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- Sure, glad to. First of all, a hymn is the prayer/text, sometimes poetic rather than prose, often so in the west in the last several hundred years. In some traditions, especially western, the text may be written by an individual for the purpose of prayer explicitly, or it may be a poem written in a prayerful idiom that someone found useful for hymnody. In the east, and before ca 1500/1600 in the west, it is more common for a hymn to be a prayer first, often of anonymous or unrecorded composition, or perhaps known to be composed by a prominent saint. The hymn then partakes of the musical practice common to the church tradition, often acquiring it from use in church services, and again often "anonymously". The anonymity is generally purposeful, the contributions, individual or combined, of those in the church, who seek no recognition for themselves, but given of their gifts to the glory of God. You see how very far this is from modern "authorship" in search of publication, and from set arrangements of style, scoring, etc., as supported in the templates.
- Next, is the hymn "tune" (for lack of a better term), which is a melody (often nothing more), perhaps with parts, often vocal, in a chordal or contrapuntal setting that may or may not be fixed in relation to the tune when it is used. Tunes are generally written for a specific hymn text, but often, being poetic text, other texts of other hymns will match the poetic scan of the original one, and then the tune will fit with those texts also, and may be used with it in hymnody. Anglicans publish the scan pattern in their hymnals, and choir directors can reference those to select a hymn text (by number), but substitute an alternate tune to be used in a service - a common practice among the more knowledgeable church musicians. In Byzantine hymnody, poetic patterning is less pronounced, and the rhythmic relation to the tune is less strict, with interpolations and improvisations within the tune often used to fill in or bridge inexact fits. Thus, a tune may be more or less fixed, according to the tradition involved and the time of origin.
- A chorale is a mostly fixed western-style composition of known individual author, a musical form developed in the Baroque era, for which J.S.Bach and others of his time were well known. It has persisted into the present, with a gradually lessening prominence over centuries and decades as the various churches who continue older traditions have had diminishing funds with which to support music. The chorale was written by such individual church musicians, often in the employ of a noble patron who was supporting the church through his patronage (Bach spent many years in such employ), and there was often a requirement for one or more new compositions for each Sunday's service, and especially elaborate for great feasts. The chorale is one of the many forms that were produced for such purposes. Many of the forms incorporated the growing use and prominence of the organ in western rites, which also developed into a large-scale instrument from what had been much smaller. Of course, the organ was first used to accompany singing, but gradually came to be written for on its own account also.
- As you might surmise from the name, the "chorale" was first composed for and sung by a choir, a choral work, sometimes (often) consisting of a hymn tune set into vocal parts (4 or 5 parts were common). J. S. Bach produced hundreds of these relatively simple settings/harmonizations, often studied by beginning students of harmony. However, being both derivative and simple, they are not generally included prominently among his "original" works. (This is more in line with the older traditional pattern among church musicians.) However, for great feasts (like Christmas or Easter), more elaborate compositions were called for. These generally involved organ accompaniment, often written out as a "part", and sung by a large choir. The musical setting was also more elaborate and ornamental, often somewhat contrapuntal at least, or fully so, the vocal parts becoming independent of each other, each sometimes raised to prominence above the others for a span, yet fitting together as one composition - a far cry from a straightforward note-against-note uniform chordal style so characteristic of hymns written for congregational use. Yet this kind of chorale is to most intents and purposes a hymn designed to be especially sung by a professional choir, for the edification and hearing of the congregation rather than their direct participation. The hymn tune employed may have been original, or it may have existed prior to the writing of the chorale, but the whole amounts to an original composition in effect.
- With all the effort of producing this kind of music, a new chorale might also be used by the organ alone, perhaps in the recessional music immediately following the end of the church service proper. The organ might play the essentials of the written vocals parts, or (more frequently) the organist would improvise upon the hymn tune and/or chorale parts, including recognizable portions. This led to another related form you may also have heard of or wondered about: the chorale prelude. This was a composition generally for organ alone, used before or after a service as musical fill related to the service. It was elaborate to begin with, and grew more elaborate, and freer and more improvisatory in style. It did, however, still incorporate a hymn tune, often a simple-note version of a tune well known to the listeners, melody only. This tune would appear throughout the composition in the simplicity of its long-duration notes, surrounded by the many interpolations of the "accompaniment" and ornamentations, often also of considerable separate musical interest, but contrasting with the hymn tune so that both could be readily perceived simultaneously. Finally, the phrases of the hymn tune were often presented one by one with intermediary sections that were all elaboration, so that one has the sense of departing and always returning to the hymn tune. Of course, these are considered entirely original compositions.
- The chorale and chorale prelude developed within a European tradition after the Renaissance, and were never a part of other church traditions, either earlier or in other churches such as eastern ones. In fact, no similar kind of elaborations, nor instrumentation, form a part of eastern (Orthodox) traditions at all, although some Orthodox churches have been influenced by surrounding Catholic or Protestant traditions where they have met. Such meeting is more common in the modern era than ever before, but the influence is not making large inroads into worship practices integrated closely with church rubrics and canons.
- I hope this gives you not just some raw information, but the ability to put it into some perspective. Thanks for asking. It's been pleasant for me to put this bit of material together. Cheers. Evensteven (talk) 06:33, 3 January 2015 (UTC)