the Jewish religion the Book of Psalms played a central role.
Psalms were sung at any occasion: in the temple during the important
feasts, and by individual believers on their pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
The Christian Church linked up with this, and gave them a central
place in its liturgy. For about 500 years polyphonic settings
of the Psalms were sung in Church, for which the texts of the
Vulgata were used, the Latin translation of the Bible. Apart
from the Psalms other texts, both from the Bible and from other
sources, were also sung during liturgy.
Reformation of the 16th century wasn't only about doctrine.
It also had a strong impact on liturgical practice. The Reformers
wanted the Church to return to its roots, and therefore texts
from the Bible were given absolute priority over everything
else. Naturally the Book of Psalms was restored to its original
dominant position in liturgy. Martin Luther, the German reformer,
considered it a kind of synopsis of the whole Bible.
Reformation had another ideal: singing during worship should
not be the prerogative of a small number of professional singers.
It should rather be for the congregation to sing. This had far-reaching
consequences. The settings of the Psalms should be on a text
in the vernacular, for one voice and preferably metrical. This
way the melodies and texts were easy to learn and to memorise,
as many believers were neither able to read nor musically very
the influence of John Calvin a Psalter was put together on metrical
texts by some leading French poets and set to music by composers
of considerable standing. This Psalter – generally known as
the 'Genevan' or 'Huguenot' Psalter – spread over Europe and
was used by Protestant communities of Calvinist orientation.
Of course they sang them in their own language, but used the
same melodies. They are still in use, not only in Europe, but
also in countries like Canada, South-Africa and even Japan.
settings of the Psalms became popular in England during the
reign of Elizabeth I. In 1562 a Psalter was published with 65
tunes from the Genevan Psalter. In 1567 another Psalter was
printed, put together by Archbishop Parker. None other than
Thomas Tallis contributed to this collection. But just as the
Psalms were facing competition in the Church before the Reformation
so other texts were set to music in the Church of England as
'hymns and songs' by Orlando Gibbons presented on this disc
were part of a collection of 'Hymnes and Songs of the Church',
put together and published by George Wither in 1623. He was
a poet who got into trouble a couple of times because of his
satirical writings. Later in life he leaned towards Puritanism.
The collection of 1623 was issued under the patent of James
I ordaining that they should be bound up with every copy of
the authorised metrical Psalms offered for sale.
music Gibbons wrote for this collection is rather simple. There
are about 15 tunes, which sometimes use the same thematic material,
with an additional bass line. "The inner parts (if any)
are left to the imagination of singers and instrumentalists",
Antony Pitts writes in the booklet. It probably depends on where
these hymns and songs were used whether the inner parts were
added or not.
this recording we have adopted a wide variety of approaches:
from unadorned melody via pastiche to exuberantly postmodern
counterpoint." There is even some newly composed music
on texts from this collection: "The new hymns, by Alexander
L'Estrange and myself, and two of my younger brothers, serve
both to vary the palette and to show the continuing influence
of Hymnes and Songs of the Church on hymn-writing today".
The hymns are put together in eight sections which concentrate
on different aspects of Christian faith according to the ecclesiastical
this perspective one could say that this recording has come
off well. Those who are interested in religious music in general,
no matter from which time it comes, will find this disc interesting.
But those who would like to get better acquainted with how metrical
psalms and hymns were sung in the Church of England – and in
the homes of the faithful – in the early 17th century - still
a white spot in the performance practice of early music - will
be disappointed. I am certainly one of them.
is a pity that Antony Pitts and his
colleagues have opted for an unhistorical
approach to this repertoire. It isn't
just that new material has been used;
my main problem is the way Gibbons'
music has been dealt with. Some songs
are so strongly arranged in a style
which is distant from that of Gibbons'
time that the original melodies are
hardly recognisable. Another aspect
of this deliberate unhistorical interpretation
- if you can use that word here - is
that some of Gibbons' melodies are sung
to texts from a much later time.[see
footnote***] As the objective of this
disc was not to perform the music in
a historical way it is perhaps not appropriate
to criticise the singing style adopted
by Tonus Peregrinus. Even so I can't
hide my disappointment about the slight
vibrato of the singers, the sometimes
strangely slow tempi and the often stiff
organ playing. Considering the overall
approach it come as no surprise that
the words are pronounced as if they
were written in modern English.
this recording to be recommended? That very much depends on
what one expects and would like to hear. I only recommend it
to those who are interested in liturgical music in general;
not to those whose main interest is early music. This disc just
hints at what could have been had this repertoire been performed
from a strictly historical angle. But for the time being we
have to wait until someone decides it is time to explore this
kind of repertoire thoroughly and perform it as it was intended.
by Gary Higginson
Comments received from Antony Pitts
The majority of the review is a history
lesson, and does not refer to the disc
at all. What the reviewer has missed,
to begin with, from the sleeve notes
(and common sense) is that hymns, unlike
most early music, are part of a living
tradition - not a few of the Gibbons
hymns are in regular use today in churches.
Further, and most crucially to this
particular repertoire, the Gibbons hymns
were published *only* as melody and
bass, and therefore there are two main
performance options: to perform them
simply with the melody and bassline
alone (which we did on a number of verses,
but I can assure you that you and most
listeners would have been very disgruntled
if we had maintained this approach for
long), or to devise inner parts of some
kind. This latter option we pursued
from substantial combined experience
of the British choral tradition (I note
the reviewer appears to have a Dutch
name), and *deliberately* demonstrated
a variety of refinements on this option,
while taking into account the fact that
these hymns continue to 'evolve' today.
We even tried to give a sense of what
improvised inner parts (on organ or
with singers) might have sounded like.
We also specially recorded the music
partly in a home and partly in a church
to get precisely that subtlety of
acoustic and atmosphere lost on our
from Johan van Veen
you for bringing Antony Pitts' comments
to my attention. I'm sorry
that he feels I haven't done his recording
I have compared Mr Pitts' comments
with what I have written and as far
as I can see there is one error on my
part. Mr Pitts writes: "we sang
all of the Gibbons 'Songs' to their
original texts (one or more verses thereof),
and recorded further, separate versions
of just two of them with other words".
I have read the booklet and looked into
the tracklist once more, and I have
concluded that he is right in this respect.
Although it seems to me my remark about
this is only one - and certainly not
the most essential - element of my assessment
of this disc, this error shouldn't have
escaped my attention during the phase
of final correction.
Let me add that in my view my judgement
of this recording isn't as negative
as Mr Pitts seems to think. In my review
I have quoted his own explanation of
his approach to this repertoire, and
later on I wrote: "From this perspective
one could say that this recording has
come off well. Those who are interested
in religious music in general, no matter
from which time it comes, will find
this disc interesting." It is true
I'm not British, and therefore an outsider
in regard to British religious music
practice of today, although I have a
keen interest in it. But as a regular
listener to BBC's Choral Evensong I
know that Gibbons' music is part of
a living tradition. My basic approach
in all my reviews, though, is that I
assess recordings from an
'early music perspective'. I think in
my review I made a clear distinction
between the two different angles from
which to look at this repertoire, and
the different perceptions of this particular
recording which come from them. If I
had been aware of the approach by Tonus
Peregrinus beforehand I would not have
chosen this disc to review for MusicWeb
and had left it to someone who has a
better knowledge of British religious
music of later ages and a more positive
attitude towards modern musical styles.
I noticed that the other review on
MusicWeb - which is brought to the reader's
attention at the bottom of my review
- gave a different assessment of this
disc. Therefore the reader has the possibility
to compare them and make up his own
from Len Mullenger
International is always pleased to correct
factual errors in reviews. I have appended
Johan van Veen's remarks so it just
remains for me to say that I think the
opening historical background to this
review is a perfectly valid approach
intended to assist our readers by placing
a recording in context.