The (non-)use of 'Amen' at the end of hymns in 1899

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The (non-)use of 'Amen' at the end of hymns in 1899

Post by pga » Fri Apr 08, 2016 1:39 pm

The background to my question is my current research into early sound recordings made by the Gramophone Company in a studio in Maiden Lane, London (near the Strand), during their very first years (1898-1902). The particular recordings I consider here are a handful of hymns recorded in February 1899 by a small choir (one voice to a part, it seems). Based on the five that I have heard, I have determined that they are all in Hymns Ancient & Modern and that they are sung in the keys given there.

But in no case does the choir sing 'Amen' at the end! I have understood that this practice arose in (at least) the Anglican church in mid-19C, based on some perhaps unfounded imitation of RC practice (where some ancient Latin hymns did have 'Amen' at the end). Indeed the old A&M collection tags 'Amen' onto absolutely everything, as far as I can see. Conversely, I have also assumed that it has not been the practice in the RC church; indeed I recall noticing many years ago the Anglican practice being in that way different.

So, my interim hypothesis is that the 1899 choir is probably not Anglican, but an RC choir. That would fit very nicely with the presence of the RC Corpus Christi church just along the road in Maiden Lane, a most obvious and convenient source of choir-singers for the occasion.

Is anyone able to confirm that this is a reasonable (and historically valid) conclusion? I have been unable to find anything online that clearly explains the historical situation, and most references to the 'Amen' idea seem to be from people commenting on its decline in usage in recent years.

I should be very grateful for an opinion on this, or for any further leads that would help.

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Re: The (non-)use of 'Amen' at the end of hymns in 1899

Post by alan29 » Fri Apr 08, 2016 3:03 pm

I would be surprised if a RC choir would have sung hymns that were only in Hymns Ancient and Modern in those times.
It isn't something that would have been either encouraged or familiar.

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Re: The (non-)use of 'Amen' at the end of hymns in 1899

Post by Southern Comfort » Sun Apr 10, 2016 1:34 pm

Generally speaking, RC popular and devotional vernacular hymns did not incorporate a final Amen. However, all hymns in the Latin Divine Office have always ended with Amen.

Anglican usage has varied. Despite the inclusion of Amens at the end of every hymn in A&M (which I do not think was influenced in the slightest by RC practice), in fact many churches using A&M in the past have simply ignored those Amens and not sung them. Amens would have been much more likely to be sung by users of the English Hymnal, at least for Office hymns. (I am talking in general terms, and realise that the EH was not published until quite some time after the date of pga's recordings.)

In other words, I don't think the denomination of the singers on the recordings can be determined by the presence or absence of Amens at the end of the hymns. pga's hypothesis remains unproven.

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Re: The (non-)use of 'Amen' at the end of hymns in 1899

Post by pga » Mon May 02, 2016 9:19 am

Thanks for your responses to my question, which tend to agree with what others have tentatively suggested.

In summary:
  • the extent of Anglican practice of singing ‘Amen’ in 1899 has not been established (its indication with every hymn may or may not have then been considered optional)
  • only one of the hymns is also in the RC Westminster hymnal (1912)
  • RC choirs may then not have been encouraged (or even allowed) to sing Anglican-only hymns
  • RC choirs would anyway not be familiar with the Anglican-only hymns (or indeed Hymns Ancient & Modern)
  • on the other hand, this very lack of familiarity might have led to a RC choir not singing an expected ‘Amen’ at the end
While the lack of ‘Amen’ does seem rather suggestive, it cannot apparently be used to distinguish firmly the denomination of the choir, as the expectation of an Anglican choir of the time is not clear. The close proximity of a RC church to the recording studio, while suggestive, is no proof that advantage was taken of it. The likely disapproval (or outright prohibition) of a RC choir singing Anglican-only hymns may hold sway.

However, we know nothing else at all of the particular circumstances of the situation: for instance, as to whether the nearby RC church offered the services of their choir to the Gramophone Company in return for a contribution towards the considerable cost of their (still new) building.

The question must therefore remain unresolved.

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