• Tim Braithwaite

Charles Butler Complaining about the ‘Stentorian Vociferations’ of Choir Singers (1636)

‘First therefore let the whole choir endeavour to control their voices, so that the words may be clearly heard and understood by the congregation: so that, if not in art, at least in heart they may follow along [with the choir] in devotion. Too many cunning divisions, too much shaking and quavering of the notes, all harsh straining of the voices beyond their natural pitch, since they are odious and offensive to the ear; drown out the correct sound of the words, and thereby deprive the listeners of their sense and meaning. The rudeness and vanity of those stentorian vociferations, which are applied too much by some, therefore burdens the poet in the singers of [t]his age.’


‘First therefore let the whole Qire endevour so to moderate their Voices, that their woords may bee plainly heard and understood of the Congregation: so that, if not in Art, yet in Hart they may goe along with them in like devotion. Too much qeint Division, too much shaking and quavering of the Notes, all harsh straining of the Voices beyond their naturall pitch, as they ar odious and offensive to the ear; so dooe they droun the right sound of the woords, and thereby depreive the Hearers of the sens and meaning thereof. The rudenes and vaniti of those Stentorian Vociferations, by soom too much affected, the Poet thus taxeth in the Singers of his age.’


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*Notes*


Charles Butler, The Principles of Musik (London, 1636). My transcription and paraphrase for ease of use.


The image below is a painting attributed to the Master of the Countess of Warwick depicting an unidentified English family group making music c.1565.


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