The Music Page
The Saxons had a largely oral tradition so music generally was not written down, the only music from Saxon England which still survives and that can be deciphered is musical settings of Latin liturgical texts. Almost all this liturgical music is plainsong. Before the arrival of St Augustine Celtic chants would have been in use in Britain among Celtic Christians and those Saxons whom they converted. The Roman missionaries and their successors brought with them a knowledge of Roman liturgical and musical traditions, and these then gradually became established in England.
Plainsong was introduced by Aethelbert, King of Kent, just before the end of the sixth century. It was traditionally Pope Gregory the Great who gathered together the first collection of liturgical music, which thereafter became known as Gregorian Chants. It was St. Augustine, the first archbishop of Canterbury, who brought it from Rome and thus became the founder of English Church music.
Soon after the introduction of plainsong a form of notation was introduced known as Neumes. This took the form of a shorthand like notation above the text indicating a rise or fall of the music.
With the development of polyphony in the Middle Ages the chant continued to be sung and often to form the cantus firmus, the plainsong or ground of the polyphony.
Up to the tenth century, music was sung in unison. This was sometimes difficult to achieve when you had a group of singers some who naturally were bass or others who would normally sing soprano. Thus early harmony was achievd by those who were more comfortable at singing soprano would sing an octave higher than those singing bass. However, everyone sang the same tune.Soloists sang polyphony during parts of the Mass and Divine Office that normally would have been sung by soloists in plainchant.
The earliest polyphony singing originated in the 11th century, polyphony is defined as music in which separate voices sing together, not in unison or octaves. but as diverging parts. Early singers probably improvised polyphony long before it was first notated.
The Winchester Troper is the earliest known practical source but its voices are notated in unheighted neumes without staff lines, so that only pieces that also occur in later manuscripts can be reconstructed. It includes perhaps the oldest large collections of two-part music in Europe. It consists of two English manuscripts dated circa 1000. One can be found in Oxford, in the Bodleian Library (MS Bodley 775), the other in Corpus Christi, Cambridge (MS473), but were copied out at, and originally used at Winchester Cathedral.
John Dunstable (ca. 1390-1453) a leading English composer of the early fifteenth century Composed in all of the polyphonic genres of his time.
From about the 17th century to the middle of the 19th Century, in most country churches, the singing of services was accompanied by a band of musicians.
In the 1840's the Selsey Church band consisted of a flute, a piccolo, a bassoon and a serpent. In 1916 the piccolo and flute were presented to the Rector. They are now preserved in a glass case.
The harmonium used in the old Church was replace in 1866 by a small one-manual organ.
The organ that is in use today, was presented in 1912 by Edward Heron-Allen in memory of his father. It was built by J.W.Walker & Sons of London and is a two-manual tracker action instrument with nine speaking stops, four couplers, full pedal board and balanced swell.
Joseph William Walker founded his business in 1827, based initially in Soho. On his death in 1870, aged 68, his son James John took over the business single-handed until his sons joined him. Some of the instruments built and supplied by this firm include those at Bristol Cathedral (1907), St Margaret's Church, Westminster (1897), Romsey Abbey (1858), St Mary's Church, Portsea (1891), Harrow School Chapel (1921). Blackburn Cathedral (1967), Lancing College (1986 - using much pipework from the previous 1914 Walker organ), Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral (1967) and Bolton Town Hall (1982). J.W.Walker and Sons, Ltd., are still around today but are now based in Suffolk.
The Church bells were produced by Mears & Co. of London (now known as the Whitechapel Foundry). They consist of a Tenor a second tenor and a Treble. There were originally four bells but one of them was broken after the old bell tower fell down in the 17th century.
At 500 years old the Whitechapel Foundry is listed in the Guiness Book of records as the oldest company in the UK.