chapter  VII
14 Pages

THE ENGLISH POLYPHONIC SCHOOL

ENOUGH has already been said in prececling chapters to show the utter inadequacy and falsity of the narrow code of resthetic values which seeks to postulate one single standard of beauty to which all composers must conform, in accordance with which the so-called Palestrina style has been set up as the ideal polyphonic style and all other music adjudged good or bad in so far as it approached to or receded from it-the great Flemish masters hastily brushed aside as mere forerunners sent to prepare the way,Victoria and Lassus patronizingly commended as worthy imitators, the Venetians reproached and ignored for having gone in an entirely different direction. Similarly it is this narrow and bigoted conception that is mainly responsible for the indifference and neglect with which the English polyphonic school has had to contend up till the present century. Fortunately, so far as this country is concerned at least, this prej udice has been largely overcome, and the great masters of the Tudor and Stuart ageR are at last beginning to receive the attention and appreciation that t,hey deserve. Unfortunately, however, as in all such cases of neglect followed by rediscovery, there has been a tendency to go to the opposite extreme"and to allow extravagant and excessive praise to take the place of the former under-estimation. This is in every way as great a fault and must be carefully guarded against, for it inevitably tends to engender an attitude of scepticism and suspicion in the minds of those who are not themselves acquainterl with the music in question. For example, when Mr. Davey, in his" History of English Music,", remarks airily, en passant, that in the middle of the sixteenth century " Palestrina and Lassus were still groping their way through foggy obscurities to the serene light of the clear style already attained in England"; and when Dr. Eaglefield Hull, in his " Music; Olassical, Romantic and Modern", observes that " if all the works of Palestrina had been lost and those of Byrd and his compatriots preserved, the world would not have been

much the poorer", they are merely talking nonsense, and doing very real harm to the cause they are championing.