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Anglican chant

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Anglican chant

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Anglican chant is a method of singing prose translations of the Psalms developed and formerly much used in the Anglican church. Each verse, pair, group of three, or group of four verses is set to a simple harmonized melody of 7, 14, 21 or 28 bars (known respectively as a single, double, triple or quadruple chant), with the majority of the syllables freely chanted on the extendable reciting notes, which occupy the first, fourth, eighth, eleventh (etc.) bars.

The origins of the method are obscure, but it was well established by the eighteenth century. The earliest known examples are single chants, dating from the latter part of the 16th century, written by Thomas Tallis and his contemporaries, so it seems likely that Anglican chant was devised by them to provide a suitable musical setting for Coverdale's psalter, as published in the Book of Common Prayer. The earliest double chants are from about 1700.

Canticles such as the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis may also be sung in this manner.


How chanting works


To explain how chanting works, it is best to use an example. Above is a single chant. Below are the first four verses of the Magnificat, with the text coloured to show which words correspond to which notes in the music ("the chant").

1. My soul doth ' magnify the ' Lord : And my spirit hath re'joiced in ' God my ' Saviour.
2. For He ' hath re'garded : the ' lowliness ' of His ' handmaiden.
3. For be'hold from ' henceforth : all gene'rations shall ' call me ' blessed.
4. For He that is mighty hath ' magnified ' me : and ' holy ' is His ' Name.

Precise rules for chanting very according to the particular psalter in use. The rules used in the Parish Psalter (one of the more popular, edited by Sydney Nicholson) are as follows:

  • The chant is sung to the words of one verse.
  • The barlines in the music correspond to the inverted commas (called "pointing marks") in the text.
  • The double barline in the music corresponds to the colon in the text.
  • Where there is one note (a semibreve) to a bar, all the words for the corresponding part of the text are sung to that one note.
  • Where there are two notes (two minims) to a bar, all the words except the last syllable are sung to the first minim. The final syllable is sung to the second minim. Where more than the last syllable is to be sung to the second minim, a dot is used (much like a pointing mark) in the text to indicate where the note change should occur.

There are various additional rules which apply occasionally:

  • Sometimes the second minim of a pair is replaced by two crotchets. In this case, the relevant syllable is slurred across the two notes.
  • When the two minims are replaced with a dotted-minim and a crotchet in one or more (but not all) of the musical parts, the last syllable is sung by those parts on the note having the value of the crotchet, but in time with the other parts (and it is likely that a dot will be required in the text to move the other parts back from the last syllable so that the crotchet is musically functional). It is a common mistake to sing the crotchet as an isolated rythmic feature.
  • A change of chant may be used to signal a thematic shift in the words of the psalm.

Double, triple and quadruple chants

The example above is a single chant. It is normally only for very short psalms (half a dozen verses or so) that single chants are used.

The most commonly-used chants used are double chants. These are twice the length of a single chant. The music of the chant is repeated for every pair of verses. This reflects the structure of the Hebrew poetry of many of the psalms: Each verse is in two halves - the second half answers the first; the verses are in pairs - the second verse answers the first.

Triple and quadruple chants appeared from the latter part of the 19th century, to cover some of the exceptions to this format. They set the verses of the psalm in groups of 3 or 4 verses respectively. Psalm 2 (for example) is well-suited to a triple chant; a quadruple chant might be used for Psalm 78.

  • A double chant is divided into "quarters", each of which has the music for half a verse. Triple and quadruple chants may also be described as containing six or eight quarters.
  • Where a psalm (or section of a psalm) has an odd number of verses, a numbered verse will be marked "2nd part". This means if the chant is sung to a double chant, that verse is to be sung to the 2nd half of the chant, rather than the first. After that, verses continue with the 1st half and alternate between the halves of the chant as before. Similarly, "3rd part" markings may be used for triple chants.

Antiphonal singing

A further stylistic technique is used in cathedrals and churches which use an antiphonal style of singing. In this case, the choir is divided into two equal half-choirs, each having representation for the four musical parts, and usually facing one another. They are typically named decani (usually the half-choir to the south side) and cantoris (usually the half-choir to the south side). Then the choir may employ either of the techniques known as quarter-chanting and half-chanting. In quarter-chanting, the side that starts (usually decani) sing the first quarter of the chant (and thus the first half of the verse). The side that did not start (usually cantoris) then sing the second quarter of the chant (and thus the second half of the verse). This sequence then repeats. In half-chanting (which is more true to antiphonal singing in the Gregorian style), decani sing the first two quarters of the chant, and cantoris the next two quarters (so that each half-choir sings a whole verse at a time).

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Music Sound, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.