30 APRIL 1954, Page 9

Tower Music

13Y STEPHEN TOULMIN URING the War people became accustomed to going to concerts, not in halls, but in churches and cathe- drals. Driven on to extended tour, the metropolitan orchestras found places to play where they could, and in many towns and cities where no large hall was to be hired, the Church, tbuurndining sagaoi nt hteo vai shitainfg- fopgaoytteerns . side t othf e itrse -mwaorrka, glee ntw iatss rarely thought of as lasting, and the offspring suffered as a result : neither side changed its habits enough for the reunion to be satisfactory. The musicians were grateful for the hospi- tality, but thought the Gothic chancel a second-best. If the standard repertory sounded incongruous against the new back- ground, and any movement faster than allegretto was blurred out of all meaning, that could not be helped; in wartime people were glad enough of their Haydn and Tchaikowsky, in how- ever garbled a form. The Church, on its side, felt that the occasion should be given a liturgical twist, but hardly rose to the opportunity. The usual contribution was' a couple of apologetic prayers planted, like flags, at either end of the Performance. Had Chapters and programme-planners, impre- sarios and deans worked together with more imagination, the results might have been striking—a new blend of words and Music in which the barriers between sacred and secular, clergy had been would have been forgotten. And who knows, if this had been done, we might have been re-introduced to tower Music long before now. _.,, To most people the phrase `tower music' will mean little. ,,I.,.he Oxford Companion contains no article on the subject. ,,t et, according to the London Philharmonic Orchestra's journal, many pieces were written under this title by eminent musicians of f the seventeenth century to be played by brass instruments er°°1 the tops of church towers at times of feasting and to And tower music, we are told, is part of the answer to the liturgical problem. The LPQ, trying to preserve the war-time connection with the Church, is planning to play in parish churches throughout England. But some better com- promise is needed, they see, than the plain ' concert in a rch.) In particular, an orchestral overture sounds quite in- ,, eVuective after an opening prayer : " It tends," as they put it, to take the audience by the scruff of the neck and drop it neatly into a pool of frustrating silence." Here is one place for ter music. ' We are posting our trumpets and trombones ii a_ the belfry, where it has access to the inside of the church, r that the sound of the brass may come floating down pianis- simo over the congregation as the priest's voice ceases." The effects sound thrilling even in description : how far it succeeds, ,bt'Yalle in Thaxted and Abingdon, Dedham and Ashford will y „now have had the chance to judge. kl2till. this was not the original purpose of tower music. i:u.r is the form entirely in need of revival. Here in England, " Is true, there can be few plabes where it lives on at all vigorously. The May-day sunrise service on Magdalen Tower at Oxford is one of the few survivals, but even that has become almost as self-consciously archaic as the tennis-flannelled morris-men who dance up the High when the music is over. In Germany, however, tower. music is still very much alive, as I discovered last summer during a visit to the Black Forest.

As I was parking the car in the square of Freudenstadt, the thing happened. Not a jangling peal of bells, not a hoarse muezzin or the electrically-amplified call to prayer which resounds from the loudspeakers of modern Baghdad : instead, a rich and bright, but solemn music floating some- where above our heads. Nobody else seemed surprised. The townspeople in their subfusc continued to walk slowly through the sunshine towards the church : the tourists in shorts and cotton frocks continued to stay away. Hardly anyone seemed to find anything to wonder at in this music out of the sky.

I soon spotted the players, of course, a cluster of moving heads and glinting brass over the stone parapet of the clock- tower, the whole picture framed by a sky of scintillating blue. But as I stood and gazed, and the clock moved slowly on towards its goal of half-past nine, the wonder remained. It was not so much wonder that they should have thought of calling the congregation together in this way : it was more that anyone could ever have been so misguided as to give the practice up. Nothing, I felt, would have a better chance of turning me into a more-than-occasional churchgoer than these Lutheran hymns, calling down from the church tower to the people in the square. No bells, no priest, no loudspeakers could compete against the warm euphony of this consort of brass.

Later on I saw the players at closer quarters, for they came down into the church to accompany the service : none of your piercing comets, but half-a-dozen real trumpets, a couple of horns and trombones, and a tuba. They sat under the pulpit and played, while the congregation sang Jesu meine Freude and other long-familiar chorales, 'such as their ancestors had gone into exile from Salzburg rather than renounce. And, after standing for prayers, we all sat while the pastor read a letter from the bishop reminding his flock that, only a few miles away to the east, religious persecution was still a thing of the present. As I wandered round the town after the service, I passed some of the players coming away from church. Seen on the tower, against the bluest of summer skies, they had about them something of the sublimity of the music. they played, but this was the usual illusion : now, walking home with their instruments under their arms, they turned out to be like you or me—or the members of any of the amateur orchestras or brass bands up and down the country. So, ever since that day, I have been hoping that I had not heard the last of tower music. As a beginning, it is good news that the LPO has found a use for it, eveh though a rather specialised one. But I hope for more. As we sit at home each Wednesday evening, and the BBC symphony concert struggles for a hearing against the sounds of bell-practice' in our parish church, I like to dream of something better : of the day when the village bands of England will climb the towers of their churches and play us in with hymns. Oh noisy bells, be dumb I