Module B3: Vernacular hymnody and metrical psalms (c.1500-present)

Course Summary

The singing of settings of metrical texts has been a part of Christian worship since at least the fourth century. Since the Reformation it has been a characteristic feature of Protestant vernacular worship and private devotion since the sixteenth century. This module addresses the background of Latin hymnody, vernacular sacred song, theology and hymnody, and musical practice in parish churches in Britain. The remaining study areas emphasise particular areas of the subject since the sixteenth century.

Learning Outcomes

At the end of the module you will have gained an awareness of the background of hymnody and studied three areas of the subject, gaining knowledge of repertory, textual and musical styles, and theological emphases.


This is a vast subject, and the level at which you enter it will depend on your background so far. The bibliography is based on recommendations made by Canon Alan Luff, and is ordered into sections. First, a general section which includes important historical overviews: these may not always be self-evident from the titles, for instance in the Historical Companion to Hymns Ancient & Modern has an excellent historical introduction. Erik Routley was one of the most prolific writers in English on hymnody, and his works cover the theological, historical and musical aspects. A gathering of his works may well be helpful. More recently J.R. Watson’s The English Hymn: A Critical and Historical Study, Oxford University Press, 1997, is a useful survey of the English hymn from the Reformation to the mid-twentieth century.

As in other modules reference works such as The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, The New Catholic Encyclopedia, and The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church can be very helpful for initial information and clarification. Julian's Dictionary of Hymnology is obviously a key reference work.

After the general section each of the following sections corresponds with the topics included in the study area. Inevitably some studies emphasise texts rather than music, and you will need to find your way around the subject. Much recent writing is found in journals, notably of the Bulletin of the Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland, and News of Hymnody.

Study areas

1 Background
1.1 Medieval Latin hymns and devotional songs
1.2 Medieval vernacular sacred songs
1.3 Theology and hymnody
1.4. Musical practice in parish churches c.1560-1850

For suggested reading, see the appropriate sections of the bibliography

Essay questions related to study area 1:

B3.1.1 Trace the early history of the hymn from the New Testament to the thirteenth century.
B3.1.2 To what extent is the Latin hymn a liturgical genre? Does its metrical and musical characteristics inevitably link it closely with Latin and vernacular song of the Middle Ages?
B3.1.3 Do you consider that the text of a hymn is essentially theology in verse?
B3.1.4 In what ways did hymnody (including metrical psalms) find a place in the musical practice of English parish churches between c.1560-1850.

2 The early repertories c.1500-1700

2.1 Metrical psalms in English: repertory, publications and usage
2.2 The metrical psalms of Sternhold and Hopkins, the Genevan Psalter, the Scottish Psalter, and Tate and Brady
2.3 Sacred songs and psalms for domestic use
2.4 Seventeenth-century hymn writers

For suggested reading, see the appropriate sections of the bibliography

Essay questions related to study area 2:

B3.2.1 Outline the history of the metrical psalm in England in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, with reference to repertory, publications and usage.
B3.2.2 Compare the texts and music of two or three metrical psalms found in the principal collections published in England in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
B3.2.3 Consider the place of metrical psalms and sacred songs in domestic music making in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in England.
B3.2.4 Apart from metrical psalms, what evidence is there of hymn writing in Britain in the seventeenth century?

3 English hymnody c.1700-1950: function, text and music

3.1 John and Charles Wesley
3.2 Non-conformist hymnody
3.3 Mission, evangelism and hymnody
3.4 Nineteenth-century Anglican hymn writers
3.5 Roman Catholic hymnody
3.6 Translation of Latin hymns into English
3.7 English hymn books from Hymns Ancient and Modern to Songs of Praise
3.8 English carols: rediscovery and re-invention

For suggested reading, see the appropriate sections of the bibliography

Essay questions related to study area 3:

B3.3.1 Assess the achievement of John and Charles Wesley as hymn writers in their own time.
B3.3.2 In what ways have John and Charles Wesley influenced the course of hymnody in the English language?
B3.3.3 Discuss the influence and/or contribution of one of the following to English hymnody before 1900: non-conformity; mission and evangelism; the Roman Catholic Church; new movements in the Anglican Church.
B3.3.4 Assess the achievement of any one hymn-writer in the period in relation to his/her contemporaries.
B3.3.5 In what ways did Latin hymnody influence English hymn writers and compilers of hymn books between 1800 and 1930?
B3.3.6 Compare the contents, nature, style and liturgical purposes of two of the following hymnals in editions published between 1850 and 1940: Hymns Ancient and Modern, The Yattendon Hymnal, The English Hymnal, Songs of Syon, Songs of Praise, The Methodist Hymn-Book, The Westminster Hymnal.

4 Psalmody in Scotland and hymnody in Wales

4.1 The early Scottish psalter (see also 2.2)
4.2 The writing and singing of metrical texts in Scotland up to the Church Hymnary
4.3 Welsh hymns and psalms before the eighteenth century
4.4 Hymn-texts of the eighteenth-century evangelical revival in Wales
4.5 Welsh hymn tunes
4.6 Welsh hymns of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries

For suggested reading, see the appropriate sections of the bibliography

Essay questions related to study area 4:

B3.4.1 Make a study of the early Scottish psalter and its relationship to other metrical psalters in Britain and Europe.
B3.4.2 Present a brief review of the writing and singing of metrical texts in Scotland up to The Church Hymnary.
B3.4.3 Make a study of Welsh hymnody in one of the following periods: before 1700, the eighteenth century, the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
B3.4.4 What musical features characterize Welsh hymn tunes, and how do they relate to the versification and content of the texts?
B3.4.5 Compare the style and contents of Scottish and Welsh hymnody, including metrical psalms.

5 Hymnody in other English-speaking countries and regions

This section offers those working outside Britain the opportunity to examine the roots, influences, and repertories of their own hymn traditions. Candidates should draft their own scheme of study using other sections as models, and seeking advice as necessary from a tutor and/or the Course Secretary.

Essay questions related to study area 5:

B3.5.1 Make a study of the hymnody of the region and/or denomination chosen and its relationship to British hymnody.
B3.5.2 Review the writing and singing of metrical texts in your chosen region and/or denomination.
B3.5.3 Make a study of the hymnody in your chosen region and/or denomination in one of the following periods: before 1700, the eighteenth century, the nineteenth century, the twentieth century.
B3.5.4 What musical features characterize hymn tunes in your chosen region and/or denomination, and how do they relate to the versification and content of the texts?
B3.5.5 Compare the style, contents and liturgical purposes of two significant hymnals from your region and/or denomination.

6 Hymnody since 1950

6.1 'Popular' styles in hymnody and their precursors (see 3.3)
6.2 Worship songs and traditional hymns
6.3 New hymn collections: styles and themes in texts and music
6.4 Congregational songs from outside the European tradition
6.5 Issues of style, language and copyright in contemporary hymnody

For suggested reading, see the appropriate sections of the bibliography

Essay questions related to study area 6:

B3.6.1 What has been achieved in hymnody since 1950?
B3.6.2 Where does the borderline lie between worship song and hymn?
B3.6.3 Are their new traits in the music of modern hymns, or has hymnody always borrowed from popular idioms?
B3.6.4 Consider the ways in which worship songs and hymnody are use in contemporary worship.
B3.6.5 To what extent has theology and prosody become subservient to idiom and popular appeal in contemporary hymns and worship songs?
B3.6.6 To what extent have British repertories of hymns and worship songs adopted items and idioms from abroad, and why?
B3.6.7 Consider the problems of gender and language in contemporary hymnody.
B3.6.8 Make a study of one of the following hymnals in relation to its predecessor: The New English Hymnal, Hymns Ancient and Modern New Standard, The New Church Hymnary.
B3.6.9 Compare the contents, nature, style and liturgical purposes of two of the following hymnals in editions published between 1850 and 1940: The Cambridge Hymnal, Hymns Ancient and Modern New Standard, The New English Hymnal, Hymns for Today’s Church, The New Catholic Hymnal, Hymns for Prayer and Praise.


You must study at least four of the areas listed above, including 1.

Although you may choose (or be directed by a supervisor in) your own pattern of study it must include those issues listed in the study areas above, and you are advised to take account of the recommended items listed above.

In undertaking the writing of essays you are advised to consult the guidance for presentation of written work in the general study notes.

Assessment and satisfactory completion

At the end of the module you must submit two essays, each of 3,750-4,000 words, for assessment. The subjects of the essays must be selected from topics set by the Academic Board at the beginning of the module. Each essay must relate to a different study area. A bibliography of materials consulted should be appended to the essay.

The assessment of the module will be based on the two essays. You should complete a module log listing materials used for the study, time spent in study, and noting any special factors or difficulties encountered. You may also be required to provide additional evidence of study undertaken in the two areas not covered by the two assessed essays. In each case this may consist either of notes made during study or an essay on a topic related to the area. The examiners will request these materials if they require them.

Two copies of all materials for assessment and establishment of satisfactory completion should be forwarded to the Course Secretary and postmarked not later than 31 January or 30 June in the appropriate study period.

Bibliography: Module B3

Out of Print; often in libraries and second-hand bookshops:

Dunstan The Use of Hymns (Kevin Mayhew 1990)

Lowther Clarke A Hundred years of Hymns A&M (Clowes 1960)

Manning The Hymns of Wesley and Watts (Epworth Press 1940)

Northcott Hymns in Christian Worship (Lutterworth Press 1964)

Patrick Four Centuries of Scottish Psalmody (OUP 1949)

Phillips CS Hymnody past and present (SPCK 1937)

Routley Hymns and Hyman Life (John Murray 1952)

Routley The Music of Christian Hymnody (Independent Press 1957)

Routley The English Carol (Herbert Jenkins 1958)

In print

Barnby In concert sing (Canterbury Press 1996)

Bradley Abide with me, The World of Victorian Hymns (SCM 1997)

Castle Sing a new song to the Lord (Darton, Longman and Todd 1994)

Luff Welsh Hymns and their Tunes (Hope Publishing/Stainer and Bell 1990)

Temperley relevant chapters in The Music of the English Parish Church (CUP 1979)

Watson The English Hymn (OUP 1997)

Study Guides (published by the Guild)

Luff The Hymns we sing, parts 1 and 2 (1995)

Luff Carols of the British Isles (1995)

Hymn Book Companions

(It is important to have the Companion for the book in use in your own church, or the companion most closely related to it, which will usually be that for an earlier edition, much of which survives in the most recent publication)

Frost Historical Companion to Hymns A&M Revised 1950 (Canterbury Press 1962)

Knight A Companion to Christian Hymns (Evangelical Movement of Wales 1993)

Martin The Baptist Hymn Book Companion (Psalms and Hymns Trust 1962, 1967)

Massey etc Companion to Rejoice and Sing (Canterbury Press 1999)

Milgate Songs of the People of God (Companion to With One Voice: Collins 1982)

Taylor CV Hymns for Today Discussed (Canterbury Press 1984)

Taylor G Companion to the Song Book of the Salvation Army (SA1989)

Watson etc Companion to Hymns and Psalms (Methodist Publishing House 1988)


The ‘Rejoice and Sing’ Enchiridion’ (available to purchasers of the Companion to Rejoice and Sing: contains additional material).

HymnQuest 2000 (a listing of the texts and tunes in current books in British Isles: over 12,000 full texts; tunes indexed by name and incipits, notated and audible)


There are a few bookshops that specialize in second-hand liturgical and worship material, including hymnology. They have catalogues and books can be ordered by phone (e.g. Philip Martin Music Books, Phone and Fax York 01904 636111