Old 113th and simple chant

This Sunday in my place of work there appeared a venerable Reformation-era tune in several guises, emblematic of the ways in which music can transcend doctrinal and national boundaries, and representing a repertory capable of leading the way from certain widely held expectations of ‘church music’ to a more authentically liturgical music.

The tune in question is generally known in English as ‘Old 113th’. It was written around 1525 by Mattaus Greiter, Cantor at Strassburg (seat of Bucer’s reforming activities), for his strophic, syllabic-meter version of Psalm 119, ‘Es sind doch selig alle’: a very long tune (887. 887. D) for a very long text.

Around the same time, the Nuremberg Cantor Sebald Heyden wrote a Passion hymn, ‘O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde groß’ (O man, bewail thy grievous sin), which was soon set to Greiter’s tune. This hymn is known today by English speakers primarily as the underpinnings of one of J.S. Bach’s most beautiful ornamented chorale-preludes, found in the Orgelbüchlein (Little Organ Book) – which I played Sunday – as well as of the chorale-fantasia that concludes Part I of the same composer’s St Matthew Passion.

Calvin, called to minister to the French-speaking congregation at Strassburg, heard this tune in 1538 and, under the influence of the German-language strophic syllabic-metrical psalmody that was developing there following Luther’s example, included it in the first of his own Psalters, Aulcuns pseaulmes et cantiques mys en chant (with his version of Psalm 36 set to it) published the next year. Its broad lines, restriction to two note values (long and short), and general avoidance of large intervals had a strong influence on the style of the Calvinist psalm-tune as it developed. From Geneva this tune found its way into the English-speaking world in the 1560 Anglo-Genevan Psalter and the 1562 Whole Booke of Psalms: one of relatively few such Continental tunes to survive the crossing and remain essentially unscathed. In this English- (and Scots-) language syllabic-metrical psalm tradition, the tune was used for a version not of the 119th, but of the 113th, Psalm, which when set to this very long tune makes two stanzas. This week I was pleased to get to know, through the parish choir’s work, a very creditable polyphonic setting of this text and tune from The Psalms of David in Prose and Meeter. With their whole Tunes in foure or mo parts, and some psalms in Reports... Printed at Edinburgh by the heires of Andrew Hart, Anno Dom. 1635 (‘reports’ meaning imitative entries).

With this tune in mind, Isaac Watts later wrote a hymn based upon Psalm 146, ‘I’ll praise my Maker with my Breath’, originally published in his collection Psalms of David in 1719. Slightly later, John Wesley made some adaptations to Watts’s text (including changing the first line to its present form, ‘I’ll praise my Maker while I’ve breath’), omitted some stanzas, and published the result in his Collection of Psalms and Hymns published in ‘Charles-Town’, South Carolina, in 1736.* Both text and tune were favorites of Wesley’s, and he is reported to have sung this hymn just before his death. By the omission of some phrases and of the repetition of some others, the tune was later shortened to its present form (88. 88. 88, still longer and broader than most English and Scottish Psalm-tunes), as found in the Hymnal [429] with Wesley’s revision of Watts and sung this Sunday by the congregation.

Finally, the tune had an influence even on the developing body of unofficial Roman Catholic hymnody, spawning a sort of derivative in the tune we know as ‘Lasst uns erfreuen’ or ‘Vigiles et sancti’ (used for ‘All creatures of our God and King’ [400] and ‘Ye watchers and ye holy ones’ [618] in the Hymnal), which begins in the same way.

The defining characteristics of this tune noted above – breadth of line, restriction to simple note values, limited range and mostly conjunct melody – as well as a modal orientation, are common to many sixteenth-century Psalm- and Choral-tunes and are also more or less characteristic of many genres of chant, especially in the slow, rhythmic style in which chant was sung at that time. Indeed, the German term Choral, which we often translate ‘hymn’, simply means ‘chant’, and the first developers of Lutheran congregational song, including Luther himself, were merely engaged in arranging existing simpler chant, or writing similar melodies, for the use of the people, continuing, formalizing, and ‘legitimizing’ a practice that in fact had already been underway for some time. Something similar also happened in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century (Roman Catholic) France, where what hymnologists now call ‘church melodies’ also grew out of the milieu of chant.

Abortive attempts were also made within the reforming Church of England to develop simple chant. Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury during the development of the first official English-language liturgical materials, specifically recommended in a 1544 letter to Henry VIII† that the musical settings for the processions then in preparation be similar to those of the hymns, psalms, and canticles of the Office and the Ordinary of the Mass – in contrast, we are to assume, to the more florid chant of the Proper of the Mass and the Prolix Responsories of the Office – and other early English Reformation attempts to provide music for the services, for example Coverdale’s 1535 Goostly Psalmes and Spirituall Songes (a collection of adaptations of Lutheran Chorals) and Merbecke’s 1550 Booke of Common Praier Noted (using simplified plainsong melodies and original settings very much like them) conformed to this style. Merbecke settings may be found in the Hymnal here:

Great Litany  S 67
Kyrie  S 90
Sanctus  S 113
Agnus Dei  S 157
Gloria in excelsis  S 201
Burial Anthems  S 375–379

Unfortunately, though in some cathedral and collegiate foundations ad hoc adaptations of chant certainly took place, the fact that the Book of Common Prayer was printed without musical notation, the continuing reform of that book, and the ongoing upheaval in the national-ecclesiastical life of England, meant that early attempts to provide musical settings for the rites did not survive. By the time the dust settled, new and very different kinds of music had begun to develop in and for the English Church, which, however well they may have fit the needs of that ritually and ceremonially starved milieu (and its modern descendents), are to a great extent unsuitable for anything like the historic liturgies which Anglicans, at least on paper, claim to have reappropriated. (It must also be said that nearly the rest of the Western Church, polarized and pushed to extremes in the shattering conflicts of the time, also fell prey to the extremes and polarizations characteristic of the music that developed from the seventeenth century onward).

But tunes like ‘Old 113th’ and other Genevan Psalm-tunes, certain early Lutheran Chorals, French ‘church melodies’, rhythmic versions of pre-Reformation tunes, and in some cases true rural folk tunes and modern tunes composed under their influence, show us a way back to music suitable for liturgy: they provide what essentially is chant – modal monophony – in a form approachable to many who might find more elaborate, or more freely sung, or more complexly notated, chant impossible or even undesirable. Their breadth and ‘sturdiness’ allow them to be treated quite grandly when that is desired, bridging the gap between the widespread desire for music that caters to the passions and the essentially modest requirements of truly liturgical song. Their modal nature, however, which renders them complete in themselves without depending upon harmonization, allows them to be sung simply (and indeed without accompaniment, as originally intended) as well as to form the basis for polyphonic elaboration in a variety of styles, from the homorhythmic to the imitative-contrapuntal to the ‘atmospheric’, as the choral and organ literature amply demonstrates.‡

These hymn-tunes can be used, in moderation, in conjunction with other simple chant, including much of the sort that is found in the Episcopal Church’s Hymnal and plainsong Psalters and in resources like the Graduale Parvum, for a service sung fully and fittingly yet approachably. They can also exist comfortably alongside, or pave the way for, freer or more florid chant (up to and including the full propers of Mass and Office) that might be sung by cantors or choir, and vocal and keyboard chant-based and chant-like polyphony.

Below I list selected examples of these genres that can be found in the Hymnal.

Rhythmic versions of pre-Reformation chant

Though it is a minority position today among chant scholars and practitioners, there is considerable evidence to show that some sort of clearly defined rhythm is characteristic of chant of certain genres and periods. The Hymnal 1982, interestingly, contains a good couple of handfuls of examples:

Ad cenam agni providi  202
Caelitum Joseph  261, 283, 361
Conditor alme siderum  26, 60
Gloria laus et honor  155
Immense caeli conditor  32
Jesu nostra redemptio  233
Nocte surgentes  2
Pange lingua  165 / S 352
Tibi Christe splendor Patris (Alleluia dulce carmen)  123
Urbs beata Jerusalem  622
Vexilla regis prodeunt  161

see also
Kyrie eleison (Mass XVI)  S 85
Gloria in excelsis (Mass XIII)  S 273
Gloria in excelsis (Mass XV)  S 274

Late medieval chant-related tunes

As alluded to above, there was in the Middle Ages a lively exchange – along a continuum rather than across a border, no doubt – between liturgical, Latin-texted chant and nonliturgical, vernacular song; a number of links can be established between specific pieces from the two repertories. The Hymnal contains a few of these pre-Reformation chant-related tunes alongside their more elaborate counterparts:

Christ ist erstanden  184
     based on ‘Victimae paschali laudes’, 183
Gott sei gelobet und gebenedeiet  319
     based on ‘Lauda Sion salvatorem’, 320
Vom Himmel kam der Engel Schaar  77, 131
     based on ‘A solis ortus cardine’, which can be found in Hymns III

Other late medieval and similar tunes

Though some of these were not printed until the sixteenth or seventeenth century – some in Roman Catholic collections – these tunes are all known or suspected to be much older. Special mention should be made of Piae cantiones, a 1582 Finnish collection of late medieval Latin songs, mostly religious, which have found their way in modern times into the stream of English hymnody thanks to the efforts of John Mason Neale and others. These are marked with [PC].

Angelus emittitur [PC]  270
Deo gracias  449
Dies est laetitiae [PC]  97
Divinum mysterium [PC]  82
Gaudeamus pariter  200, 237
In dulci jubilo  107
Personent hodie [PC]  92
Puer natus in Bethlehem  103
Puer nobis nascitur [PC]  98
     see also 124, 193 for a version from a different source
Es ist ein Ros  81
O filii et filiae  203, 206
O Heiland, reiss die Himmel auf  14, 64
Omni die  341
Une jeune pucelle  114

Early Lutheran Chorals

Some number more of these, especially the Lutheran vernacular metrical versions of the Mass Ordinary and the Canticles, can easily be found in the lcms Lutheran Worship.

Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr  421
     after Gloria from Mass I, Lux et origo
Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir  151
Christ lag in Todesbanden  185
     after ‘Victimae paschali laudes’, 183
Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam 139
Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort  132
     tune derived from ‘Veni, redemptor gentium’, 55
Erscheinen ist der herrlich Tag  201
     after the Easter antiphon ‘Ad monumentum venimus’
Es ist das Heil uns kommen her  298
Herzlich tut mich verlangen  169
Ich ruf zu dir  634
Komm, Gott Schöpfer  501
     based on ‘Veni creator Spiritus’, 502
Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland  54
     based on ‘Veni redemptor gentium’, 55
Vater unser im Himmelreich / Old 112th  575

Genevan Psalm-tunes

Donne secours  472
Le Cantique de Siméon  36
Louez Dieu  252
Old 100th  377, 378, 380
Old 113th  429
Old 124th  149, 404
Psalm 6  308
Psalm 86  258
Psalm 42  67
Rendez à Dieu  301, 302, 413

English-Scottish Psalm-tunes and similar

As noted above, this tradition derived from the Genevan, but relatively few tunes were carried over (more in the Scottish books than in the English), and those that were were often shortened and/or simplified rhythmically. A number of British tunes were also cultivated, at first in a somewhat similar style, but many of these (and those that followed) were later squared off considerably into only two or three poetic meters and mostly uniform note values (cf. the two versions of ‘St Flavian’ found in the Hymnal).

Bristol  71
Caithness  121, 352, 684
Cheshire  581
Culross  584
Dundee  126, 526, 709
Manchester  264
Old 104th  532
Old 120th  259
     derived from Genevan Psalm 81
St Flavian  332
     first half of Genevan Psalm 132
St Michael  601
     derived from Bourgeois
Southwell  641
Windsor  642, 643

Leading English composers Thomas Tallis and Orlando Gibbons were both commissioned to write some simple tunes for metrical psalm- and canticle-paraphrases: Tallis for Archbishop Matthew Parker’s 1567 Psalter and Gibbons for George Withers’s Hymnes and Songes of the Church (1622–23). They are contemporary with the development of English-Scottish Psalm-tunes in general and draw upon the same stock of ideas, and so are included here.

The Third Tune  170, 692
The Eighth Tune (‘Tallis’ Canon’)  25, 43
The Ninth Tune (‘Tallis’ Ordinal’)  260, 489

Song 1  315, 499, 617
Song 4  346
Song 13  670
Song 22  703
Song 34  21, 264

French ‘church melodies’

Caelites plaudant  282
Christe sanctorum  1
O quanta qualia  348, 623
Rouen  360
(Dulce carmen  559)
     not known to be a French melody, but similar in style and intent

Selected modal folk and modern tunes

Many folk, traditional, and otherwise non-modern-Western tunes, and some modern Western ones written under their influence, exhibit similar characteristics to the tunes listed above. Here is a selection from the Hymnal.

Assisi  406
Beng-Li  340
Bourbon  147, 675
Faith  689
Intercessor  695
Kedron  10, 163
King’s Weston  435
Lacquiparle  385
O gracious Light  S 61
Picardy  324
Sharpthorne  605
Sheng En  342
Star in the East  118
Tender Thought  702
The Church’s Desolation  566
Wondrous love  439

*  The brothers Wesley, both clergymen of the Church of England, were briefly serving in the new British colony of Georgia. This Collection was the very first hymnal (as opposed to metrical Psalter) published anywhere since the Reformation for Anglican use.

†  Letter from Thomas Cranmer to King Henry VIII, 1544

It may please Your Majesty to be advertised that, according to Your Highness’ commandment, sent unto me by Your Grace’s secretary, Mr Pagett, I have translated into the English tongue, so well as I could in so short time, certain processions to be used upon festival days if after due correction and amendment of the same Your Highness shall think it so convenient. In which translation, forasmuch as many of the processions in the Latin were but barren, as meseemed, and little fruitful, I was constrained to use more than the liberty of a translator: for in some processions I have altered divers words; in some I have added part; in some taken part away; some I have left out whole, either for because the matter appeared to me to be little to purpose, or because the days be not with us festival days; and some processions I have added whole because I thought I had a better matter for the purpose than was the procession in Latin.

The judgment whereof I refer wholly unto Your Majesty, and after Your Highness hath corrected it, if Your Grace command some devout and solemn note to be made thereunto (as it is to the procession which Your Majesty hath already set forth in English). I trust it will much excitate and stir the hearts of all men unto devotion and godliness.

But in my opinion, the song that should be made thereunto would not be full of notes, but, as near as may be, for every syllable a note,
[cf. Luther’s suggestion that German vernacular chant for congregational singing should be ‘arranged as syllabically as possible...since the German language is largely monosyllabic’] so that it may be sung distinctly and devoutly as be in the matins and evensong Venite, the hymns, Te Deum, Benedictus, Magnificat, Nunc dimittis, and all the psalms and versicles; and in the mass Gloria in excelsis, Gloria Patri, the Creed, the Preface, the Pater Noster, and some of the Sanctus and Agnus. As concerning the Salve festa dies, the Latin note, as I think, is sober and distinct enough, wherefore I have travailed to make the verses in English and have put the Latin note unto the same.

Nevertheless, they that be cunning in singing can make a much more solemn note thereto. I made them only for a proof, to see how English would do in song. But because mine English verses lack the grace and facility that I wish they had, Your Majesty may cause some other to make them again that can do the same in more pleasant English and phrase. As for the sentence, I suppose it will serve well enough.

Thus Almighty God preserve Your Majesty in long and prosperous health and felicity

From Bekisbourne, the 7th of October
Your Grace’s most bounden chaplain and beadsman,
T. Cantuarien

To the King’s most excellent Majesty

‡  Indeed, precisely the same compositional techniques were used in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries by musicians setting these Chorals and Psalm-tunes (the so-called Choral-motet and polyphonic Psalm-tune settings like the one mentioned above as well as those by Goudimel and later Sweelinck and van Noordt) as were used with polyphonic settings of Latin-texted chants, though the strophic and usually much wordier nature of the vernacular texts can make these Protestant settings sound rather busier. The early Lutheran Choral has continued to inspire composers right through to our own day, and scholars and advocates of congregational song in many parts of the Western Church during the period coinciding with the ‘Liturgical Movement’ have recognized and promoted the suitability and adaptability of this modal repertory.