To continue the exploration, and by way of comparison, here is a link to a .pdf of the Westminster Hymnal, which includes a Preface (1912) by John Cuthbert, +Newport, and a Musical Editor's Preface by Sir Richard Runciman Terry, the leading hymnologist of his day, and the composer of many popular hymn tunes.
A few things immediately strike one. The first is that +Cuthbert sees hymns as adding to the 'devotion and decorum of extra-liturgical worship and popular services.' Presumably that means pilgrimages and processions, school assemblies and parish jamborees and so forth.
A second thing is that Terry uses the start of his preface to lament and correct many popular mistakes made in singing the hymns. That suggests that Catholic hymn-singing was rather more widespread than I had thought. Popular errors in the oral tradition cannot arise unless people are singing!
A third thing that struck me was the ordering of the book - which was 'prescribed by the bishops' Committee.' It is interesting to contrast the approach taken in 1912 with that in 1966, to the arrangement of hymns.
Here is the Westminster Hymnal (1912):
And here is PRAISE THE LORD (1966)
The change is clear: the second hymnal is designed for use in the liturgy, and gone are huge numbers of hymns for popular devotion.
I was also interested in Terry's view on the pitching of hymns compared with Trotman's. Terry writes: 'Experience has shown that the difficult tunes for a congregation are those in which the melody lies at a high pitch throughout, and not those which contain an occasional high note. Ewing's well-known tune to 'Jerusalem the golden' is a case in point. It takes the congregation to F sharp (top treble line), yet it is invariably sung with lusty vigour, and remains one of the most popular tunes in English speaking countries. The keys chosen for the tunes of this book have been those which secured the requisite brightness, while placing the tune as a whole within the range of the average singer, to whom it should not cause strain or fatigue.'
Trotman, on the other hand, writes: 'A hymnal is intended primarily for congregational use and experience shows that the keys originally chosen for many hymns are uncomfortably high for the average congregational voice, especially men. For this reason many hymns have been transposed down so that except in unavoidable cases, no tune goes above D. Sometimes this results in slightly muddy harmonies, but this is outweighed by the comfort which the average singer gains by a pitch well within his capability.'
I think Terry is right, on two counts. One is that the occasional high note is not a barrier to most congregations; the second is I think bright harmonies are preferable to muddy ones. Trotman seems to me, here, to be exemplifying that exultation of participation (in a particular sense) over quality that I frequently lament.
There is, of course, much more one could say: I await the wise and perceptive contributions of my readers with interest - and will doubtless return to this subject shortly.