The Parish Church of St George the Martyr, Waterlooville


Seven decades ago, as a boy chorister, Rod would eagerly look forward to the church services on Sunday in order to ‘sing Merbecke’. This was a musical setting of the liturgy, devised nearly 500 years ago for the Anglican church. Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, had produced his Book of Common prayer in the time of King Edward VI, which (in some modified forms) is still in use today. John Merbecke was asked by the Archbishop in 1550 to produce service music “containing so much of the Order of Common Prayer as is to be sung in Churches” and the result was The Boke of Common Praier Noted.

John Merbecke (c1510-1585) was a choirboy at St George’s Chapel, Windsor and an organist there from 1541. It was not unusual for writers on theological matters in that turbulent epoch to be accused of heresy if they did not comply fully with the current religious dogma. Thus, Merbecke was so accused and sentenced to be burned at the stake, only to be pardoned before the sentence could be carried out.

The music was tuneful and easy to sing, derived from a simplified version of Gregorian Plainchant. It was written on a four-line stave, based on the breve and tolerant in its use of measure. In addition to the Communion Service, a considerable amount of music was provided by Merbecke - for Psalms, Canticles, Versicles and Responses and other renderings, including, as the illustration shows, the Magnificat.

Festival Edition 2012

Annual Parochial Church Meeting

Older members of the congregation will remember Merbecke’s music with affection. Rod has discovered that a church not far from St George’s still uses it.

Rod Dawson