West Gallery Music

From Folkopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

West Gallery Music is a term coined to describe the music performed in English country churches during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It is so called because the music was typically perfromed by a group of singers and musicians housed in the West Gallery of the church. The music is sometimes also referred to as 'Georgian Psalmody' since it flourished in the reigns of George I to George IV.

Our knowledge of the West Gallery repertoire is drawn from printed sources (e.g. William Knapp's published works) and from surviving musicians' and singers' manuscript books. Metrical Psalms were the most common type of music performed, along with anthems and some hymns. The repertoire also included a significant number of pieces suitable to be sung at Christmas and for funerals. Few of the pieces sung by West Gallery 'quires' were composed by professional musicians. Most were composed by artisans and craftsmen: for example, William Knapp was apprenticed as a glovemaker, Thomas Clark worked as a shoemaker, James Nuttall was a weaver. West Gallery Music can thus be viewed as an example of genuine folk art - particularly since the versions found in musicians' manuscript books often show marked discrepancies from the composer's original, differences which sometimes suggest a degree of oral transmission.

The music had largely died out by the middle of the nineteenth century. One interpretation is that singers and musicians were driven out of the church by reforming Church of England parsons determined to establish control over the music sung during their services. In Sussex, however, Lucy Broadwood told a different story. See Media:LEB_West_Gallery.pdf. But, for whatever reasons, fiddle, cello, clarinet and bassoon were replaced by some form of organ; while the metrical translations of the psalms by Tate and Brady or Sternhold and Hopkins were superseded by Hymns Ancient and Modern.

However the music survived in a number of places. Having crossed the Atlantic in the eighteenth century the West Gallery style developed into Shape Note Singing (of which the Sacred Harp tradition is the best known example. Meanwhile, back in England, musical settings composed by West Gallery composers survive in the carol-singing traditions of Padstow in Cornwall, and in South Yorkshire and Derbyshire - in villages such as Oughtibridge and Grenoside near Sheffield, and Castleton in the Derbyshire Peak District.

Since the mid-1970s there has been a revival of interest in performing music from the West Gallery repertoire, prompted by the researches of Vic Gammon, Gordon Ashman, Dave Townsend and others. The West Gallery Music Association supports both research in, and performance of, this music.

External links

Roding Music - is Francis Roads' website of West Gallery church music. It is dedicated to encouraging choirs to sing music from this repertoire by offering free downloads and information about the genre.

West Gallery Music Association website - a great deal of useful information, with links to other sites dealing with this music.

Gordon Ashman, Introduction to West Gallery Music - online version of an article which first appeared in English Dance and Song, 56 (4), Winter 1994.

Vic Gammon, Problems in the Performance and Historiography of English Popular Church Music, Radical Musicology Volume 1 (2006)