Evensong is the common name for a Christian church service originating in the Anglican tradition as part of the reformed practice of the Daily Office or canonical hours. The service may also be referred to as Evening Prayer, but Evensong is the more common name when the service is musical.
It is roughly the equivalent of Vespers in the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran churches, although it was originally formed by combining the monastic offices of Vespers and Compline. Although many churches now take their services from Common Worship or other modern prayer books, if a church has a choir, Choral Evensong from the Book of Common Prayer often remains in use because of the greater musical provision.
Services of Evensong are centred around reading from the Bible and singing the psalms and the canticles Magnificat and Nunc dimittis. The original liturgy for Evensong is found in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer in its different versions used around the world.
In a fully choral service of Evensong, all of the service except the confession of sin, lessons, and some of the final prayers are sung or chanted by the officiating minister and the choir. In cathedrals, or on particularly important days in the church calendar, the canticles are performed in elaborate settings. In churches where a choir is not present, simpler versions of the psalms and canticles are usually sung by the congregation, sometimes with responses and collects spoken rather than sung. Said services of Evening Prayer, where the musical setting is omitted altogether, are also sometimes referred to as Evensong.
The choral or sung part of Evensong begins with the opening responses sung by the minister and choir (or congregation) alternately. The psalms are then sung usually in a style known as Anglican chant, but sometimes plainsong settings of the psalms may be used instead. Then follow the Bible readings and the canticles.
There are countless settings of the canticles, but a number of composers have contributed works which are performed regularly across the Anglican Communion. These range from late Renaissance composers such as Thomas Tallis, William Byrd and Orlando Gibbons, through Victorian composers such as Charles Villiers Stanford, Thomas Attwood Walmisley to later masters of the form such as Herbert Murrill and Basil Harwood. Herbert Howells composed 18 settings, including Magnificat and Nunc dimittis for St Paul's Cathedral. Charles Wood composed several settings, including Magnificat and Nunc dimittis in D which has been called an "epitome of Church of England worship". Settings from outside the core tradition of Anglican church music have also become popular, with examples by Michael Tippett, Giles Swayne and Arvo Pärt who composed Magnificat and Nunc dimittis at different times.
Evensong may have plainchant substituted for Anglican chant and in High Church parishes may conclude with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament (or a modified form of "Devotions to the Blessed Sacrament") and the carrying of the reserved sacrament under a humeral veil from the high altar to an altar of repose, to the accompaniment of music.
The service may also include hymns. The first of these may be called the Office Hymn, and will usually be particularly closely tied to the liturgical theme of the day, and may be an ancient plainchant setting. This will usually be sung just before the psalm(s) or immediately before the first canticle and may be sung by the choir alone. Otherwise any hymns normally come toward the end of the service, maybe one either side of the sermon (if there is one), or following the anthem. These hymns will generally be congregational.
Most cathedrals of the Church of England, from where the service originates, and a number of university college chapels (e.g. in the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford, the University of St Andrews, the University of Durham and King's College London) offer this service regularly, often daily. Most of the cathedrals of the Church in Wales and the Scottish Episcopal Church also offer choral Evensong. Choral Evensong is usually sung during term time; at other times, it is most often replaced with said Evening Prayer.
Aside from the cathedrals and collegiate chapels, Evensong is also sung in many parish churches around England where there is a choral tradition. There may be a choral service each Sunday or less frequently, such as on a monthly basis or only on feast days in the liturgical calendar. Many churches in central London have a professional choir and have a weekly service of Choral Evensong, among them All Saints, Margaret Street, Holy Trinity Sloane Square and St Bride's, Fleet Street.
Most of the larger churches and cathedrals of the Church of Ireland offer Evensong. It is sung six times a week at St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, twice at Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, and once at Trinity College, Dublin. Additionally, although rarely, some parish churches hold Evensong; however, this is most often replaced with Evening Prayer.
Throughout the countries of Africa with a large Anglican presence, Evensong is also offered, for instance in the Cathedral Church of Christ, Lagos, Nigeria, St George's Cathedral, Cape Town, South Africa and every Sunday at the Cathedral Church of St Cyprian, Kimberley, South Africa
Most of the cathedrals of the Anglican Church of Australia offer choral Evensong at least weekly, with St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne offering daily Evensong. Likewise in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, Evensong is offered at the cathedrals in Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin, and Wellington.
The popularity of Evensong has spread to other churches, particularly churches of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and United Methodist churches which use a formal liturgical worship style. Examples in the Presbyterian Church include Fourth Presbyterian Church (Chicago) and Independent Presbyterian Church (Birmingham, Alabama) both of which offer Evensong services on a seasonal basis, as does Peachtree Road United Methodist Church in Atlanta, Georgia.
There are some Roman Catholic churches and abbeys in England offering choral Evensong: These include Ampleforth Abbey, Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, the Birmingham Oratory, Ealing Abbey, Leeds Cathedral, Downside Abbey, the London Oratory, and Westminster Cathedral.
Loyola University Maryland, a Jesuit Catholic university in Baltimore, Maryland, celebrates a half-hour Evensong on Thursday evenings, although this has been temporarily suspended.
In Scotland, some larger churches (and former cathedrals belonging to the Church of Scotland) hold Evensong, including Glasgow Cathedral, Paisley Abbey (2nd Sunday of each month), and Edinburgh Cathedral.
The BBC has, since 1926, broadcast a weekly service of Choral Evensong. It is broadcast (usually live) on BBC Radio 3 on Wednesdays at 15:30 and often repeated on the following Sunday. Between February 2007 and September 2008, the service was broadcast on Sunday only. The service comes live from an English cathedral or collegiate institution. However, it is occasionally a recording or is replaced by a different form of service or a service from a church elsewhere in the world or of another denomination. The most recent broadcast is available on the BBC iPlayer for up to a week after the original broadcast. There is also an archive available.
In response to the Covid-19 Pandemic, St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Pasadena has expanded its Chorus blog to include daily Morning Song and Evensong recordings of its virtual choir. The Chant Scores are all public domain, and the scriptures used under a less restrictive MIT License, so all materials can be legally distributed and used by any group or church as part of their online liturgy, without performance or publishing rights concerns.