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O Sing unto the Lord

A History of English Church Music

With a New Preface
For as long as people have worshipped together, music has played a key role in church life. With O Sing unto the Lord, Andrew Gant offers a fascinating history of English church music, from the Latin chant of late antiquity to the great proliferation of styles seen in contemporary repertoires.

The ornate complexity of pre-Reformation Catholic liturgies revealed the exclusive nature of this form of worship. By contrast, simple English psalms, set to well-known folk songs, summed up the aims of the Reformation with its music for everyone. The Enlightenment brought hymns, the Methodists and Victorians a new delight in the beauty and emotion of worship. Today, church music mirrors our multifaceted worldview, embracing the sounds of pop and jazz along with the more traditional music of choir and organ. And reflecting its truly global reach, the influence of English church music can be found in everything from masses sung in Korean to American Sacred Harp singing.

From medieval chorales to “Amazing Grace,” West Gallery music to Christmas carols, English church music has broken through the boundaries of time, place, and denomination to remain familiar and cherished everywhere. Expansive and sure to appeal to all music lovers, O Sing unto the Lord is the biography of a tradition, a book about people, and a celebration of one of the most important sides to our cultural heritage.

464 pages | 12 color plates, 16 halftones, 26 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2017

History: British and Irish History, European History

Music: General Music

Religion: Christianity, Religion and Society


"The whole time I was reading O Sing Unto the Lord, I was making copious notes to go and rediscover some forgotten anthem. Time after time, passing references to pieces I’ve sung and loved brought me sharp pangs of nostalgia, followed by a sense of gratitude that this tradition has been such an important part of my musical world."

Nico Muhly, New York Times

"Gant’s approach to church history via music works. With hindsight, it becomes easy to see how developments in monastic plainsong gave way to the spark of the Reformation, or to imagine how adding flourishes to cathedral choirs led to further exploration in religious art. The beauty of relating Christian history this way is that it broadens the focus to include the listening laity, not just the clergy or the church establishment."

Foreword Reviews

"What, fundamentally, is the function of church music, and why have clerical authorities often been suspicious of how much attention music receives? Gant engages these questions in intelligent, energetic prose....Because he focuses on representative composers and works, Gant’s work feels more intimate than broad. It’s a book about people and the songs that many of us don’t even know that we know."

Publishers Weekly

“The book’s 400 pages should not deter readers: this is one of the wittiest and most whimsically irreverent works of scholarship in recent memory. . . . Sitting down with this book feels less like reading a monograph than like encountering a friendly fellow in a pub. . . . Gant’s lively history will help keep the tradition alive.”

Christian Century

“Gant’s book is particularly fascinating for a former suburban choirboy like myself because it explains a lot of things that at the time seemed either rather mysterious or just to be taken for granted. . . . Reading O Sing unto the Lord set me thinking about the hymns I love—these tunes that according to Gant ‘did for the English what opera did for the Italians.’”

New York Review of Books

"There are other histories of English church music but few, if any, were written with the insight, depth, and humor of this one. . . . This is a very informative and engaging work. Gant clearly knows his subject and is very comfortable discussing it. He humanizes the giants of English church music with interesting stories about their personal lives without sacrificing their musical genius. He presents this history as someone who sees both sides of the story clearly—the parts that are less than ideal as well as those worth celebrating—and loves it for both."

Nancy Saultz Radloff | Anglican and Episcopal History

Table of Contents

Preface to the American Edition

1 In the Beginning
2 Music for a New Millennium
3 The Fifteenth Century: Possibilities and Promise
4 Keeping Your Head: The Approach of the Reformation, 1509–1547
5 The Children of Henry VIII: Reformation and Counter-Reformation, 1547–1558
6 Church Music and Society in Elizabeth’s England, 1558–1603
7 Plots, Scots, Politics and the Beauty of Holiness, 1603–1645
8 Interregnum, 1644–1660
9 Restoration, 1660–1714
10 The Enlightenment, 1712–1760
11 West Galleries and Wesleys, Methodists and Mendelssohn, 1760–1850
12 Renewal, 1837–1901
13 Composers from S. S. Wesley to Elgar, 1830–1934
14 The Splintering of the Tradition, 1914–2015

Further investigations
Illustration credits

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