From Ritual to Art in the Puritan Music of Colonial New England: the Anthems of William Billings

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The manner in which Billings’s music contrasts with the Puritan musical ideal clearly demonstrates his role in the transition from ritual to art in the music of eighteenth-century New England. The tenets of Puritan worship included the restriction that music should serve primarily as a form of communal prayer for the congregation and in a secondary capacity to assist in biblical instruction. Billings’s stylistic independence from Puritan orthodoxy began with a differing ideology concerning the purpose of music: whereas Calvin believed music merely provided a means for the communal deliverance of biblical text, Billings recognized music for its inherent aesthetic ... continued below

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Dill, Patrick W. August 2012.

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  • Dill, Patrick W.

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The manner in which Billings’s music contrasts with the Puritan musical ideal clearly demonstrates his role in the transition from ritual to art in the music of eighteenth-century New England. The tenets of Puritan worship included the restriction that music should serve primarily as a form of communal prayer for the congregation and in a secondary capacity to assist in biblical instruction. Billings’s stylistic independence from Puritan orthodoxy began with a differing ideology concerning the purpose of music: whereas Calvin believed music merely provided a means for the communal deliverance of biblical text, Billings recognized music for its inherent aesthetic worth. Billings’s shift away from the Puritan musical heritage occurred simultaneously with considerable change in New England in the last three decades of the eighteenth century. A number of Billings’s works depict the events of the Revolutionary War, frequently adapting scriptural texts for nationalistic purposes. The composition of occasional works to commemorate religious and civic events reflects both the increase in society’s approval of choral music beyond its nominal use in worship, both in singing schools and in choirs. With his newfound independence from Puritan ritual, Billings seems to have declared himself one of the United States of America’s first musical artists.

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  • August 2012

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Dill, Patrick W. From Ritual to Art in the Puritan Music of Colonial New England: the Anthems of William Billings, dissertation, August 2012; Denton, Texas. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc149583/: accessed August 15, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .