Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Catholic Church Music/English heritage

As one who sings "English church music," this is a fascinating find, and I'm glad it was pointed out over at The New Liturgical Movement The following is the end of the chapter, and it provides a fascinating insight, for which I am grateful.

From CATHOLIC CHURCH MUSIC (that link takes you to full text), by Richard R. Terry, 1907.



In brief, the case against the English origin of these early anthems, of which we have no Latin versions, is simply this—they are in the contrapuntal style of the old Catholic composers, which is as distinct from the "full chord" style of the reformers as anything can possibly be. Is it likely, then, that their authors should have written them for the services of the Established Church, seeing that they are composed in a style which, at that period, was strongly denounced, and the use of which was specifically forbidden? No; the fact really is that they never made their appearance in English until the times had changed, and (mark this) every one of their composers was dead.

I now come to my last point with regard to these adaptations. Up to the present I feel sure that I have said nothing with which well-informed Anglican musicians will not agree. Such of them as are High Churchmen will naturally say: "What if we did continue to use the old motets by translating the words into English? We are the same old Church which existed before the Reformation, and what you say is only one more proof that we had no intention of breaking with the past." It is here that we must (in all charity) part company with them. As Catholics, we welcome these appeals to the "Continuity Theory”; it always breaks down when used against us, and nowhere more completely than in the case of these musical adaptations. If there is one fact which points more clearly than another to a complete break with the past—to a definite repudiation of the Mass and all it implies, it is this: That when the music of sacramental motets was adapted to English words, the custom of translating the Latin was abandoned, and different words were substituted. The best known anthem of Tallis ("I call and cry") was originally O sacrum conviviuin. His O salutaris Hostia is altered to "O Praise the Lord," and Byrd's Ave verum corpus appears as "O Lord God of Israel." There is not a single instance forthcoming of a sacramental motet having been Englished to its original words. Further than this, in not a single instance has the music of what we commonly call a Mass (i.e., Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus) been adapted, either to a Communion Service or anything else. Although the Proper of the Mass (i.e., Introit, Gradual, etc.) was frequently drawn upon for anthems, it must be remembered that, divorced from their special service or feast, these items became mere motets, with no special “popish” significance. When wholesale adaptation was the order of the day, it is difficult to understand why the beautiful Mass music of the old composers was left untouched except on the assumption that anything distinctively suggestive of the Mass was anathema. All this points to the fact that the breaking with old traditions at the Reformation had a like effect on ecclesiastical music. True, in the transition period we find music written for the old and the new form of service by the same men, but the two styles are so distinct that there is no difficulty in recognising which is which. There is no doubt as to which is the superior style of the two. There is no doubt that our Tallises and Byrds considered themselves to be writing, not different styles of music for the same ecclesiastical body, but different styles of music for two different and distinct bodies. If the Anglican Church has since adapted and assimilated the old contrapuntal music, it still remains as much an "outside" product as the music she has adapted of late years from continental Lutheran and Catholic sources, with the sole difference that it was written by Englishmen.

To sum up: Why have I dealt at such length with this old English music? Has it been merely from a desire to break a lance with our Anglican friends? Let me most emphatically repudiate any such intention. It is impossible to dissociate the church music of the sixteenth century from the theological changes which were then taking place, and, in discussing the question, it is impossible to avoid touching on disputed points. A controversial attitude is only to be deprecated when undertaken in a spirit of hostility rather than charity. I would further urge in my defence that I am not in this case stirring up the dying embers of a burnt-out controversy. The question is a new one. This early English music is at present an unexplored field to all save a very, very few students. It is only right, therefore, that Catholics should be put in possession of facts which have been too long withheld from them. How often have we not heard Tallis and Byrd claimed as Anglicans, and called the " Fathers of Anglican Church Music " ? How often have we not had Anglican Cathedral music pointed out to us with pride, as a national product, and that in common use amongst us derided as a foreign importation ? We have been too long ignorant of the fact that all (I say advisedly, all) the best of this early music—whether it has been sung and admired in Anglican cathedrals, as it has been for three hundred years, or buried in libraries and museums— is Catholic in spirit, and Catholic in origin ; written by Catholics for the services of the Catholic Church. It is our heritage—our birthright; and the fact that our claims to it have lain so long in abeyance does not make it any the less ours, or its revival any the less a duty which we owe to the memory of our Catholic forefathers. Its possession is one more link with our national past— that glorious past when this England of ours was undivided in her loyalty to the See of Peter, and our land was justly called an island of saints. Let us lay claim once more to our ancient patrimony. Let us prize it as a possession at once thoroughly English and thoroughly Catholic. Let the revival of its glories be one more mark of that second spring which is bursting around us on every side. Let us show to the world that into whatever alien dwellings this music of our Catholic sires has strayed during our long years of exile, its rightful home is in the Church we love so well—the Church of Cuthbert, of Bede, of Alban, of Thomas of Canterbury, and of Peter.

one cannot help but observe that the adaptation to English of traditional Latin hymns that we are subjected to in such things as the OCP Music Issue, has largely followed the path outlined above.


  1. Wow, that is just so wonderful.

    By the way, this book is back in print here.

  2. be still my heart! thank you!