The advent of metrical psalters was mainly, although not exclusively, the trademark of the Protestant church. The Renaissance historian, Dr Jonathan Willis, argues that:
These psalms were therefore intended to be sung by the choir and the congregation, very much like hymns today. In 1566, a stock of metrical psalters – probably the newly-published Sternhold and Hopkins Psalter of 1562 – was purchased for Canterbury Cathedral, and two of the Psalms on this record were taken from that very same edition, including the well-known Genevan melody to Psalm 100. The orchestral arrangement of the latter is particularly well known today and was written by Ralph Vaughan Williams for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. Read more
Another metrical psalm, which caught Vaughan Williams’ attention early on in his career, was Thomas Tallis’ Phrygian melody to Psalm 2, published in 1567 in Archbishop Parker’s Psalter. This wonderful modal tune was the inspiration for Vaughan Williams’ iconic work, Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, written in 1910.
Adrian Batten (1591–1637) was organist, singer and composer at Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral. His Short Communion Service is surprisingly plain and simple in style, yet full of grace and dignity. This was probably to please evangelical sensibilities who wished liturgical music to be “modeste and destyncte”, able to be “playnelye understanded, as if it were read without singing” (Royal Injunctions of 1559).
Another reason for the simple homophonic style of Batten’s setting could be the low status of the service of Holy Communion itself within the Anglican Church at that time. In 1563, for instance, the celebrations of communion were reduced to one a month at Canterbury Cathedral and were usually “dry”, meaning that they ended after the creed.
The contrast between Batten’s simple Communion setting and Thomas Morley’s First Service is plain to hear, as Morley’s composition is poles apart from the simplicity prescribed by Archbishop Cranmer a generation earlier. Morley (1577–1602), who was organist at St Paul’s Cathedral and a pupil of William Byrd, displays a real mastery of counterpoint and melodic writing in both his Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis. The Royal Injunctions of 1559 not only encouraged simple evangelical music, but also catered for the “comforting of such as delyte in musicke”, and allowed for “the best sorte of melody and musicke that maye be convenientlye devysed.” This sort of statement is typical for the Anglican via media in regards to music; both plain and more elaborate styles were deemed acceptable.
However, being a publicly-practising Roman Catholic in England at that time was not acceptable, and, for this reason, Peter Philips (1561/62– 1628) was forced to leave his home country and settle in Brussels, where he was organist to the chapel of Albert VII, Archduke of Austria.
Philips was an extremely prolific composer, whose sacred choral output was intended for Roman Catholic worship and, as a result, set to Latin texts – which made performances in Protestant England impossible. Bow Down Thine Ear is a contrafactum (text substitution) for Philips’ madrigal Cantai mentre of 1596, possibly arranged by one of Philips’ English colleagues, such as Thomas Morley.
The Chapel Royal were probably the most prodigious poachers of musical talent in the English Renaissance. In 1597, when Nathaniel Giles (1558–1633) was made Master of the Children of the Chapel Royal, he was granted a warrant to:
“take suche and so many children as he… shall thinke meete”, in order that the Chapel “should be furnished well with singing Children.”
These extreme chorister recruitment measures ensured high-quality music-making for the Chapel Royal, and enabled it to play a key role in nurturing English church music.
Archbishop John Whitgift (1530–1604) The anthem God, Which As On This Day, based on the Collect for Whit Sunday, shows Giles as a most competent composer of choral music, written in the English verse anthem style.
It is difficult to assess fully the quality of sacred music written during John Whitgift’s time as Archbishop. The poor survival rate of manuscript sources from that period may prevent us from ever having a complete understanding of the choral output of cathedral composers in particular. Willis argues that:
“the Elizabethan period cannot accurately be described as a period either of stasis or decline for cathedrals. Rather, it was a period of evolution, of accommodation with the priorities of the new Protestant national church, and of the negotiation of a liturgical and ceremonial practice which balanced the requirements of the state with the desires of the community that lived within its precincts, and the wider community that worshipped there.”
Although he is not exclusively commenting on the state of music in the English Church, it is reasonable to apply Willis’ comment to the state of church music in cathedrals at that time.
Two of the instrumental items recorded on this CD (Bassano’s Fantasia and Ferrabosco’s Exaudi Deus) are taken from partbooks known as Fitzwilliam 734, which used to belong to the cornett and sackbut players in the employ of James I.
It is possible that Fantasias of that style served as ceremonial music at Canterbury Cathedral and would have certainly added to the sense of occasion during Whitgift’s regular visitations as Archbishop.
(Ronny Krippner, 2017)