A movement initially more political than religious, the English Reformation came about through several acts of Parliament beginning in the 1530s, carefully guided by the wishes of Henry VIII (reigned 1509–1547). The new Church of England finally stabilized under Elizabeth I (reigned 1558–1603), having survived the violent efforts of her predecessor, “Bloody” Mary I (reigned 1553–1558), to reestablish the Catholic faith and Roman control in religious matters. The Act of Uniformity, passed in 1559, brought considerable clarity—and eventually stability—to the Church of England’s hierarchical structure and liturgical practice, among other things establishing the centrality of the Book of Common Prayer, which had first appeared in 1549. This in turn led to the first great flowering of sacred music in English, as composers responded to demands for new music to be sung at daily services: Morning Prayer (or Matins), Holy Communion, and Evening Prayer (or Evensong).
The term “service” quickly developed a dual meaning, referring to the services themselves as well as the musical compositions created to enhance them, somewhat parallel to the usage of “Mass,” though with one important distinction: composers often created musical sets for a full day of services—in other words, several musically interconnected movements (individually, settings of canticles or psalms) heard in their entirety only over the course of the morning, communion, and evening services, William Byrd’s “Great” Service being among the important early examples of this practice. By the late seventeenth century, the service repertory had expanded significantly (for example, John Blow alone produced ten services), and various practices for organizing the works of particular composers (use of identifying names such as “short” or “great”) generally gave way to identification by key, for instance Blow’s “Service in G” or simply (reflecting a somewhat later practice) “Blow in G.”
Henry Purcell’s contributions to the service repertory, while not nearly as extensive as those of his contemporary Blow, still position him as an important contributor to the genre, and they are brought together in the volume under review here, part of the new and improved Purcell Society Edition, which moved to Stainer & Bell in 2007, after more than a century’s association with Novello. Edited by veteran Purcell scholars Margaret Laurie and Bruce Wood, it replaces the 1923 edition by Alan Gray. As Laurie and Wood state in the preface, “Several new sources have come to light since then and all need reassessing. This is therefore an entirely new edition, based on a fresh examination of the material available” (p. ix). Two very different works form the core of the volume (though there are several others in the appendices): the Service in B-flat Major, a comprehensive set for all three services, which Purcell seems to have completed by about 1680, when he was about twenty-one years old; and the [End Page 300] Te Deum and Jubilate in D Major, a work from 1694 (the year before Purcell’s death), which in some ways surpasses the definition of service music given thus far—it was written for St. Cecilia’s Day that year, on 22 November (specifically for a Matins service preceding the secular celebrations), and the text is festively supported by a full string band and trumpets, “their very first appearance in English church music of any kind” (p. xv). Both works have deceptively complex source histories, and Laurie and Wood’s careful unraveling of these and their detailed reflections on the sources themselves have led them to produce thoughtful and impressive new editions of these well-known works, contributing to our understanding of Purcell’s creative process along the way.
As Laurie and Wood note, the Service in B-flat Major is “unusually comprehensive” (p...