Awake & Join the Cheerful Choir - Gallery Hymns and Carols from the 18th & 19th Centuries
Maddy Prior (voice)
The Carnival Band
The Mellstock Band & Choir*
rec. May 1986* & February 1987 at The Meeting House, Frenchay, near Bristol; March 1990 at Valley Recordings, Littleton-on-Severn, UK DDD
No texts

The singing of hymns is common practice in Christian churches all over the world. That was not always the case. The present disc carries us to the English countryside of the 18th and 19th centuries. Until the late 17th century the congregation sang only metrical psalms to a limited number of tunes, without instrumental accompaniment, led by the parish clerk. Around 1700 this started to change. First the number of tunes for the metrical psalms was extended, for instance by Isaac Watts in his collection of Psalms of David of 1719.

Watts also wrote hymns on free texts and this kind of sacred music was enthusiastically embraced by the Wesley brothers, John and Charles. Hymns were often sung in open-air meetings, at first to the old psalm tunes. But soon new melodies were written, often in a style which was not very different from that of secular music. Initially hymn singing was largely confined to nonconformist congregations, especially the Methodists where the Wesleys played a major role. In the Anglican church the authorities rejected the introduction of hymns, but with time they couldn’t resist their growing popularity. The growing number of hymn books which came from the press testifies to this development.

The programme includes hymns as they were sung in the 18th and 19th centuries. Not only the repertoire changed, but the same goes for performance practice. Choirs were introduced as well as instruments of the kind played on this disc: clarinet, serpent, flute, fiddle, cello, guitar and various percussion instruments. The late 18th century saw the publication of hymn books with 'symphonies': instrumental preludes and interludes for instruments.

Several of the hymns in the programme are still frequently sung, such as ‘Who would true valour see’, ‘Lo he comes with clouds descending’ and ‘O for a thousand tongues to sing’. The composers of the tunes are mostly unknown. However, some are set to tunes by composers who were well known in their time, such as Thomas Augustine Arne (‘Away with our sorrow and care’ whose melody is taken from the oratorio The Death of Abel) and William Croft to whom the tune of ‘O worship the King’ is attributed. As these tunes were not originally connected to the texts to which they are sung here I have put these names between brackets behind the titles in the track-list.

As one expects from hymns which have been part of worship through the centuries melodies have often changed. This is the case with German hymns written in the wake of the Lutheran Reformation which often had often changed considerably when Bach made use of them in his cantatas and oratorios. It isn’t any different here. “In preparing the music we looked at eighteenth and early nineteenth century hymn books and in many cases restored the melodies and harmonies to their original form”. That makes this disc all the more interesting: we have the opportunity here to hear the hymns as they were originally conceived.

Don't expect any of the sophisticated singing which we are used to hearing from cathedral and college choirs in, for instance, BBC Radio 3’s broadcasts of Choral Evensong, or even in community singing in Songs of Praise on BBC TV. The Mellstock Band and Choir attempt to sing and play according to what may have been common in the 18th and 19th centuries, but obviously we can never be sure. Maddy Prior and The Carnival Band perform in the style of folk music.

This is a most fascinating disc. As the recordings date from between 1986 and 1990 I assume they were first released on vinyl. The reissue on CD is very welcome. Both lovers of traditional hymns and lovers of (English) folk music will enjoy it. It is just a shame that the lyrics are omitted.

Johan van Veen

Track listing
How firm a foundation (trad) [2:53]
Rejoice this glorious day is come* [4:42]
And can it be? (Thomas CAMPBELL, 1777-1844) [3:43]
Light of the world (anon, 1798) [3:45]
As pants the heart (Hugh WILSON, 1766-1824) [2:25]
Arise and hail the joyful day* [2:41]
Who would true valour see (trad) [3:05]
Awake and join the cheerful choir* [2:52]
Away with our sorrow and care (Thomas Augustine ARNE, 1710-1778) [3:15]
Lo he comes with clouds descending (anon, 1765/1780) [3:35]
A virgin most pure (trad) [5:12]
Behold the morning star* [2:08]
Infant holy (trad, Poland) [1:23]
Lord, in the morning (anon, c1726) [2:42]
The God of Abraham praise (anon, 1780) [3:06]
See heaven's high portals* [2:53]
Rejoice ye shining worlds (anon, c1760) [2:06]
Awake awake ye mortals all* [2:10]
All hail the power of Jesus' name (James Ellor, 1819-1899) [4:00]
While shepherds watched* [2:51]
Unto us a boy is born (German medieval) [2:56]
O thou who camest from above (Samuel STANLEY, 1767-1822) [2:32]
O for a thousand tongues to sing (Thomas JARMAN, 1776-1861) [3:46]
O worship the King (attr. William CROFT, 1678-1727) [3:23]
Christ the Lord is risen today (anon, 1708) [3:12]

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