SermonIndex Audio Sermons
Promoting Genuine Biblical Revival.
Looking for free sermon messages?
Sermon Podcast | Audio | Video : Christian Books : FOOTNITES

A Practical Discourse On Some Principles Of Hymn-singing by Robert Bridges


Confess. ix.6.

Ibid. ix.7.

This is perhaps rather a quality proper to the sensation.

'Et vix eis praebeo congruentem [locum].' which might only mean 'I cannot find the right place for them.'

Confess. x.13.

St. Augustin does not allow that a vague emotion can be religious; it must be directed. Few would agree to this.

I assume 'favourite hymn' to mean a sung hymn. The interest of the record must lie in its being of a heightened emotion of the same kind as that described by St. Augustin in his own case, What tears I shed, &c.

It was not an uncommon practice on the Continent (say from 1540 to 1840), to print books of hymns to be sung to the current secular airs; and the names or first lines of these airs were set above the hymn-words as the musical direction. M. Douen, in his Clement Marot et le Psautier Huguenot, vol. i, ch.22, has given an account of some of these books; and any one who wishes to follow this branch of the subject may read his chapter. He does not notice the later Italian Laude Spirituali, which might have supplied incredible monsters to his museum.

Besides, the main fault of these books, from which we should have to quote, is the association of the music, and this is really an accident, the question before us being the character of the music; so that we should require musical illustration, for though the common distinction between sacred and secular music is in the main just, yet the line cannot be drawn at the original intention, or historical origin of the music: the true differentiation lies in the character of the music, the associated sentiment being liable to change. If we were to banish from our hymn-books all the tunes which we know to have a secular origin, we should have to part with some of the most sacred and solemn compositions; and where would the purist obtain any assurance that the tunes which he retained had a better title? In the sixteenth century, when so many fine hymn-melodies were written, a musician was working in the approved manner if he adapted a secular melody, or at least borrowed a well-known opening phrase: and since the melodies of that time were composed mainly in conjunct movement, such initial similarities were unavoidable; for one may safely say that it very soon became impossible, under such restrictions, to invent a good opening phrase which had not been used before. The secular airs, too, of that time were often as fit for sacred as profane use; and if I had to find a worthy melody for a good new hymn, I should seek more hopefully among them than in the sacred music of our own century.

I may give the following experience without offence. When I was an undergraduate there was a song from a comic opera by Offenbach so much in favour as to be de rigueur at festive meetings. Now there was at the same time a counterpart of this song popular at evensong in the churches: it was sung to 'Hark, hark, my soul.' I believe it is called L'encens des fleurs. They seemed to me both equally nauseating: it was certainly an accident that determined which should be sung at worship and which at wine.

The Art of Music, by C Hubert H. Parry. London, 1893, 1st edit. p.48.

And give Croft the advantage of his original rhythm, not the mis-statement in Hymns Ancient and Modern, No.414.

It would be very damaging to my desire to convince, if I should seem to deny that the mistaken practice of these hymn-book compilers was based on the solid ground of secular common-sense. If anything is true of rhythm it is this, that the common mind likes common rhythms, such as the march or waltz, whereas elaboration of rhythm appeals to a trained mind or artistic faculty. I should say that the popularity of common rhythms is due to the shortness of human life, and that if men were to live to be 300 years old they would weary of the sort of music which Robert Browning describes so well --

'There 's no keeping one's haunches still,
There 's no such pleasure in life.'

But hymn-melodies must not be put on that level. It is desirable to have in church something different from what goes on outside, and (as I say in the text) a hymn-tune need not appeal to the lowest understanding on first hearing. The simple free rhythms, too, are perfectly natural; they were free-born.

I need only instance Orlando Gibbons' tune called 'Angels.' The original is a most ingenious combination of rhythms; and its masterly beauty could not be guessed from the inane form into which it is degraded in Hymns Ancient and Modern, No.8.

I omit, for want of space, mention of the late Plain-song melodies (which would give a good many excellent tunes); and, for want of knowledge, the Italian tunes.

Comparing the English with the French Genevan Psalter, I do not think my judgement is too severe on our own. It had a few fine tunes original to it; best of all the cxxxvii (degraded in Hymns Ancient and Modern). This is of such exceptional beauty that I believe it must have been written by Bourgeois for Whittingham. Next perhaps is lxxvii (called 81st in H. A. M.), the original of which, in Day, 1566, is a fine tune, degraded already in Este, 1592, which version H. A. M. follows: it is said to have come from Geneva. Besides these, xxv and xliv, which are the only other tunes from this source in H. A. M., are very favourable examples, and I do not think that they will rescue the book. Nor can I believe that these old English D.C.M. tunes were ever much used. They are too much alike for many of them to have been committed to memory, while all the editions which I happen to have seen are full of misprints, and the four-line tunes which drove them out were early in the field, and increased rapidly.

When one turns the pages of that most depressing of all books ever compiled by the groaning creature, Julian's hymn-dictionary, and sees the thousands of carefully tabulated English hymns, by far the greater number of them not only pitiable as efforts of human intelligence, but absolutely worthless as vocal material for melodic treatment, one wishes that all this effort had been directed to supply a real want. E. g. the two Wesleys between them wrote thirteen octavo volumes, of some 400 pages each, full of closely printed hymns. One must wish that Charles Wesley at least (who showed in a few instances how well he could do) had, instead of reeling off all this stuff, concentrated his efforts to produce only what should be worthy of his talents and useful to posterity.

If old tunes are modernized out of a fine rhythm, a curious result would be likely to come about; viz. that modern tunes might be written in the old rhythm for the sake of novelty, while the old were being sung in the more modern way for the sake of uniformity.

This fact is of course generally recognized. The explanation in the text is one which was elaborately illustrated by the Slade Professor at Oxford, in his last course of lectures on painting.

There is one point which I cannot pass over. It has become the practice in modern books to put marks of musical expression to the words, directing the congregation when to sing loud or soft. This implies a habit of congregational performance the description of which would make a companion picture to the organ gallery of 1830. It seems to me a practice of inconceivable degradation: one asks in trembling if it is to be extended to the Psalms. It is just as if the congregation were school-children singing to please a musical inspector, and he a stupid one.

It must be due to unwillingness that comparatively so few of our clergy can take their part in the service when it is musical. Village schoolmasters tell me that two hours a week is sufficient in a few months to bring all the children up to a standard of time and tune and reading at sight that would suffice a minor canon.

<<  Contents  >>

Promoting Genuine Biblical Revival.
Privacy Policy