18 Sept 2023

West gallery quires and a Thomas Hardy novel

These days we are wont to think of church organs as traditional and worship bands as new, but in England during the 19th century it was just the opposite. Throughout the 18th century and well into the 19th, rural parish churches had their own west gallery quires, groups of amateur musicians who led the singing. There was nothing refined or high brow about this music. It was often quite rough. Too rough for the partisans of the Oxford Movement who preferred gregorian chant and a higher aesthetic.

The transition from west gallery quires to the organ was captured by the English author Thomas Hardy in his second published novel, Under the Greenwood Tree: A Rural Painting of the Dutch School (1872). Nancy and I recently saw a cinematic version of this, and last week I read the novel itself. Hardy's preface focusses on this transition, leading the reader to think it will be the major theme of the book: