Anthem

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An anthem is a piece of music written for a choir to sing at an Anglican church service. The difference between an anthem and a motet is that an anthem is sung in English. Also most anthems are accompanied by an organ.

The word “anthem” has come to mean “a song of celebration”. This is why we also talk about National Anthems.

Anthems for the church have been composed ever since King Henry VIII argued with the Pope and did not want to be Roman Catholic any more. He founded (started) the English Anglican church. Church composers were told to write music in English. The words usually come from the Bible. We know that as early as 1502 the composer Fayrfax was paid 20 shillings for composing an anthem. After the Reformation many anthems were composed. At first they were like motets, but in English. Soon the English anthem developed differently from the continental motet. Two kinds of anthem developed: the “Full Anthem” in which the whole anthem was sung by the full choir, and the “Verse Anthem” which was usually longer and had several verses which would be sung by soloists, with choruses for the full choir in between.

Almost every music director of cathedrals or large churches has written anthems. A few of the most famous composers of anthems are:

Thomas Tallis (1505-1585) William Byrd (1543-1623) Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625) Henry Purcell (1659-1695) George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) William Boyce (1710-1779) Samuel Sebastian Wesley (1810-1876) Edward Bairstow (1874-1946) William H.Harris (1883-1973) Herbert Howells (1892-1983) William Mathias (1934-1992) John Tavener (b.1944) John Rutter (b.1945)