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William Knapp's Anthems for Christmas-Day

William Knapp published three printed collections:

  • A Sett of New Psalm-Tunes (London 1738)

  • Anthems for Christmas-Day (London 1744)

  • New Church Melody (London 1753)

The first of these ran to eight editions, until 1770, and the third to five, until 1765. There was however only a single edition of the second publication, and no copy appears to be available in any British library. I have made editions of the nine pieces in this collection, in two forms. Those listed below are as close to the original as may conveniently be edited with modern software. There are also performing editions listed as RM315-317 and RM333-338 in the numerical list.

The editions are based on electronic images of the pages of Anthems for Christmas Day kindly supplied by The Boston Athenaeum Library. The images are copyright, and may not be reproduced, so these editions follow them as closely as may conveniently be done with modern editing software (Sibelius 6). Apparent errors in text or music are left unaltered and uncommented.

The differences from the images are as follows:

  • Pagination: No attempt is made to follow the line breaks of the original text. On the music pages original system breaks and pagination are ignored. Original page numbers are indicated thus: {1}. Catchwords routinely printed at the foot of 18th century pages are omitted.

  • Fonts: Capitalisation and italics are as the original. The attempts to follow the printerís changes of font size are approximate. In the music pages where the printer has printed characters in small upper case, (often in titles) lower case is used here.

  • Slurs: As is common with typeset music, slurs are indicated with some vagueness. The slurs here are editorial estimates of the intention of the original.

  • Bar numbers are added to #1, as reference is made to these in the following text.

  • Copyright disclaimer: A Creative Commons notice appears on each score.

# gives editorially assigned numbers for identification. Numbers under P are page numbers. The title is the first phrase of the text, with Knapp's own title following.

Click on "Title pages, foreword and advertisement" to access a .doc file of all the non-music pages, and click on the title of #1-9 to view and hear the music from a Sibelius Scorch file. If you are new to Sibelius Scorch or have any trouble with these files please look at the relevant page of Questions and Answers for more information.

#Title P
0Title pages, foreword and advertisement1-4, 32
1Behold, I bring you glad tidings An Anthem for Christmas Day. Luke II.5-14
2What words! what voices can we bring? An Hymn for Christmas Day.15-17
3Hark! hear you not a chearful noise An Hymn for Christmas Day.18-19
4A Virgin most pure, the prophet foretold. A Christmas Carrol.20-21
5Hosanna to the highest. Joy betide A Carrol22-23
6Rejoyce, ye mortals all, rejoyce. A Christmas Hymn.24-26
7Holy, holy, holy Lord God A Hymn to be sung between the Epistle and the Gospel27-28
8Immortal babe, who on this day An Hymn for Christmas Day.28-30
9Hark, what news the angels bring A Christmas Hymn.30-31

These pieces comprise one anthem (despite Knapp's title); seven pieces which may reasonably described as Chistmas carols, though some are described by Knapp as hymns; and one liturgical setting whose text appears to have no Christmas connection.

#1 is the only piece describable as an anthem in modern terminology. It is typical of Knapp's idiom but has some unusual features. The doubling of soprano and tenor in octaves in bars 19-22, and again when this section is repeated (bars 35-38), is uncharacteristic of Knapp and indeed of music of this genre and period. The Hallelujahs are not by Knapp. They originate attached to A Christmas Hymn, first published in Benjamin Smith's The Harmonious Companion (London 1732). They are soprano led, unlike the body of the anthem which is tenor led in Knapp's usual style. In bars 80-82 the soprano and tenor are once again doubled in octaves. This alteration could have been made because in the earlier version the tenor part here lies rather high, starting with three top g's.

#2-6 and #8-9 may reasonably be descibed as carols. There seems little difference in idiom between those which Knapp entitles "hymns" and "carrols"; his nomenclature in this respect seems almost capricious. In Temperley's Hymn Tune Index (Oxford 1998) #4 is given tune# 1681a and ascribed to Knapp. In view of the many variants of this carol which have come down to us in the folk repertoire, it may be that this carol is Knapp's harmonisation of a pre-existing tune, rather than his own composition.

An unusual feature of these carols is that no fewer than four (#4, 5, 6, and 9) are in three parts, with part allocation unspecified, but presumably SAB. Almost all the remainder of Knapp's output is in four parts, tenor led.

#7 is apparently a liturgical setting, whose text has no allusion to Christmas. It is presumably intended for a service of Holy Communion celebrated on Christmas Day. The Book of Common Prayer does not mention any hymn to take place between the Epistle and the Gospel. The text "Holy, holy, holy", followed by text different from Knapp's, occurs later in the Communion liturgy. It is as if Knapp needed extra material to fill the 32 pages of his compilation.

There are several instances of questionable harmony in these pieces, and it is hard to know whether they represent the composer's intention, or errors introduced either at the copying or printing stage. They seem to be considerably more frequent than comparable doubtful passages is Knapp's other compilations. An example of a clear copying or printing error occurs in #1 bar 50 note 7, in the bass solo passage. This f# is clearly intended to be a g, and is so altered in the performing edition. Similar alterations based on clear errors in the performing editions are all noted.

The question is moot as to why this compilation was not reprinted, unlike Knapp's other two compilations which ran to many editions. It has many fewer pieces than the others, and is not for general use, but intended only for Christmas. And as mentioned, there are some doubtful passages. The reader will no doubt form her or his own conclusion.