See M. B. Foster, Anthems and Anthem Composers (1901, repr. 1970); W. L. Reed and M. J. Bristow, ed., National Anthems of the World (1988).
Choral composition with English words used in church services. It developed in the mid-16th century as the Anglican version of the Catholic Latin motet. The full anthem is for unaccompanied chorus throughout; the verse anthem employs one or more soloists and, generally, instrumental accompaniment. Both types often employ antiphonal singing, the alternation of two half-choirs (anthem derives from antiphon). William Byrd, Thomas Tallis, Henry Purcell, and George Frideric Handel wrote well-known anthems.
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The term anthem means either a specific form of Anglican church music (in music theory and religious contexts), or more generally, a song (or composition) of celebration, usually acting as a symbol for a distinct group of people, as in the term "national anthem" or "sports anthem".
An anthem is a form of church music, particularly in the service of the Church of England, in which it is appointed by the rubrics to follow the third collect at both morning and evening prayer. Several anthems are included in the British coronation service. The words are selected from Holy Scripture or in some cases from the Liturgy, and the music is generally more elaborate and varied than that of psalm or hymn tunes. Though the anthem of the Church of England is analogous to the motet of the Roman Catholic and Lutheran Churches, both being written for a trained choir and not for the congregation, it is as a musical form essentially English in its origin and development.
The anthem developed 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 1662, when the famous rubric "In quires and places where they sing here followeth the Anthem" first appears.
In common usage among many Protestant churches, an "anthem" often refers to any short sacred choral work presented during the course of a worship service. In an the context of an Anglican service, an "anthem" is a composition to an English religious text. From this widening usage has come the more modern sense of the word.
Early anthems tended to be simple and homophonic in texture, in order that the words could be clearly heard. Late in the sixteenth 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 nineteenth 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 Queen 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.
The word "anthem" is commonly usued to describe a celebratory song or composition for a distinct group, as in the term "national anthem". Many pop songs are used as anthems, such as Queen's "We are the Champions", which is commonly used as a sports anthem. Fleetwood Mac's "Tusk" was written with a sports arena in mind. The term "anthemic" is a modern word coined to describe music with an emotive connotation to it.