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The term anthem means either a specific form of Anglican church music (in music theory and religious contexts), or more generally, a song (or composition) of celebration, usually acting as a symbol for a distinct group of people, as in the term "national anthem" or "sports anthem".



The word is derived from the Greek ἀντίφωνα (antiphōna) via Old English antefn, a word which originally had the same meaning as antiphon.

Anthems and the church

An anthem is a form of church music, particularly in the service of the Church of England, in which it is appointed by the rubrics to follow the third collect at both morning and evening prayer. Several anthems are included in the British coronation service. The words are selected from Holy Scripture or in some cases from the Liturgy, and the music is generally more elaborate and varied than that of psalm or hymn tunes. Though the anthem of the Church of England is analogous to the motet of the Roman Catholic and Lutheran Churches, both being written for a trained choir and not for the congregation, it is as a musical form essentially English in its origin and development.

The anthem developed as a replacement for the Catholic "votive antiphon" commonly sung as an appendix to the main office to the Blessed Virgin Mary or other saints. Although anthems were written in the Elizabethan period by Tallis (1505–1585), Byrd (1539–1623), and others, they are not mentioned in the Book of Common Prayer until 1662, when the famous rubric "In quires and places where they sing here followeth the Anthem" first appears.

In common usage among many Protestant churches, an "anthem" often refers to any short sacred choral work presented during the course of a worship service. In the context of an Anglican service, an "anthem" is a composition to an English religious text. From this widening usage has come the more modern sense of the word.

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