Modern Church Music—No. 2

MUSIC OF THE MESSAGE: Modern Church Music—No. 2

A brief history of church music

Editorial Assistant, Department of Education

The modern hymn tune is, as we have seen, a composite of all the influences of the past. The Anglicans and other conservatives, with their abiding conception of public service mainly as worship, continued to use the psalm tunes, opposing the new melodies as secular and irreligious. But this conservative element was not able wholly to escape the impact of the new spirit and emotion found in the songs of the dissenters. So, while the florid style became more and more sedate and practicable, the hymns of the Established Church took on more rhythm and emotional appeal, and became on the whole more "singable" and musical.

In 1858 Sir Henry W. Baker started a movement that produced a new hymnal called Hymns Ancient and Modern. From this movement a new school of composers sprang up, emphasizing the expressiveness of harmony rather than melody. This, added to the free use of dis cords, made a far departure from the serenity and stateliness of the older tunes. Eventually this movement became much more conservative and moderate, but many of the effects of this, school can be seen in the work of such famous composers as John B. Dykes, Joseph Barnby, Edward John Hopkins, William Henry Monk, John Stainer, and Arthur S. Sullivan.

The very modern composers in Great Britain seem content to imitate the compositions of the past, with added emphasis on the value of their tunes as organ pieces. In the high church itself there is a tendency to harmonize and modernize the old plain songs, or Gregorian melodies.

Of hymn writers since the beginning of the Wesleyan movement many deserve mention, especially Philip Doddridge, Anne Steele, William Williams, John Cennick, Edward Perronet, and Augustus M. Toplady. Of more special note are John Newton and William Cowper, who lived near each other and worked together on the production of the Olney Hymn Book. This contained 348 hymns, of which Cowper produced 68, and Newton 280. The church has drawn a larger proportion of its hymns from this volume than from any other, it seems.

The Romantic Period of the nineteenth century produced some outstanding hymn writers: James Montgomery, Thomas Kelly, Reginald Heber, Robert Grant, Charlotte Elliott, and Henry F. Lyte, in particular. The last-named was surely the equal of any writer of the century. Two of his hymns are included in the first ten of Benson's list of "Best Hymns"—and only Charles Wesley shares this honor. Two of Lyte's hymns are also accorded first rank in the Anglican Hymnology.

In 1833 there began a movement called the Oxford Movement to bring the Anglican Church back to a purity of faith and practice, and to authority. It was in part a revolt against looseness and irreverence in church worship, and had a Romeward trend. This movement has had tremendous effect on the production of the hymns of England since that time, a large pro portion of the best hymns of the church receiving inspiration from that movement. But the Oxford Movement itself received inspiration from the work of Reginald Heber, who has already been mentioned. Up to this time the successful hymns for at least a century had been produced largely by the Nonconformists.

Desiring to compile a hymnbook for Anglican usage, Heber secured a copy of the Olney •Hymn Book. Adding to it his own inspiration, initiative, and hard work, he produced a hymn- book which was not published until after his death, but which for the first time made the Anglican Church a truly hymn-singing -church. From that time on, aided and goaded by the inspiration of the Oxford Movement, the high church began an era of hymn writing. Among those who aided in this work were John Keble, John Henry Newman, and Sarah Flower Adams. Other famous writers of hymns during- this period were Christopher Wordsworth, Horatius Bonar, and Alfred Tennyson. Henry Alford and John S. B. Monsell should also be mentioned here.

More recent British composers are quite commonly known. Hence, only a few need be named here: F. W. Faber (who, like Newman, later joined the Roman Catholic Church), Mrs. Cecil F. Alexander, Frances R. Havergal, George Matheson, Sabine Baring Gould, and perhaps Rudyard Kipling and John Masefield. Those of the twentieth century will not be mentioned here.

American Influence on Hymnody

Our study would not be complete without asking and finding the answer to the question, "What influence has America had on the hymnology of the Christian church?" Many early Americans were interested in music and in hymns, but only the Puritans did much to keep church music alive in America during the Colonial times. And even among them this task was difficult because of the lack of intercourse with the mother country, the scarcity of musical instruments, and the demands of the pioneer and frontier life, which left little time for the cultivation of the finer things of life.

The Puritans sang psalms; hence, they brought two psalters with them, but before long a new one made its appearance, The Bay Psalm Book, produced in 1640. But even with the impetus this new book gave, church music sank to a very low ebb and practically died out in some communities. After 1720 singing societies were organized in various parts of New England, and books of instruction in the singing of psalms were published to revive the use and practice of congregational singing. These met with only partial success.

The first American composer of note was William Billings (1746-1800). He produced several books on music and how to use and sing it, and composed some tunes which became very popular during the days of the American rebellion against England. Other Americans of his time followed Billings' lead, producing books that helped to raise the standard of musical taste and skill. Only three of these composed tunes have lived to the present day. These were written by Andrew Law, Oliver Holden, and Daniel Read.

Isaac Watts's The Psalms Imitated was re printed in Philadelphia by Benjamin Franklin in 1729, but few copies were sold at the time. Ten years later Watts's hymns were printed in Boston. Within the next decade, because of the influence of Dr. Watts's psalms and hymns, and especially because of the great religious awakening at the time of the Wesleys, the hymn had replaced the psalm in most New England congregations.

The increasing immigration from England during the early nineteenth century, which brought much of the superior culture and musical taste of the mother country, aided by the fact that American ministers were becoming better educated, caused a definite trend away from the crude early-American tunes, and a turning to England for hymns for public worship. Yet it must be noted that in the smaller communities and in rural sections the singing schools and psalm tunes still held sway.

The singing schools were not without permanent effect. When better music did make its way into the smaller communities it found singers ready and trained to sing it, and the very desire to sing called forth a constant search for something better to sing.

The logical result of these singing schools was the organization of musical conventions. This movement originated in 1829 and continued for about forty years. Among the leaders were such men as Lowell Mason, George J. Webb, George F. Root, James H. McGranahan, P. P. Bliss, and H. R. Palmer. Their cultural value to American church music was in deed great.

One of the teachers and editors of this period had profound effect also on American church music. He was Thomas Hastings, who produced some six hundred hymns and many hymn tunes, at least four of which survive to the present time. He issued a number of books of instruction and of hymn tunes, and did much to make American church music both religious and devotional.

Real Beginning of American Influence

The first American whose works were accepted in English churches was Dr. Lowell Mason, a man of great talent and aggressive ness along a number of lines. His music, and the impact of his life and inspirational instruction, made profound impressions not only upon American audiences but upon .both Nonconformist and high church groups in England. In fact, the modern school of hymn tunes in England can be said to owe much of its origin to Dr. Mason. No less than thirty-four of his compositions appear in current hymnals- in Scotland.

Closely associated with Mason were many other American composers and authors. We can name here only George J. Webb, George F. Root, L. O. Emerson, and William B. Brad bury. Isaac B. Woodbury also received much inspiration and guidance from Dr. Mason. The work of these men was copyrighted, and in time became much more expensive to use than English .tunes. Hymns Ancient and Modern and the works of Dykes and Barnby became immensely popular in America. So for a time the movement to produce good hymns in America waned.

The rise of the Sunday school, in the early nineteenth century, and the increasingly popular use of folk songs and gospel songs also made the production of hymns in America tend to die out. The popularity of English hymns in America, however, was not long-lived, and during recent years there has been a revival of the use of American hymns. By and large, American hymns have had a lasting effect on the hymnody of the church for these reasons:

1. They are democratic, being people's tunes, almost folk songs, and not the product of professionals, born in an organ loft.

2. They are varied in style, with slurred notes and a great variety of rhythm, time, and harmony.

3. They are expressive of religious emotions and sentiments, and are adapted to the many needs of the modern church program.

Thus they are more practical in modern church life, not only in America, but in mission and church life all over the world. They are more tuneful and individual than most of the hymns produced upon the Continent or in Britain.

—To be concluded next month

 

 

Advertisement - Ministry in Motion 300x250

Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

comments powered by Disqus

Editorial Assistant, Department of Education

Digital delivery

If you're a print subscriber, we'll complement your print copy of Ministry with an electronic version.

Sign up
Advertisement - Southern Adv Univ 180x150 - Animated

Recent issues

See All
Advertisement - NAD Stewardship (160x600)