The Book of Common Prayer
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    The Book of Common Prayer Noted (1550)


The Book of Common Prayer put to music

Title page from the Book of Common Prayer NotedWhen the first Book of Common Prayer was published, in 1549, a need was felt for service music similar to that which had been used for the old Latin rites. So Archbishop Cranmer engaged one John Merbecke to provide such a collection of service music "containing so much of the Order of Common Prayer as is to be sung in Churches". Cranmer desired a simpler form of service music than was then current, urging Merbecke to have "for every syllable a note." One may see the much more complex music often used then from a reproduction of a page of a Sarum Processional, below.

The Book of Common Prayer Noted (by now you should understand that "Noted" means "with musical notes" and not "annotated") was published in 1550, and so only saw use for two years until the Second Book of Edward VI, in 1552. This, and the reign of the Catholic Queen Mary which quickly followed, meant the end of its practical life. And, when Queen Elizabeth took the throne in 1558, bringing back the English liturgy, Protestant sympathies were prominent enough that service music itself fell into disfavor. Thus, Merbecke's book had no successor, and was essentially forgotten until the Oxford Movement rediscovered it in the mid-1800's. In fact, hardly more than a dozen copies currently exist.
    Today, many of Merbecke's settings are instantly familiar to those who have grown up in the Anglican Communion, and still appear in current hymnals, including the Episcopal Church's 1982 and 1940 Hymnals.

The Book of Common Prayer Noted, because it contained musical notation, was printed in two passes: one for the staves (the rules on which the notes lie, printed in red), and another for the notes and text (in black). One shouldn't be surprised to find that the alignment of these two passes was not always identical. This means that different copies may seem to call for different notes, because the registration of the notes with the staves is not quite the same. This is illustrated in the comparison below, showing identical pages from two different copies.


Page from a copy at the British Museum
Page from a copy at Marsh's Library, Dublin

Because this is a book made up of musical notation (and particularly because it is old musical notation), it isn't really possible to reproduce the pages for the Web in the conventional way. Therefore, the text is presented here as a series of graphical images, one per page. Since these images are typically about 15K in size, no more than 5 or 6 text pages are grouped together on one web page, so as to make the downloading more tolerable. The this portion of the book is also available as a single PDF file (size = 2.3MB).

The original text appears in David Griffiths' Bibliography of the Book of Common Prayer as 1550/1, which is available online from the Rare Book Room. Another copy of the original, from the Benton Collection at the Boston Public Library, is available from the Internet Archive.

The text used here is taken from a facsimile edition published by the SPCK in 1939 (Griffiths 1939/2). The facsimile pages in this edition are from high-contrast black-and-white photographs. This makes the text easier to read, but one does lose the color in the original and, somewhat, the "feel" of an old book.

We also have this entire book, which additionally includes an extensive introduction, along with the musical portions of the 1544 Litany available as PDF graphics (size=11.4MB). There is extractable text, but this text has not been proofread and undoubtedly contains errors.

Another facsimile, this one in color, was published by Pickering in 1844 (Griffiths 1844/33), and is available as PDF graphics from Google Books and also from the Internet Archive. Additionally, the Internet Archive has another reprint edited by Edward Rimbault, in both 1845 (Griffiths 1845/25) and 1871 (Griffiths 1871/12) editions.





Quinqunque vult


In this booke is conteyned so muche of the Order of Common prayer as is to be song in Churches: wherein are used only these iiii. sortes of notes,
The first note is a strene note and is a breve. The second a square note, and is a semy breve. The iii. a pycke and is a mynymme. And when there is a prycke by the square note, that prycke is halfe as much as the note that goeth before it. The iiii. is a close, and is only used at ye end of a verse.

Page from a Sarum Processional for Easter, printed in Paris in 1530, showing the type of music common to the Latin Mass of the time.

Web author: Charles Wohlers U. S. EnglandScotlandIrelandWalesCanadaWorld