Hyperion's long series of St Paul's recordings is graced by this latest addition dedicated to music for Epiphany, a companion disc to. In the Christian Church year, Epiphany is the period after Christmas commemorating the manifestation of Christ to the Magi, celebrated on 6 January.
The programme embraces music from the sixteenth to the twentieth century, from Bach to Bingham, and includes many long-established favourites by Wesley, Cornelius, Howells and others.
Felix Mendelssohn (1809–1847) wrote a substantial number of Psalm settings and sacred cantatas. He was born into a Jewish family, but his father, Abraham, took his brother’s advice and had his children baptized into the Christian faith in 1816. One reason for this lies in the quest for social equality which the Jewish people of Germany sought after the French Revolution. Mendelssohn’s grandfather, Moses Mendelssohn (1729–1786) was ‘the philosopher of the Enlightenment’ and his views helped formulate Felix’s own. The civil rights, which went with that revolution, were slow in forthcoming to members of the Jewish community. A quick way to enjoy the fruits of the developing social structure, therefore, was simply to convert to Christianity. It was at this stage in his life that Felix added Bartholdy to his surname. In his case the conversion was highly significant and a large number of religious works flowed from his pen.
Mendelssohn wrote two oratorios which received great critical acclaim: Paulus, Op 36 (1836) and Elias, Op 70 (1846). Having searched for a suitable subject for a third oratorio he began work on Christus, Op 97. The supervision of a performance of Elias required him to visit Berlin, but when he returned to Leipzig he began suffering from severe fits and died on 4 November 1847. The anthem When Jesus our Lord forms part of the composer’s unfinished third oratorio.
William Byrd (1539/40–1623) learned his art from Thomas Tallis and became one of the most successful of the Tudor composers. He worked as Organist and Master of the Choristers at Lincoln Cathedral between 1563 and 1570 before moving to London to become a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal following the accidental death of Robert Parsons. At the Chapel he worked jointly with Tallis. In 1575 Tallis and Byrd secured a royal patent for the printing and distribution of part-music.
The four-part Latin anthem Senex puerum portabat is found in the second book of Gradualia dating from 1607. Some years ago it became unfashionable to speak of the music of the Tudor composers—or composers of any so-called ‘early’ period—in terms of ‘word painting’, that is to say that a composer depicts the text being set in an expressive way. It has even been suggested that ‘early’ composers were not able to express themselves in music in any meaningful way at all—a notion reinforced by Stravinsky. This idea must be laid to rest at the earliest opportunity. True, composers of earlier periods did not express themselves in the overt way that composers of nineteenth century did, but there is a subtlety of expression in Byrd’s music which even the most hard-headed academics would acknowledge. In his anthem Senex puerum portabat it can be no surprise to the listener that the word ‘portabat’ is set with a rising interval in which the melodic line is held high before moving on towards the cadence. Further evidence of such an expressive approach is to be found at the delicate vocal lines at the word ‘adoravit’—truly a composer depicting an adoring mother enjoying her new-born child, the long-awaited Messiah.
If further evidence were required to substantiate such a thoughtful approach to composition by Byrd, then one might look no further than his six-part anthem Praise our Lord, all ye Gentiles from the 1611 collection of Psalms, Songs and Sonnets. Here the vigorous rhythmic opening is replaced by gentler melodic outlines at the words ‘because his mercy is confirmed upon us’. This, in turn, gives way to new figures, both for ‘and his truth remaineth for ever’ and for the lengthy and dramatic ‘Amen’. Little wonder that Squire remarked that Byrd ‘seems rapidly to have made his way’ after his arrival in London.
The only surviving source for the anonymous Coventry Carol is a facsimile of a manuscript dating from 1591, which appeared in Thomas Sharp’s Dissertation on the Pageants at Coventry in 1825. The carol forms a section of a scene in which Herod’s soldiers arrive to slay the innocent children as part of the Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors. The Coventry plays were seen by royalty: in 1456, by Margaret, queen of Henry VI; by Richard III in 1484 and by Henry VII in 1492. The tune is thought to date from the 1580s, although the text is by Robert Croo and dates from 1534.
Jacob Handl (1550–1591) was a Slovenian composer who resided in Austria and Bohemia. He stayed at the Benedictine abbey at Melk and went on to Vienna in or around 1568. By 1574 he is known to have become a singer at Maximilian II’s imperial chapel. From 1575 he spent the next four or five years travelling and learning and was then engaged as a musician by the Bishop of Olomouc before moving to become Kantor of Saint Jan na Brzehu in Prague. Handl was clearly a master contrapuntalist, although his music suffered some criticism in its day on account of its complexity.
The five-part anthem Omnes de Saba venient is a vibrant Epiphany motet, with playful musical gestures and figures appearing at various points in the text. At the words ‘de Saba venient’ rhythmic movement is introduced followed by a rising quaver figure which moves up through the texture at the words ‘et laudem Domino’. The ‘Alleluia’ introduces a new rising and falling figure.
Luca Marenzio (1553/4–1599) was an Italian composer and singer with a particular gift for ‘word painting’ in his madrigals. There are scant details of his early career, but he was known to be in the service of Cardinal Cristoforo Madruzzo who died in 1570. Marenzio moved to the household of Madruzzo’s friend, Cardinal Luigi d’Este, where he remained until 1586. At this time Marenzio was called upon to provide the Oratorio della S Trinità for the Lenten season in Rome in 1583.
In 1588 he entered the service of the grand Duke Ferdinando de’ Medici, who took with him to Florence a musical retinue aimed at surpassing the glories of the d’Este household at Ferrara. He returned to Rome in 1589 in the employ of the Duke of Bracciano, although Marenzio’s output as a composer was never as great (either in volume or quality) as it had been in his earlier years. His later works are serious and more intense—perhaps reflecting a crisis that had befallen him whilst in Florence.
It was during his service with d’Este that Marenzio became known as a composer of madrigals. He has been described by the academic and writer Jerome Roche as ‘the greatest purely madrigal composer in the whole history of the Italian Madrigal, and the one in whose hands it reached its culmination as a form with a musical life of its own not slavishly dependent upon its poetry’. His work shows the influence not only of Palestrina’s technical assurance and contrapuntal brilliance but also of the innovative Andrea Gabrieli.
Marenzio’s sacred works are less well known than his madrigals, but their characteristics are the same: outstanding verbal imagery and subtle symbolism. Tribus miraculis dates from 1585 and is scored for four voices. The musical highlights of this piece are to be found in the astonishing changes in texture: the florid setting of the opening text (describing the ‘three miracles’) is scored for three voices; two upper parts represent the star leading to the manger; there is an appropriate, startling change at the words ‘today water was changed into wine’; and there are inspired chromatic alterations at the description of the baptism ‘by John in the Jordan’ and again at the words ‘our salvation’. By way of a spectacular finale, Marenzio provides an unusual sequential ‘Alleluia’ to complete this vocal tour de force.
Judith Bingham was born in Nottingham in 1952, entering the Royal Academy of Music in 1970 to study composition and singing. At the Academy her teachers were Alan Bush and Eric Fenby. She later undertook further vocal studies with Eric Vietheer and composition with Hans Keller, who exerted a strong influence upon her development. She won the BBC Young Composer Award in 1977. In the years following her graduation from the Royal Academy she pursued her singing career (notably with The BBC Singers between 1983 and 1996), as well as undertaking composition work. Much of her composition output began in the late 1980s. Her work includes Chartres (1988) for orchestra, Passagio—Bassoon Concerto (1998), The Shooting Star (a trumpet concerto, 1998–9), Prague (1991) and The Stars above, the Earth below (1991) for brass band. Since writing these pieces she has undertaken many important commissions and now has a substantial portfolio of works written for voices, including some for liturgical use. She is now one of the most sought-after contemporary British composers.
Epiphany was written in 1995 in response to a commission from the Dean and Chapter of Winchester Cathedral. The Cathedral Choir, conducted by David Hill, gave the first performance at the enthronement of the new bishop on 6 January 1996. The composer has kindly provided a note about her work for this recording:
Epiphany was written in 1995 for the enthronement of Bishop Michael in Winchester Cathedral. The brief of the commission was to write a short anthem that would link prayers with the actual enthronement, but still be about Epiphany with all its connotations of a journey and a new ministry. In my mind the shape of the piece formed as a gradual crescendo starting from the silent prayerful atmosphere of a full cathedral to the solemn grandeur of the bishop’s ascension. Searching around for a suitable text, I happened upon Ode to Night by George Herbert, and was powerfully struck by the line ‘There is in God, some say, / A deep but dazzling darkness’. I decided to write a poem myself that would integrate this line, while placing the journey of the Magi in an English winter landscape. The star in their hearts leads them, full of doubt and fear, to the deepest darkest heart of winter, where they encounter the dazzling atavistic force of God. The final rising organ roulade is the new life, buried yet growing in the hard earth.
Peter Cornelius (1824–1874) was the son of two actors who saw that he was a talented child and sent him to train in their preferred profession. They also recognized that he had musical gifts and encouraged his music lessons. By 1840 he was playing the violin in the Mainz theatre orchestra, later acting in the Nassau court theatre troupe. On the death of his father he moved to Berlin where he began to devote himself exclusively to music. There he met painters, poets and others from various artistic disciplines and became aware of his talents as a poet and writer. Finding no outlet for his abilities in Berlin he moved to Weimar where he studied with Liszt, who immediately recognized his abilities. The group that surrounded Liszt—the so-called New German School, which included Hans von Bülow—was more to Cornelius’s taste and so the young composer devoted himself to promoting Liszt’s ideas. Liszt, in turn, introduced him to Berlioz, Brahms and Wagner and it was through contact with these composers that Cornelius began to find his métier as an opera composer—his first opera was, in fact, conducted by Liszt. When the latter left Weimar (following a dispute with the ‘New Germans’) Cornelius went to Vienna. Wagner’s influence was strong and, in 1865, he invited Cornelius to Munich as his personal répétiteur, arranging a salary from the Privy Purse of Ludwig II. In Munich he began to teach music theory, harmony, metrics and poetics at the Royal School of Music where, due to his responsibilities, his creativity also began to wane. His third opera was to remain unfinished.
Cornelius was a committed Christian who also wrote sacred music. The Three Kings is the third of his Weihnachtslieder, Op 8, dating from 1856. The correct title is Die Könige, and the work is originally scored for baritone and piano. The piano plays the Epiphany chorale ‘How brightly shines the morning star!’. The song was later arranged for soloist and chorus by Ivor Atkins.
William Crotch (1775–1847) was ‘a child prodigy without parallel in the history of music’. Sadly, he was to suffer psychological damage later in his life as a result of his parents’ determination to show him off. He was described as being ‘of a retiring disposition’, with a tendency to extreme conservatism in his old age, slating, for example, S S Wesley’s anthem The Wilderness when it was submitted for the Gresham Prize in 1833. Crotch wrote: ‘The introduction of novelty, variety, contrast, expression, originality, etc, is the very cause of the decay so long apparent in our church music.’
At the age of eighteen months Crotch was able to pick out tunes on a small house organ; by the age of two he had learned to play ‘God save the King’. At the age of three his mother took him on a series of tours in order to exploit his gifts, playing to the King and Queen at Buckingham Palace in 1779. By then he could play in any key and name any notes in a chord without being able to see the keyboard. His mother embarked upon a tour of the British Isles with the boy entertaining audiences by performing on organ, piano and violin. Many commentators, including Barrington and Burney, heard him and wrote of his unusual skills. It is a pity that his early gifts for composition were not to bear lasting fruit, for, despite success in his own lifetime, his music has not stood the test of time. This may have been a result of the fact that he chose not to publish his best-known work—the oratorio Palestine. Instead he charged 200 guineas for the loan of the parts and for his presence as conductor—a successful way of propagating one’s music, as long as one is alive.
By the age of fifteen Crotch was organist of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, graduating with the degrees of BMus in 1794 and DMus in 1799. He became known as a teacher, lecturing at Oxford (becoming professor there) and at the Royal Institution and, in collaboration with Samuel Wesley and Benjamin Jacob, was a champion of Bach’s music at a time when it was little known. Crotch gathered together a large number of examples of music from earlier periods to illustrate his lectures. This collection was published in three volumes between 1808 and 1811 under the title Specimens of various Styles of Music. This was one of the first analytical collections of music and it was to prove very influential. Another later publication, this time of Tallis’s Hymns, had a decisive influence on the Tractarians, particularly Thomas Helmore. Crotch was appointed the first Principal of the Royal Academy of Music when it opened in 1822, a post he held for ten years. He died in 1834 while visiting his son—who was a master at Taunton Grammar School—and was buried at Bishop’s Hull.
Crotch’s analysis of the ‘three styles’ of music led him to classify church music as ‘sublime’. He would surely not have approved of elaborate verse anthems by composers such as Travers, but perhaps would have embraced the music of Ouseley as being imbued with the ‘correct’ ecclesiastical characteristics. Ironically, Crotch’s own music, particularly his penchant for enharmonic experiments and mystic modalism, presented novelties without parallel in the period.
The anthem Lo! Star-led chiefs is from the oratorio Palestine which was completed in 1811 and first performed in London the following year. The elegance of this movement and technical assurance at the words ‘Assyrian odours bring’ give us a tantalizing glimpse of a composer awaiting rediscovery.
Sir Frederick Arthur Gore Ouseley (1825–1889) is one of the most neglected, but most fascinating characters in nineteenth-century church music. As a child, his musical precocity was said to be rivalled only by that of Mozart. ‘Only think,’ he exclaimed as a child of five, ‘papa blows his nose in G!’ At the age of eight he is supposed to have written his opera L’Isola disabitata. His father was ambassador to Persia and Russia and was made a baronet in 1808. Frederick took his names from his father (Gore) and his godfathers, Frederick, Duke of York, and Arthur, Duke of Wellington. He entered Christ Church, Oxford, in 1843, the year before he succeeded to the baronetcy. He was ordained in 1854 and received the degree of DMus in 1854. Ouseley became a curate at St Barnabas’s Church, Pimlico, the scene of considerable unrest in the late 1840s and early 1850s, culminating in riots sparked off by the elaborate Anglo-Catholic rituals at the church engendered by the so-called Oxford Movement. Whilst at Pimlico he presented the organ and paid for the choir’s costs. As a man of considerable wealth, Ouseley was able to found St Michael’s College, Tenbury, in Worcestershire (completed in 1856) and became its first Warden. There, influenced by the Oxford Movement, he developed his notions of the cathedral service which, as Nicholas Temperley has observed, became the model over its rivals to become the standard form of cathedral service.
Ouseley became Professor of Music at Oxford University in 1855 and was an influential scholar in his day, editing the sacred works of Gibbons and making a study of Spanish musical treatises. As a composer he wrote relatively little, although several of his anthems are still regularly performed today. He eschewed secular influences in music at a time when organists ‘inflict upon the congregation long voluntaries, interludes, &c. which consist either of his own vulgar imagination, or selections from the last new opera’ (Sutton). Ouseley commented on the use of secular melodies in Hymn tunes as follows: ‘How can they result in aught but the disgust and discouragement of all musical churchmen, the misleading of the unlearned, the abasement of sacred song, the falsification of public taste, and (last, but not least) the dishonour of our God and his worship?’ Both at Oxford and at St Michael’s College, Tenbury, Ouseley’s musical style and views on liturgy influenced many Victorian church musicians—including Stainer, whom he invited to Tenbury to become organist there in 1857.
The anthem From the rising of the sun is a short and unpretentious essay of Hymn-like character, in what might be termed Ouseley’s self-imposed ecclesiastical compositional idiom. As with all his church music, Ouseley allows the words to speak clearly to the listener—exemplified by the setting of the words ‘thus saith the Lord!’. The text (from the Book of Malachi) clearly chimed with his own Oxford Movement-inspired Anglo-Catholicism: ‘and in every place incense shall be offered up’.
Samuel Sebastian Wesley (1810–1876) was the illegitimate son of Samuel Wesley (1766–1837) and Sarah Suter, who had been his housekeeper. Suter bore him several children and their relationship out of wedlock continued because of Samuel’s addiction to the unorthodox views on marriage held by Martin Madan, the minister of the then-fashionable non-conformist Lock Chapel. Despite the stigma attached to being illegitimate—a very considerable burden at the turn of the nineteenth century—Samuel Sebastian was to become the most important English church composer between Purcell and Stanford.
Wesley took his middle name from his father’s love of Bach’s music and is known to have been ‘saturated with old-time ideas, clinging even to the long-condemned and barbarous system for tuning in unequal temperament’ (Audsley). Wesley’s old-fashioned ideas may well have been a saving grace as far as his compositions are concerned. Trends in anthem-writing at the end of the eighteenth century had shown a tendency towards deteriorating taste; many anthems were multi-sectional, intent merely on showing off the merits of individual singers. S S Wesley composed using the multi-sectional formats he had inherited, although the individual sections show a greater measure of structural integrity.
This is well illustrated in the anthem Ascribe unto the Lord (one of the Twelve Anthems published in 1853), where the frivolity of operatic solos, exemplified in Travers’s anthem of the same name, give way to quasi recitativo sections written on a broad canvas, clearly proclaiming the text. The opening of Wesley’s anthem is bold and authoritative, leading to one of the glories of English nineteenth-century church music at the words ‘Let the whole earth stand in awe of him’. Today the listener may well stand in awe of the composer’s brilliant harmonic control, all the more effective for being repeated a fourth lower. A quartet follows for four upper voices and then a fugato (‘As for the gods of the heathen’) interrupted by a description of the idols sung by the various sections of the choir. A sudden return to the home key of G major brings forth the triumphant chorus ‘As for our God, he is in heaven’. The final section ‘The Lord hath been mindful of us’ will send even the hardest of secular hearts on their way home humming any one of the fine selection of tunes.
It has been written of Herbert Howells that ‘he is more widely respected than performed’. Whilst this may sadly be the case with his orchestral and chamber music, it is certainly not true of his organ and choral music.
Herbert Norman Howells (1892–1983) was articled to Herbert Brewer at Gloucester Cathedral in 1905. In 1912 he won an open scholarship to the Royal College of Music where he studied with Stanford and Wood. Howells was to return to the Royal College as a teacher from 1920 and became almost as well known in that capacity and as an examiner and adjudicator as he was as a composer. He succeeded Gustav Holst in 1936 as Director of Music at St Paul’s School in Hammersmith, a post he retained until 1962. In 1950 he was appointed King Edward VII Professor of Music at London University.
Amongst Howells’s self-confessed influences were plainsong, the modes, the pentatonic scale, folksong, his friendship with Ralph Vaughan Williams and a feeling of oneness with the Tudor period. Howells’s music is frequently compared and contrasted with that of his contemporaries, Boughton, Bridge, Delius, Gurney, Holst and Vaughan Williams; the young composer was particularly influenced by the first performance in 1910 of Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis, which took place in Gloucester Cathedral. Comparisons to Howells’s contemporaries are often unfair and laboured; there are many of Howells’s contemporaries whose music has been strongly affected by some or all of the influences that prevailed upon him. In reality Howells is not a pastiche composer of the twentieth century, but rather a testament to the fruits of the ‘Second English Renaissance’, and a fine composer in his own right.
G K Chesterton suggested to Howells a text by Frances Chesterton entitled Here is the little door. It was indeed this text that the composer set as one of his three small-scale Christmas Carol-Anthems. It was published in 1918 by Stainer & Bell and remains one of the composer’s most popular works.
When to the temple Mary went, by Johannes Eccard (1533–1611), is one of a host of motets by foreign composers which were supplied with new words in the nineteenth century. In this case the text is by the Reverend J Troutbeck, who produced operatic translations and worked with both Stainer and Frederick Bridge on various Hymnals and Psalters. Troutbeck is best remembered for his lasting translations of Bach’s St Matthew Passion, St John Passion and Christmas Oratorio.
Eccard was a chorister in the Kapelle of the Weimar court from 1567 until it was disbanded in 1571. He then went to Munich to sing in the Bavarian Hofkapelle, where he also studied with Lassus. He served in Augsburg and in 1579 at the Hofkappelle of Margrave Georg Friedrich of Brandenburg-Ansbach, later becoming vice-Kapellmeister. He was appointed Kapellmeister in his own right on the accession of Joachim Friedrich as Elector in 1604.
Eccard’s music is frequently scored for more than four voices—here the setting is in six parts. His music thus sounds rich and sonorous, the inner parts having their own melodic and rhythmic logic. This type of piece is known as a ‘chorale-motet’ and such works are characteristic of the seventeenth-century Protestant composers.
Gustav Holst (1874–1934) was of Swedish ancestry, the son of Theodor von Holst who taught the harp and the piano from his home in Cheltenham. Gustav began composing at an early age—although his father did not encourage this—and, after studying with Stanford at the Royal College of Music, he became a trombonist, touring with the Carl Rosa Opera Company. In 1905 he became music master at St Paul’s Girls’ School, Hammersmith, and in 1907 music director at Morley College. He held both these posts until his death. He was also appointed to posts at the Royal College of Music and at University College, Reading. He was also a visiting lecturer in composition at Harvard University and was awarded the Royal Philharmonic Society Gold Medal in 1930 and the Howland Memorial Prize from Yale University.
Holst’s contact with church music was not extensive and he was certainly not a church composer; his other interests included learning Sanskrit to know more of Hindu literature and philosophy as well as reading about the space-time continuum.
The eight-part Nunc dimittis was written in 1915 at the request of Richard Terry, who was then organist of Westminster Cathedral. It was first performed there on Easter Sunday in the same year, but did not enter the repertoire. The original manuscript disappeared and emerged as a part-autograph score some years later. It was edited and revised by Imogen Holst and given its first concert performance in Framlingham Church on 11 June 1974 as part of the 27th Aldeburgh Festival.
The three Hymns on this recording are found in The New English Hymnal. O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness! is a text by Monsell set to the tune ‘Was lebet’, the melody of which is taken from the Rheinhardt manuscript of 1754. Brightest and best of the sons of the morning is a text by Reginald Heber—also the author of Crotch’s libretto for his oratorio Palestine; the tune is by Alwyn Surplice (1906–1977). The growing limbs of God the Son is set to a tune entitled ‘St Chad’ by the late Dr Christopher Dearnley, organist at St Paul’s Cathedral between 1968 and 1990.
William McVicker © 2002