it might be asked, are not pray-
ers by their very title common ? and if one method of per-
forming them be more proper or more edifying than anoth-
er, ou^t not that method to be common also ? It is further-
more asserted, that no approximation to the cathedral ser-
vice should be permitted out of it, and that a psalm tune,
drawled out by half a score or half a hundred charity
children, is quite good enough for parish purposes — and all
this for no other reason than to preserve the superiority of
the cathedral manner of worship.

That the cathedrals should be looked up to is undeniably
proper. The best way, however, to insure this tribute of
respect is, when parish choirs take one step towards good
music, for cathedral choirs to take two, and not attempt to
thrust their weaker brethren back. If the members of such
choirs only improve the advantages which they possess as
regularly disciplined forces, they need not fear the rivaly of
voulnteer troops ; but if they sleep at their posts, or only be-
stir themselves to depreciate the skill of others, they may
eventuaUy discredit their own.

The lamentable fact is that there are some who have no
relish for the pleasures of harmony, and who consequently
have no desire for its advancement. There may also be
some unworthy members of the profession who feel no zeal
for the cause but that which is mercenarily derived. Some
go so far as to discover not merely disrelish, but aversion,
hatred, abhorrence . Such a character among the labour-
ing poor, though by far the most numerous class of society,
is extremely rare. Those persons who hate music will her
found to be cither destitute of the common attributes of hu-
manity, or the powers of whpse minds are engrossed by
some sublunary object too vast for their grasp, or whose
whole affections have been set upon some fancied good, a



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THE-ANTHEM. 247

pursuit of which is incompatible with that state of mind
which musical enjoyment pre-supposes. In the first case
they are doltish idiots, in ^he second half-poets or half-phi-
losophers, and in the third generally mammon-moths, alias
money-grubs, alias muck-worms, alias misers. It is mor-
ally impossible that a man should have an ardent love for
music and money at the same time. The demonstration


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Online LibraryJohn R. ParkerA musical biograhy: or Sketches of the lives and writings of eminent musical ... → online text (page 19 of 20)