The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







For the novel by Ayn Rand, see Anthem (novel).

An anthem is a choral composition to an English religious text sung in church services. The term has evolved to mean a song of celebration, usually acting as a symbol for a certain group of people, as in the term "national anthem". See below for other uses.


The word "anthem" is derived from (and was formerly synonymous with) "antiphon." The anthem developed in the Church of England as a replacement for the Catholic "votive antiphon" commonly sung as an appendix to the main office to the Blessed Virgin Mary or other saints. Though anthems were written in the Elizabethan period by Byrd, Tallis and others they are not mentioned in the Book of Common Prayer until 1666, when the famous rubric In quires and places where they sing here followeth the Anthem first appears at the end of Morning and Evening Prayer.

Early anthems tend to be simple and homophonic in texture, in order that the words could be clearly heard. Late in the 16th century the "verse anthem," in which passages for solo voices alternated with passages for full choir, began to evolve. This became the dominant form in the Restoration period, when composers such as Henry Purcell and John Blow wrote elaborate examples for the Chapel Royal with orchestral accompaniment. In the 19th century Samuel Sebastian Wesley wrote anthems influenced by contemporary oratorio which could stretch to several movements and last twenty minutes or longer. Later in the same century Charles Villiers Stanford composed examples which used symphonic techniques to produce a more concise and unified structure. Many anthems have been produced on this model since his time, generally by organists rather than professional composers and often in a conservative style. Major composers have tended to compose anthems only in response to commissions and for special occasions; examples include Edward Elgar's Great is the Lord and Give unto the Lord (both with orchestral accompaniment), Benjamin Britten's Rejoice in the Lamb (a modern example of a multi-movement anthem and today heard mainly as a concert piece) and (on a much smaller scale) Ralph Vaughan Williams' O taste and see, written for the coronation of Elizabeth II. With the relaxation of the rule, in England at least, that anthems should be only in English, the repertoire has been greatly enhanced by the addition of many works from the Latin repertory.


Peter Le Huray "Anthem" in Stanley Sadie, ed. The New Grove dictionary of music and musicians (London: Macmillan, 1980) ISBN 0333231112

See also

The following is a list of articles on other anthems:

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