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Psallam spiritu et mente


Ralph Vaughan Williams
Extracts from his prefaces to The English Hymnal and Songs of Praise

In Christian song Churches have forgotten their quarrels and men have lost their limitations, because they have reached the higher ground where the soul is content to affirm and to adore. The hymns of Christendom show more clearly than anything else that there is even now such a thing as the unity of the Spirit. ... The best hymns of Christendom are as free as the Bible from the self-centred sentimentalism, the weakness and unreality which mark inferior productions. ... The average congregation likes fine melody when it can get it, but it is apt to be undiscriminating, and will often take to bad melody when good is not forthcoming. Is it not worth while making a vigorous effort to-day for the sake of establishing a good tradition? Especially should this be the case with children's hymns ... (because) incalculable good or harm may be done by the music which they sing in their most impressionable years. (EH 1906)

Choirs would be much better occupied in learning beautiful (chorale) settings of Bach ... than in rehearsing vulgar anthems by indifferent composers. (ibid)

The present generation desires to enter into the heritage of noble religious verse which is ours ... by right of the great poetry in which the English tongue is supreme, by right also of the magnificent prose which since Coverdale and Cranmer has formed the substance of our Christian worship, though it was never adequately matched by the hymns in common use. ... Our newer hymnals have shown courage in replacing many weak and poor hymns by words and music more worthy of our great traditions and more suitable to be used in the worship of God. (SoP 1925)

Our churches, both Anglican and Free Church, have alienated during the last half-century much of the strongest character and intelligence of the Nation by the use of weak verse and music, and ... the process of attraction or repulsion takes place every time a service is held. ... Young people who have learnt better things at school will not be content to revert to a poorer standard in church. ... In the future, intelligent men will be able to take up a hymn-book and read it with as much interest and appreciation as any other collection of poetry or music. (SoP 1931)

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