Anthems, Motets, Psalms

Anthems, motets, psalms. The anthem has been described as the English-language protestant counterpart, and a derivation, of the Latin motet.

The anthem has been described as the English-language protestant counterpart, and a derivation, of the Latin motet. Anthems (usually accompanied) and motets (usually unaccompanied) are choral pieces sung during church services but are not a part of the prescribed liturgy or of the congregational music represented by hymns and responses. Like motets they are the province entirely of the music director and choir. Their function is partly decorative - eg, to dispel tedium and enhance contemplation during the collection of the offering - and partly provocative, useful at points of rest or suspension in the liturgy to engage the congregation's religious imagination at the highest musical level. They encapsulate some of the finest poetry of the church in some of its most unfettered, succinct, and inspired music.

If anthems and motets are a decoration of the service, the psalms in their basic use are fundamental to it, and their broad place in it is prescribed. In this prescribed use they are sung antiphonally or spoken responsorially. There is nothing, however, to prevent the setting of words of the psalms to music for use as anthems. Many psalms have been employed in concert settings of cantata proportions. The Book of Psalms is the oldest song (word) book in use.

In France forms related to the motet have been called antiennes and require three or four vocal parts, often with additional solo voice and organ and/or two or three instruments. The motet itself came into use in France after 1600, largely due to the works of Henri (Henry) Du Mont for large choir and often on psalm texts. Over the next 150 years the form was perpetuated by Lully, M.-A. Charpentier, Lalande, Campra, and others. Charpentier, in particular, was associated with the efforts of the Jesuits to ensure that music would be religious in inspiration and pious in character, and it is not surprising that music by this 17th-century master of church music accompanied Jesuit missionaries to Canada. Father René Ménard (1605-61) is supposed to have written motets in Canada, but it is not certain whether he wrote words, or music, or both (Les Ursulines de Québec, vol 1, Quebec 1863, p 39). A selection of 20 motets, antiphons, and canticles from the archives of the Ursulines and of the Hôtel-Dieu in Quebec City have been transcribed and edited by Erich Schwandt in The Motet in New France (Victoria, BC, 1981). Hôtel-Dieu maintains, however, an autographed manuscript by Marc-Antoine Charpentier.

A reference to choral performance in Canada, probably of New England-style fuguing tunes, was made in the vestry records of St Paul's Church, Halifax, 24 Jul 1770, when complaints were made about unintelligible anthem texts ("the Major part of the Congregation do not understand either the Words or the Musick & cannot join Therein"). Canadian publications of such works, however, did not appear until the 19th century. The first Canadian "longboy" (ie, wider than high) tunebook to include such three- and four-part works, the Union Harmony published in Saint John, NB, by Stephen Humbert in 1801, contains 12 works attributed to Humbert himself as well as 4 fuguing tunes.

The first tunebook to contain anthems in addition to psalms and hymns was The Harmonicon of 1836. Its third edition contains an extended verse anthem on the 40th psalm as well as five full anthems.

In Upper Canada, performance of part music followed the organization of York's first choir, that of St James' Cathedral, in 1818. Mrs Anna Jameson noted in 1837 that "psalms and anthems are very tolerably performed" there under the organist William Warren. Two years earlier, Warren had compiled A Selection of Psalms and Hymns for Every Sunday, which included several of his own chant melodies, a Samuel Arnold anthem, and elaborate hymn settings of anthem-like proportions. The 1842 edition added texts of 50 anthems, almost exclusively European oratorio excerpts and works of the English cathedral tradition which presumably constituted the repertoire of the day.

The Union Harmony, mentioned above, contained some Canadian anthems. Another of the early collections to incorporate Canadian anthems was that issued in Toronto in 1845 by James Paton Clarke. The nine items by Clarke himself in the Canadian Church Psalmody include two full anthems. There is also an anthem by Edward Hodges (1796-1867, an Englishman who spent part of 1838 in Toronto as organist at St James' Cathedral).

Anthems by Clarke and by his colleague Dr John McCaul, then president of King's College (later University of Toronto), enjoyed considerable vogue. McCaul's setting of psalm 41, "Blessed be the Man," later internationally popular, was performed by the Toronto Philharmonic Society 23 Mar 1846. The choir's final concert of 27 Apr 1847 included Clarke's eight-part anthem, "Arise O Lord God," the first Canadian B MUS exercise.

As church choirs were formed in Upper Canada in the first half of the 19th century, their labours were devoted primarily to hymn- and psalm-singing, with anthems occasionally included for festive occasions. By mid-century, however, more sophisticated materials were circulating across Canada. Performances of anthems from Parish Choir (an English journal) were reported in Labrador and Newfoundland in its June 1849 issue.

John Medley, enthroned as bishop of Fredericton in 1845, introduced ideals of the Oxford Movement to New Brunswick and published many of his own anthems. One of these was included in George Carter'sSelection of Anthems as Sung in the Cathedrals of Montreal, Toronto and Quebec. This board-book of 1865, probably designed for congregational use of the texts, bears witness to an extensive performance practice.

At this time various denominations issued their own tunebooks "to improve and elevate" the music of their adherents. The Presbyterian Psalmody (Montreal 1851) included some tunes by the US composer Lowell Mason and was among the earliest to place the tune (heretofore in the tenor) in the treble of its English and Scottish metrical psalms. The Canadian Church Harmonist of 1864, intended for Methodist churches, contained psalm and hymn tunes as well as anthems, sentences, and introits by European and US composers. Hymns for the Worship of God, printed by John Lovell of Montreal in 1863, included 30 doxologies and anthems for the Church of Scotland.

The Seraph is the earliest extant collection devoted exclusively to anthems and set pieces. It was printed in Toronto by the Wesleyan Book Room, probably in 1863. C.W. Coates published the Canadian Anthem Book in 1873 to "elevate and improve taste but meet the wants of the average choir." Composers represented included McCaul, Warren, Edward Mammatt, and Thomas Turvey.

In the late 19th century, both performance and composition of choral works were limited by the enormous popularity of quartet choirs and 'semi-sacred' solos. However, well-established choirs in larger centres persisted in more ambitious endeavours. At All Saints Church, Toronto, Percy Greenwood was leading anthems and choral services in the style of the Oxford Movement. At the Church of the Redeemer, E.W. Schuch's 50-voice mixed choir performed English Victorian anthems and operatic excerpts set to sacred texts.

At Jarvis St Baptist Church, Toronto, A.S. Vogt began in 1888 to introduce unaccompanied motets. His use of unaccompanied works in the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir concerts set a new standard for church choirs. Vogt published several motets of his own and edited the Standard Anthem Book, volume 1 of which appeared in 1894. This "high class of music of but medium difficulty" consists of more than 40 full and several verse anthems by Buck, Shelley, and their contemporaries. Horace Reyner is the only Canadian represented.

By the end of the century several Canadian church musicians had attained international repute. Albert Ham had many anthems published by Novello, Oliver Ditson, and H.W. Gray. His sturdy harmonies were fairly chromatic but not overly complex. Contrasts of metre, texture, and key enhanced the ternary forms often used in his anthems. Works by Charles A.E. Harriss, published by G. Schirmer, rely on heavy chromaticism and a more operatic style. Clarence Lucas, considered the outstanding Anglo-Canadian composer of his generation, and Edward Broome had many anthems among their published works. The Anglo-Canadian Music Company at this time began to bring into print larger numbers of octavo-size anthems by the Canadians Ernest Bowles, Charles Wheeler, and John Adamson, among others.

Healey Willan's 44 full and verse anthems, 30 hymn-anthems, and 38 motets must be cited as the first to have achieved widespread popularity while providing dignified, serviceable materials for varied choral forces throughout the church year. His later works in particular considered the needs of volunteer choirs and a wider practice than the high liturgical tradition of his own experience. His diatonic melodic outlines provided choral parts with interest for all, and his convincing triadic harmonies, while simpler than contemporary English style, were appealing and useful.

The work of Alfred Whitehead, who published more than 30 anthems in the 1930s and 1940s, provides some evidence of new directions in its use of free metre suiting the text and of non-dominant seventh chords. In his verse anthem "If Ye Then Be Risen with Christ," changes of key and metre point up the sectional structure, and voices often are paired low against high before spreading to four-part texture.

After 1930, composers turned increasingly to the Book of Psalms for anthem and motet texts. This interest in the psalms intensified after the second Vatican Council (1963) when vernacular psalm singing was introduced into the Roman liturgy, an innovation which eventually affected major Protestant denominations as well. Composers of motets and anthems frequently set the texts of entire psalms, while texts consisting of psalm fragments, verses from other books in the Bible or various types of sacred poetry continued to be used.

The full text of the 150th Psalm has been treated by several major Canadian composers. Jean Papineau-Couture'sPsaume CL, one of his most striking large works, calls for choir, soloists, and instruments including two organs (the second one optional), while Barrie Cabena's "Psalm 150: O Praise God" offers alternatives and can be sung by a four-part mixed choir, a double mixed choir, a two-part women's choir, or a two-part men's choir, with organ or piano. Violet Archer and John Fearing have published settings of the same psalm for four-part mixed choir with organ accompaniment (though Fearing's has optional brass quartet). Other settings of this text include those by Talivaldis Kenins (SATB unaccompanied) and Leonard Enns (women's voices with organ accompaniment).

Psalm 100 (Jubilate Deo) has been set for similar forces by Cabena, Henry Clark, Hugh Bancroft, Robert B. Anderson, and, earlier, Arthur Egerton. Gerald Bales' setting includes a brass choir. Bernard Naylor's is for unaccompanied mixed choir, and his "Deus Miseratur" (Psalm 67) and 'Cantate Domino' are for divided sopranos and organ.

Canadian-trained Joseph Roff has published settings for mixed choir of portions of six psalms and a large body of English motets (post-Vatican II) for use in the Roman Catholic liturgy. Imant Raminsh has composed accompanied two-part settings of Psalms 23 and 121 with his characteristically attractive melodies.

Otto Joachim's "Psalm" uses mixed choir in its treatment of a Klopstock poem and the Lord's Prayer rather than words from traditional psalmody. André Prévost's large work Psaume 148 is scored for mixed choir, trumpets, trombones, and organ. R. Murray Schafer'sPsalm sets a text from Psalm 148 for mixed choir, four soloists, and percussion to be played by choir members. A challenging set of Nine Motets to English texts and another of Three Motets to Latin texts have been published by Bernard Naylor. Cabena's Three Motets were commissioned by the Bach-Elgar Singers of Hamilton, Ont.

Unpublished (1990) psalm settings of note include Bales' Psalm Cantata, Tibor Polgar'sLord, How Long Shall the Ungodly Triumph (Psalms 94, 54, 69, and 44), Cabena's verse anthems on Psalms 23, 81, and 130, and Robert Fleming's settings of Psalm 150.

Keith Bissell has contributed four books of anthems for treble and 3-part choirs to Canadian church repertoire. Most notably in O Come, Let Us Sing (18 anthems for junior choir), Bissell provides vital rhythms and modal or pentatonic melodies to suit the needs of younger ensembles. His "Christ, Being Raised from the Dead" is a good example of his polymetric writing, which fits speech rhythm, and employs challenging harmonic devices such as parallel triads, non-dominant seventh chords, and modality. Bissell's anthems are practical chorally and make moderate use of 20th-century techniques.

William France has provided a large number of carefully made anthems for varying choral forces. "Unto Thee, O Lord" shows clearly the interesting part writing, economy of text usage, and solid triadic harmonies which have ensured him a large performing public.

Newer directions in anthem composition can be found in the work of Derek Holman, whose strong rhythms, virile counterpoint, and unconventional harmonies provide challenges of a new standard. Among Violet Archer's nine published anthems, "O Lord, Thou Hast Searched Me" shows how her use of dissonance approached by stepwise motion can bring newer idioms within the capabilities of amateur choirs.

Derek Healey has been one of the first Canadians to include aleatoric techniques in anthem literature. His setting of "There Is One Body" exploits the possibilities of non-traditional notation and adds synthesizer or tape accompaniment. The nine Healey anthems published by 1980 provide imaginative examples of the new directions available to Canadian composers for the church.

Among the numerous other Canadians who have contributed anthems, motets, and psalm settings to the repertoire are W.H. Anderson (many), Richard C. Baker, Hugh Bancroft, Robert Hunter Bell, Lorne Betts, Allanson Brown, F.R.C. Clarke, Jean Coulthard, Richard Eaton, Leonard Enns, George (composer) Fox, Graham George, Alfred Kunz, Walter MacNutt, Kenneth Meek, David Ouchterlony, Godfrey Ridout, Nancy Telfer, Ruth Watson Henderson, John Weatherseed, Welford Russell, Charles Wilson, and S. Drummond Wolff, and John B. Younger.

See also Hymns and hymn tunes


Further Reading

  • Wienandt, Elwyn and Young, Robert. The Anthem in England and America (New York 1970)

    CMCentre. Catalogue of Canadian Choral Music (Toronto 1970, rev enlarged edn 1978)

    "Canadian church music composers," RCCO Q, Jun 1974; supplement listing, Jun 1976

    Schwandt, Erich. "The motet in New France: some 17th and 18th century manuscripts in Quebec," Fontes artis musicae, vol 28, Jul-Sep 1981

    Desautels, Andrée. "Un manuscrit autographe de Marc-Antoine Charpentier," Recherches sur la musique française classique, XXI, 1983

    Cabena, Barrie. "Protestant church music in Canada: the crisis," Mcan, 56, Feb 1986

    Black, George. "Psalm singing in Canadian churches," The American Organist, vol 21, May 1987

    Cooper, Timothy Gene. "Church music in nineteenth-century Canada as represented by the choral compositions of John Medley," DMA thesis, U of Georgia 1989

    Schwandt, Erich. "Some Motets in Honour of St. Joseph in the Archives of the Ursulines of Québec," CUMR, no. 17/1, 1996

    Barnett, Thomas A. M. Psalmody in the Canadian Churches (Vancouver 2001)

    Beckwith, John. Psalmody in British North America: Humbert, Daulé, Jenkins, Burnham (Toronto 2002)

    Catalogue of Canadian Composers

    CMH, vols 2, 9

    CMCentre. Acquisitions, annual published