Instrumental Church music

The Commonwealth had forbidden the use of instrumental music in church services, and many organs were destroyed. After the Restoration, organs and other instruments (strings, keyboard, even serpents and trumpets) were gradually re-introduced into worship.

English organ music was relatively insular, partly because of the nature of the instrument. Pedal-boards were introduced only towards the end of the eighteenth century, for instance.

The only form of solo organ music was the voluntary, that was normally played, in an improvisatory style, either at the beginning or at the end of the church service, or in the middle, between the psalm and the first lesson.

Otherwise, instrumental music was used as an accompaniment to anthems, or to psalms and hymns that were often lined out.


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John Stanley

John Stanley (1712-1786), who had been accidentally blinded at the age of two, was a highly skilled organist whose works are among the best English compositions for the organ in eighteenth-century England. People thronged to listen to the voluntaries that he played at the end of church services. They often consisted in a sequence of separate movements, like the Diapason Movement, typically composed for manuals only, since many English organs, unlike their Continental counterparts, still had no pedal-boards. The diapason stops typically produce the organ’s characteristic tone.

Stanley also composed chamber music, music for the theatre and concertos, in a style that is typical of the transition between late baroque aesthetics and early preclassical forms. His oratorios closely followed the patterns designed by Handel, whose works he had often conducted.

Stanley: Diapason movement
In First Voluntary, Op 5, 1748, private recording by Pierre Dubois