Edington Music Festival is a corporate act of worship by people sharing God’s gift of music; and that act of worship is expressed through the liturgy of the Church.
‘Worship is man’s acknowledgement of the worth-ship of God with every part of his being. It is an activity which is its own justification. Its principal value is in the actual doing of it, and not in such results as may be from time to time apparent. To worship is to be true to oneself as one made in the image of God. Because God made man and because God calls him to eternal fellowship with himself therefore man must worship’: Bishop Colin Dunlop in ‘Anglican Public Worship’ (SCM Press, revised edition, 1961).
Because we who take part in the Festival have been blessed with God’s gift of music, we worship him through the medium of that gift; because we are members of his Church, we worship him through the liturgy of the Church; and because we recognise and acclaim that the Church of England is a part of the Catholic Church, we base our worship upon the Eucharist.
To some our purpose may seem obscure, or, at best, trivial; and so it may be. Outwardly we may seem to contribute little towards the big issues of our day, evangelism, Christian unity, or ministering to the sick; but we believe that we may possibly through example and prayer be able to make some small contribution to these issues; but that even if we made no contribution, our worship would be a sufficient end in itself.
By some our nature is mistaken. We form no part of the staff of some imaginary cathedral, with the responsibility of the leading the worship of some imaginary diocese; nor do we form part of the staff of a parish church, with the duty of leading the worship of the parish; nor are we members of some monastic community, whose rule of life would be far beyond anything we could ever hope to achieve. We are simply workers in the world, meeting at Edington to worship God in the way which we would worship him, thereby fulfilling a duty which we owe to ourselves and to God.
The performance of any liturgy is impossible without the use of some ceremonial; but the question for the Church of England is ‘What ceremonial should it be?’ Roman or English (or, as some say, Western or Sarum)?
As members of the Church of England we must be faithful to the Book of Common Prayer. And that book does two things: it lays down the true function of ceremonial within the liturgy of the Church of England and it shows us our sources of information.
As to function, it is said in the Preface to the Book that ceremonial should ‘serve to a decent order and godly discipline, and [should] be apt to stir up the dull mind of man to the remembrance of his duty to God, by some notable and special signification, whereby he might be edified.’
As to sources, the Book contains only a few rubrics; but, such as they are, they are our primary source. The Preface, however, adds this: some ceremonies ‘there be, which although they have been devised by man, yet it is thought good to reserve them still’; and thus our second source is such ancient English custom as is within the spirit of and not contrary to the rubrics of the Book. To these sources may now properly be added a third: the customs of the Church which have grown up with the continued and conscientious use of the Book. Lastly, we should never abandon our own intuitive common sense.
English ceremonial is not likely to achieve any strict uniformity; nor is it desirable that it should do so. Just as people, places and circumstances differ, so should their ceremonial be free, within proper limits, to differ with them. At Edington we aim to achieve a ceremonial which will match the beauty of the music, which will focus attention upon the important things, and which will, so far from being any mere appendage, have a life and vigour of its own.
It is not always realized that the psalms play, or ever have played, any part in the English Eucharistic rite: they are commonly thought to be the exclusive and characteristic perquisite of Matins and Evensong. True, they do not as such form part of the Prayer Book rite today; but since that rite has, by good custom, come to accept the singing of hymns during the Eucharist, and since hymns are often metrical versions of psalms, psalms do find a place in the rite. It would be odd indeed if psalms, which have always played an important part in Christian worship, were to be wholly excluded from the central service of the Christian liturgy, namely the Eucharist.
But however satisfactory hymns may be in a Parish Communion, they do not always marry in too well with a solemn celebration of the Eucharist; and in an effort to get round this difficulty, the late medieval plainsong has been adapted to English words; and its use has achieved some success.
The need for some music at certain points in the Eucharist has always been felt, particularly at the entry of the priests and censing of the altar, at the gospel procession, at the offertory of bread, wine, water and alms, and at the communion of the people (and, in the Prayer Book rite, during the ablutions). The ancient church assigned suitable psalms to each of these parts of the service (calling them Introit, Gradual and Alleluia, Offertory and Communion), and skilfully highlighted the significance of each with an antiphon which preceded and followed the psalm. But the complication of the chant led to an excision or severe truncation of the psalm, leaving merely the antiphon or the antiphon and the first verse of the psalm.
The 1549 Prayer Book, whilst sweeping away those antiphons, nevertheless kept the Introit, allotting to it an entire psalm. But with the 1552 Book even the Introit disappeared; and no psalms, as such, have since reappeared in the Eucharistic rite of the Prayer Book.
There may be room for legitimate experiment in this field at Edington; but whatever that experiment may be, its aim must always be to assist the forward action of the Eucharist, neither to impede it nor to allow it to seem to drag, and to achieve this within the spirit of the Book of Common Prayer.
It is not sufficient nowadays merely to say that you sing or do not sing plainsong, that you like or do not like plainsong: you must say which sort of plainsong you mean: equalist or mensuralist.
Music is essentially rhythm; and no understanding of any form of music can begin until the rhythmic pattern, whatever it may be, is firmly settled. It is no doubt true that the question of rhythm in plainsong has generated more heat than light; but, on the other hand, it is hard to understand Willi Apel when he says, in ‘Gregorian Chant’ (Burns & Oates, 1958), ‘I do not consider an ignorance of [Gregorian rhythm] a serious obstacle to a fruitful and valid investigation [into Gregorian Chant]’.
The equalist theory (Solesmes, Quarr, Wantage) is that all notes are equal in length, but, as Alec Robertson puts it (‘Pelican History of Music I’) ‘then one must paraphrase George Orwell and add that some are more equal than others’. Opponents of this theory say, first, that if it be right that plainsong has always been without regular pulse, then in this it stands apart from all other kinds of music which are familiar to us; secondly, that the oldest manuscripts and authors show that the chant reached its apotheosis about the year 800 and that at that time it was mensural; and thirdly, that equalist plainsong is effeminate.
The mensuralists (Vollaerts and Dom Gregory Murray) teach that the length of the basic note is sometimes doubled, sometimes halved, but that there is nothing in between. Critics of the mensuralist theory suggest, first, that the year 800 has no special claim to our attention and that things have been different at different times; secondly, that the mensuralists themselves arrive at wildly differing conclusions on the same sources; and thirdly, that whereas there is at present no regular exponent of the mensuralist theory, ‘the Solesmes method can be heard to be aesthetically beautiful and spiritually satisfying’: Alec Robertson in ‘Music of the Catholic Church’ (Burns & Oates, 1961).
Since no regular practical edition of mensural plainsong has yet appeared, no choice is yet available; but even if such an edition were to appear, it seems that its authenticity would still be a matter of grave doubt, and, in the end, that suitability would have to govern the choice.
Professional choirs, made up solely of males, claiming the exclusive right of singing, and attracting much of the attention of the lay worshipper, might not always strike an intelligent outsider as the best and most obvious way of going about things. But, as with so many of our English institutions, it only becomes intelligible when its historical background is understood.
It is, I think, unlikely that the Church, in its infancy, would have recognised any musical distinction between choir and congregation. Such a distinction first appears with the rise of religious communities; but the distinction was not between singers and non-singers in a musical sense, but between the vocal worship of the community and the silent worship of people outside the community.
Two factors seem to have contributed to bring about a change within the community: absenteeism and the growing complication of the music. First, the canon of a secular cathedral could absent himself on the condition that he provided a deputy (or vicar choral). Secondly, the rise of Marian worship and the introduction of part-singing brought a complexity into the music which called for the services of professional singers (or lay vicars). Further, part-singing required the use of higher pitched voices, and, mixed communities no longer being in vogue, the male communities naturally turned their eyes towards the boys whose education was already in their care.
And so things have stood ‘in choirs and places where they sing’ for the last 500 years: professional choirs in the monasteries have gone, but professional choirs in cathedrals, collegiate chapels and royal peculiars remain with us today. And thus it is that the professional choirs in these places, as the successors in title to the vocal community, can assert with propriety their exclusive right of vocal worship.
But today professional choirs can base their claim on another ground too. Their position over the years has enabled them to build up a repertory of choral music of high aesthetic standard; and there can be no doubt that a choral service in a cathedral, well sung, can be a thing of immense spiritual value.
The anthem, as we know it today, began life in the later Middle Ages as an antiphon in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary sung after Compline. These antiphons were numerous and included ‘Regina coeli’, ‘Alma redemptoris mater’, ‘Ave regina coelorum’, ‘Salve regina’, ‘Nesciens mater’ and ‘Mater ora filium’. The first four of these are retained in the Compline of the Roman rite to this day.
The reformers in England incorporated medieval Compline into the new service of Evensong; but neither the Prayer Books of 1549, 1552 nor 1559 made any provision for the singing of an anthem. Dissatisfaction with the 1559 Book, however, led to a series of royal injunctions in the same year; and by Injunction 44 anthems were allowed to be sung at the beginning or end of Matins or Evensong ‘in the best sort of melody and music that may be conveniently devised, having respect that the sentence of the hymn may be understanded and perceived’.
It is fortunate indeed for cathedral music that this injunction was made. As Dr. Fellowes wrote in ‘English Cathedral Music’ (Methuen, 4th edition, 1948) ‘the thirty or forty composers who were actively pursuing their art at the end of the 16th and beginning of the 17th centuries … represent the fine flower of the polyphonic style of composition. With them the peak of excellence was reached. When they passed, this type of music passed also, never to be revived in the same perfection’. For many of these composers, their compositions for the liturgy of the church ranked first amongst their work; and William Byrd (1543-1623), Thomas Morley (1557-1602), Thomas Tomkins (1572-1656), Thomas Weelkes (c. 1574-1623) and Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625) were principal among these composers.
Oldest of the anthems to be sung this year is John Taverner’s Easter anthem ‘Dum transisset sabbatum’. Robert Parsons (1535-1570) must have composed his setting of ‘Ave Maria’ after Elizabeth came to the throne, but it is, in spirit, very much a work of the medieval church. John Wilbye wrote little sacred music, but ‘0 God the rock’ was included in Leighton’s ‘Teares or Lamentacions of a Sorrowfull Soule’, 1614. Byrd included ‘Praise our Lord’ in his final published collection, ‘Psalms, Songs and Sonnets, 1611’. For his setting of ‘0 Lord, arise’ Weelkes chose verses 8 and 9 of Psalm 132. Tomkins’setting of ‘When David heard’ may have been written on the death of Prince Henry in 1612. Gibbons’ ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’ captures wonderfully the pathos of Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem.
The Latin language is no stranger to the Church of England. The underlying principle of its use within the Church of England has always been that it should be understood.
In the Preface to the Book of Common Prayer of 1549 it was provided that ‘when men say Matins and Evensong privately, they may say the same in any language that they themselves do understand’; and similar provisions have been included in all subsequent Prayer Books.
In 1560 the Elizabethan Latin Prayer Book was issued upon the petition of the universities. Prefixed to that book were Royal Letters Patent, giving permission for the whole of the services, including the Eucharist, to be said in chapels in Latin; and the use of Latin became common in the chapels royal, the universities and the public schools. The use of the language was extended to Ireland because of the difficulty which the Irish clergy had in understanding English. The Latin Chapel of Christ Church, Oxford, the Latin Prayers at Westminster School, and the Latin liturgy of the Anglican community at Nashdom are reminders of the continued liturgical use of the language.
Composers associated with the chapels royal continued to set Latin texts until the eighteenth century. As Denis Stevens has pointed out in ‘Tudor Church Music’ (Faber & Faber, 196 1) ‘The acceptance by Queen Elizabeth of the dedication of [Tallis and Byrd’s ‘Cantiones Sacrae’, 1575] is not surprising in view of her support of the Latin Prayer Book, and her approval of her services in Latin on special occasions and in special places’. Latin motets were composed by Morley, Child, Blow and Purcell.
The revival of the use of Latin texts in the nineteenth century appears to have begun in the universities with Stanford’s three motets written for Trinity College, Cambridge. The ordinary of the Eucharist is now often sung in Latin at Christ Church, Oxford, and at King’s College, Cambridge, and it is commonplace to hear the anthem in a cathedral sung to a Latin text.
At Edington we thus feel justified in supplying a translation and in singing in the language in which a composition was originally written, where to sing it to a translation would be to destroy much of its beauty.