Evensong is one of the quintessential worship forms of Anglicanism. Although the service is sung with some regularity in this country, its use in the United Kingdom is widespread and ongoing. Evensong is one of the most traditional services known; it is an art form of rare and mystic beauty that transports the worshipper to the roots of the Anglican Church, when the most beautiful music of England’s late Renaissance period was composed specifically for Evensong.
It is the sung form of the ancient office (service) of Evening Prayer. In the UK Evensong is offered in many cathedral and collegiate chapels daily, sung by choirs, some of which rehearse and sing every day. It is an integral part of the ethos of Anglicanism as expressed throughout the world.
The traditional choirs for whom volumes of Evensong settings have been composed consisted of all male singers—from boys of seven to grown men. Although this choir formation continues strongly in the UK and parts of Europe, many mixed-gender choirs perform beautifully in collegiate chapels, parish churches, and cathedrals. US residents are fortunate that outstanding Evensong services are sung with excellence in many parishes and cathedrals of our country.
The service emphasizes scripture and is similar to the service of Vespers in the Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches. The traditional canticles, usually sung by the choir, are the Magnificat, the song the church remembers that Mary sang when the Angel Gabriel announced that she was to be the mother of Jesus, and the Nunc Dimittis, the song the church remembers that Simeon sang (Luke 2:29-32) when he beheld Jesus being brought to the temple to be baptized. Volumes of music have been composed over the centuries as settings for the canticles.
It has been said that the service of Evensong has brought more of humankind to the church than any other form of worship. In its finest state, Evensong is a significant jewel in the crown of liturgical worship.