From humble beginnings in the 1580s, the verse anthem (scored predominantly for solo voices with organ accompaniment) quickly became established as the pre-eminent genre in 17th century English church music. The use of solo voices in a liturgical context was not new: solo groupings had been used to great effect in the Eton choirbook (compiled c.1490-1504); and solo/chorus alternation was a central principal in the medieval antiphon. The organ had also been employed before: during the 16th century it provided discreet accompaniment and support for even the most complex vocal polyphony. The radical innovation lay in the freedom of the instrumental parts to operate independently of the singers, giving composers a vast array of new textures.Read more Thus, it provided a showcase for the talents of composers, organists and singers alike; and its development encapsulates the major advances in musical technique which saw Baroque styles of composition supplant the older Renaissance polyphony. The verse anthems roots lie in the 16th century consort song - a secular piece scored for solo voice (usually a treble) and four-part viol consort. In later examples the final lines of the text were often repeated, sung by all five performers. This pattern of a solo section followed by an affirmatory chorus became a standard feature of the verse anthem. When transferred into a liturgical context the chorus might consist of up to 30 singers, while an organ would replace the viol consort. Read less
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