1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Glee

GLEE, a musical term for a part-song of a particular kind. The word, as well as the thing, is essentially confined to England. The technical meaning has been explained in different ways; but there is little doubt of its derivation through the ordinary sense of the word (i.e. merriment, entertainment) from the A.S. gleov, gleo, corresponding to Lat. gaudium, delectamentum, hence ludus musicus; on the other hand, a musical “glee” is by no means necessarily a merry composition. Gleeman (A.S. “gleoman”) is translated simply as “musicus” or “cantor,” to which the less distinguished titles of “mimus, jocista, scurra,” are frequently added in old dictionaries. The accomplishments and social position of the gleeman seem to have been as varied as those of the Provençal “joglar.” There are early examples of the word “glee” being used as synonymous with harmony or concerted music. The former explanation, for instance, is given in the Promptorium parvulorum, a work of the 15th century. Glee in its present meaning signifies, broadly speaking, a piece of concerted vocal music, generally unaccompanied, and for male voices, though exceptions are found to the last two restrictions. The number of voices ought not to be less than three. As regards musical form, the glee is little distinguished from the catch,—the two terms being often used indiscriminately for the same song; but there is a distinct difference between it and the madrigal—one of the earliest forms of concerted music known in England. While the madrigal does not show a distinction of contrasted movements, this feature is absolutely necessary in the glee. In the madrigal the movement of the voices is strictly contrapuntal, while the more modern form allows of freer treatment and more compact harmonies. Differences of tonality are fully explained by the development of the art, for while the madrigal reached its acme in Queen Elizabeth’s time, the glee proper was little known before the Commonwealth; and its most famous representatives belong to the 18th century and the first quarter of the 19th. Among the numerous collections of the innumerable pieces of this kind, only one of the earliest and most famous may be mentioned, Catch that Catch can, a Choice Collection of Catches, Rounds and Canons, for three and four voices, published by John Hilton in 1652. The name “glee,” however, appears for the first time in John Playford’s Musical Companion, published twenty-one years afterwards, and reprinted again and again, with additions by later composers—Henry Purcell, William Croft and John Blow among the number. The originator of the glee in its modern form was Dr Arne, born in 1710. Among later English musicians famous for their glees, catches and part-songs, the following may be mentioned:—Attwood, Boyce, Bishop, Crotch, Callcott, Shield, Stevens, Horsley, Webb and Knyvett. The convivial character of the glee led, in the 18th century, to the formation of various societies, which offered prizes and medals for the best compositions of the kind and assembled for social and artistic purposes. The most famous amongst these—The Glee Club—was founded in 1787, and at first used to meet at the house of Mr Robert Smith, in St Paul’s churchyard. This club was dissolved in 1857. A similar society—The Catch Club—was formed in 1761 and is still in existence.