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Objections to Fuguing Tunes

Fuguing tunes often received criticism, such as that from J. I. Cobbin in 1830:

"He [the writer] feels satisfied that those catching passages, generally miscalled fugues, and those repeating divisions of lines which so often perplex both clerk and people, and convert the most devotional sentiments into absolute nonsense, are totally unfit to be employed in congregational services; but he must express the regret which he feels, in common with many other lovers of devotional harmony, that this style should ever have found its way into the psalmody of our congregations."

Fuguing tunes were often criticised throughout the West Gallery period. For example, an anonymous compiler writes as early as c1780:

"There is no Part of the Service of the Church of England, into which such Abuses have crept, as are found in the Method of singing Psalms in Country Congregations ...[in the present collection] the tunes are plain and easy ...all fugues are excluded from the collection, as being too difficult the generality of persons."

Fuguing tunes - where voices often entered a bar or two after each other - inevitably resulted in vocal parts singing different words at the same time, a popular feature of country church music as well as classical choral music. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, wrote in his journal:

1764 "I heard 'Judith', an Oratorio, performed at the Lock. Some parts of it were exceeding fine. But there are two things in all modern music, which I could never reconcile to common sense; one is, singing the same words 10 times over; the other, singing different words by different persons at one and the same time; and this in the most solemn addresses to God, whether by way of prayer or of thanksgiving. This can never be defended, by all the musicians in Europe, till reason is quite out of date."

1768 "When we came to Neath, I was a little surprised to hear I was to preach in the church; of which the churchwardens had the disposal, the Minister being just dead. I began reading prayers at six, but was greatly disgusted by the manner of the singing; 1. Twelve or 14 persons kept it to themselves, and quite shut out the congregation; 2. These repeated the same words, contrary to all sense and reason, 6, 8, or 10 times over; 3. According to the shocking custom of modern music, different persons sung different words at one and the same moment; an intolerable insult on common sense, and utterly incompatible with any devotion."

1781 " I came just in time to Warrington to put a stop to a bad custom which was creeping in here. A few men who had fine voices sang a psalm which no one knew, in a tune fit for an opera, wherein three, four, or five persons sang different words at the same time! What an insult upon common sense! No custom can excuse such a mixture of profaneness and absurdity."


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