Page 4 - Stainer Crucifixion
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During the 1860s and 1870s, Tractarianism was at last making headway in cathedral worship, beyond the confines of innovative parish churches. This term, derived from a series of ‘Tracts for the Times’, theological publications of varying lengths issued between 1833 and 1841 by members of the Oxford Movement (most prominently among them John Henry Newman, John Keble and Edward Bouverie Pusey), referred to a renewal within the Church of England for catholic practices and ritual. This inaugurated a re-examination and reform of church authority, doctrine, sanctity and worship, and it also initiated a new zeal for liturgical order. This, perhaps inevitably, had significant consequences for musical practice and repertoire. Stainer, one of the major musical architects of this reform within the cauldron of Oxford between 1860 and 1872 – which he had experienced first-hand as organist of Magdalen College – helped to spearhead even greater change after his appointment at St Paul’s Cathedral in 1872.
Among the debates about expanding and enriching the role of music, at this time, was one concerning the singing of oratorios and cantatas in sacred buildings. The Episcopacy grappled with the idea, wondering whether ‘performances’ of music in church detracted from worship. Some, such as the Dean of Worcester, could not countenance the idea at all, and forbade performances of sacred works with orchestra in Worcester Cathedral during the Three Choirs Festival in that city in 1875, at the same time seriously undermining the spirit of the festival. This was an extreme case which was soon counteracted by the subsequent festivals in Hereford and Gloucester in 1876 and 1877, but it nevertheless highlighted the nature of the discourse in the Anglican Church at the time. Sir George Macfarren made the case in favour in a series of articles in the Musical Times, while Joseph Barnby – probably one of the most forthright proponents of Tractarian musical practice – introduced orchestras to worship at his church at St Andrew’s, Wells Street in the early 1870s. Supported by Benjamin Webb, its Tractarian rector, St Andrew’s witnessed liturgical performances of Roman Catholic masses, including those of Gounod. After Barnby moved to St Anne’s, Soho, in 1871, he introduced liturgical performances of Bach’s St Matthew Passion and St John Passion to the services of Passion week. Soon afterwards, Barnby introduced the same experiment to Westminster Abbey on the Tuesday of Holy Week (26 March 1872). The organist on this occasion was no other than John Stainer who, the day before, on 25 March 1872, had begun his appointment as organist at St Paul’s Cathedral. Stainer was undoubtedly deeply impressed by the impact of this musical contribution to worship and soon introduced it to St Paul’s in Holy Week of 1873 with a liturgical performance of the St Matthew Passion. So popular was this event, with a congregation of thousands, many of whom had to be turned away, that it became an annual event and a major attraction for the people of London. Orchestral services in St Paul’s soon became an accepted part of worship and the triumvirate of Henry Parry Liddon, Robert Gregory and the Dean, Richard William Church (all three strong proponents of the Oxford Movement), steadfastly supported this innovation as part of the liturgical reform that characterised the transformation of worship at St Paul’s.

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