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The English Anthem, Vol. 5

St Paul's Cathedral Choir, Andrew Lucas (organ), John Scott (conductor)
Archive Service
Recording details: June 1994
St Paul's Cathedral, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Antony Howell
Release date: February 1995
Total duration: 69 minutes 15 seconds
 
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Reviews

'A rich feast here … a magnificent choir' (Gramophone)

'A memorable record of some of the best 19th- and 20th-century church music' (Methodist Recorder)

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Sir C Hubert H Parry (1848-1918) was Director of the Royal College of Music from 1884 and in 1900 succeeded Stainer as Professor of Music at the University of Oxford. Parry played the organ a great deal as a youth, but never pursued a career as an organist. He was not attracted to the life of the cathedral musician, but wrote music for that repertoire. Along with his close friend Dr Emily Daymond he was a regular visitor to the Temple Church in Walford Davies's time. Parry's music was firmly established in the repertory during his own lifetime at many cathedrals and churches.

Parry had many interests outside music and Herbert Howells's recollections of him bear this out: 'He never tired of making us students remember that if we allowed our outlooks to become hedged in by purely musical matters and refuse to allow the wider, broader issues of life—not merely of art—into our minds, we could never become complete human beings. He liked people to be broad-thinking, well versed in all things that mattered, complete, whole men and women.'

It is interesting to note that the nobility and grandeur of I was glad (written for the coronation of Edward VII in 1902) have become something of a bench-mark for writers who have had to tread the same path—music for a coronation. It seems possible that Parry's ability to view music in the wider context of life—gaining an insight into the very nature of what was about to become Edwardian England—has been a contributory factor in the huge and continued success of this anthem. It reflects almost the very essence of life in that period of English history. Parry could have no nobler epitaph than to be known as 'An English Gentleman'.

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 opinions of Martin Madan (minister of the non-conformist Lock Chapel), who held unorthodox views on marriage.

Despite the stigma attached to being illegitimate—a very considerable burden at the turn of the nineteenth century—Samuel Sebastian Wesley was to become the most important English church composer between Purcell and Stanford.

In 1853 Wesley published a volume of twelve anthems which included Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace. Many of his compositions have sustained enduring popularity and this anthem is no exception. It is interesting that many successful church composers have understood the need for a degree of harmonic simplicity perhaps best defined as 'a slower rate of harmonic change'. Twentieth-century composers too—like Howells, Leighton and Harvey—have been quick to recognise that harmonic complexity (when increased by rapidly-changing chords—unless done for specific effect) does not suit the nature of a large resonant acoustic such as that of St Paul's Cathedral. Wesley is at his best in anthems such as Ascribe unto the Lord and Blessed be the God and Father (in Volume I of this series) where broad majestic themes announce an important text. Here he adopts the same fundamental approach where the theme is treated with slow-moving harmonies, the text dictating a peaceful, meditative approach.

The Irish composer Charles Wood (1866-1926) wrote much of his music for double choir or voices divided into eight parts. This approach probably derives from his years spent at Selwyn College and Gonville and Caius College in Cambridge, where he worked with the choirs and their ability to sing double-choir or divided-texture music with relative ease.

Wood was a product of the Royal College of Music and lived in the shadow of Stanford for much of his life, succeeding him to the Professorship in music at Cambridge on Stanford's death in 1924. Much of Wood's church music was not written at a time when he was working with the college choirs, but dates from the last few years of his life. The anthem Glory and honour and laud dates from 1925 and is typical of Wood's compositional idiom: divided parts and sturdy, sometimes modal themes. In this case there is a an element of rondo form, together with sudden key changes—first from the minor to the major and then into B flat major. Contrast in the texture is constantly made by the lower voices answering the upper voices. The final section is in eight-part harmony and the vocal fanfares lead to a most impressive ending.

Sir Lennox Berkeley (1903-1989) is one of a generation of composers who sought their musical inspiration outside England. Although he graduated from Merton College, Oxford, in 1926 (where one of his peers was Auden), his subject was modern languages and it seems that his musical study was limited to organ lessons with Sir William Harris. Berkeley's mother's family lived in France and his regular visits culminated in the young composer showing some of his scores to Maurice Ravel. Ravel encouraged him to study with Nadia Boulanger who, in turn, encouraged him to work hard at strict counterpoint. Berkeley's exposure to Stravinsky's neo-classicism and his study of counterpoint have led to some very particular features in his music: the anthem The Lord is my Shepherd, for example, is often written strictly in four parts, including the treble soloist's part. The vocal parts, although not imitative, all have a life of their own and show the composer's penchant for melody. Berkeley knew (and was influenced by) Britten, Stravinsky and Poulenc amongst others and in turn has influenced many composers through his own teaching, notably Moor, Bennett, Bedford and Tavener.

The Lord is my Shepherd (Op 91 nº 1) was written in 1975 for the 900th anniversary of the Foundation of Chichester Cathedral and is dedicated to the Very Reverend Walter Hussey, Dean of Chichester.

Sir William Harris (1883-1973) studied at the Royal College of Music under Sir Walter Parratt, Charles Wood and Sir Henry Walford Davies and became Davies's assistant at the Temple Church. He held appointments at Lichfield Cathedral, New College, Oxford, and at the Royal College of Music before being appointed organist and choirmaster of St George's Chapel, Windsor, in 1933. He was affectionately known as 'Doc H' at Windsor and his reputation rests more upon his ability as an excellent choir trainer than as a composer. Several of his large anthems remain in the cathedral repertoire and two of his other works can be found in this series of the English anthem (Faire is the Heaven, Volume III, and Bring us, O Lord God, Volume IV).

O what their joy and their glory must be effectively takes the form of a chorale prelude. The choir's opening theme is taken from the French melody 'O Quanta Qualia' around which the organ weaves its own melodies derived from fragments of the main theme. Harris's anthems tend to owe something in their style to the work of Charles Wood: the gradual increase in movement in the choral parts, for example, is reminiscent of Wood's anthem God omnipotent reigneth. Harris introduces a central slower section in G minor which gradually moves back (through the quasi-mystical setting of the words 'There dawns no Sabbath') into an elaborate restatement of the opening material culminating in the series of splendid 'Amens'.

Sir William Harris (1883-1973) studied at the Royal College of Music under Sir Walter Parratt, Charles Wood and Sir Henry Walford Davies and became Davies's assistant at the Temple Church. He held appointments at Lichfield Cathedral, New College, Oxford, and at the Royal College of Music before being appointed organist and choirmaster of St George's Chapel, Windsor, in 1933. He was affectionately known as 'Doc H' at Windsor and his reputation rests more upon his ability as an excellent choir trainer than as a composer. Several of his large anthems remain in the cathedral repertoire and two of his other works can be found in this series of the English anthem (Faire is the Heaven, Volume III, and Bring us, O Lord God, Volume IV).

O what their joy and their glory must be effectively takes the form of a chorale prelude. The choir's opening theme is taken from the French melody 'O Quanta Qualia' around which the organ weaves its own melodies derived from fragments of the main theme. Harris's anthems tend to owe something in their style to the work of Charles Wood: the gradual increase in movement in the choral parts, for example, is reminiscent of Wood's anthem God omnipotent reigneth. Harris introduces a central slower section in G minor which gradually moves back (through the quasi-mystical setting of the words 'There dawns no Sabbath') into an elaborate restatement of the opening material culminating in the series of splendid 'Amens'.

The music of John Tavener (b1934) has featured in Volume III of this series of The English Anthem. Tavener converted to the Orthodox faith in 1977. Mysticism, an attitude of pure contemplation of the Divine (often associated with orthodox religion), finds a superb vehicle for expression in the almost static nature of Tavener's music. This particular work, Annunciation, was commissioned by The Musicians' Benevolent Fund to celebrate the Festival of St Cecilia and was first performed on 25 November 1992 in Westminster Abbey by the joint choirs of Westminster Abbey, St Paul's Cathedral, Westminster Cathedral and HM Chapel Royal. The composer has provided the following note with this work:

The text of Annunciation is taken from St Luke's Gospel. The words of the Archangel are sung by the main choir, and should build up to a thunderous, awesome theophany. The response of the Mother of God, 'How shall this be?', comes from a quartet of solo voices set apart, preferably raised in a gallery. By this I have tried to portray her humility, terror and total acceptance, without which the Incarnation could never have taken place.

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), like many composers of this period, studied with Parry, Wood and Stanford. But unlike his contempories, Vaughan Williams also pursued study in Berlin with Bruch (1897) and in Paris with Ravel (1908). He was a good friend of Holst and the two scrutinised each other's work until Holst's death in 1934.

It has been written of him by Ursula Vaughan Williams that 'he was an atheist during his later years at Charterhouse and at Cambridge, though he later drifted into a cheerful agnosticism; he was never a professing Christian'. It would be unfair in a brief commentary on Vaughan Williams to end there, for he had a deep-seated sense of spiritualism which was wound up with his love of the past, with England and with folksong. His music has been described by Hugh Ottaway as `visionary' and it is important not to confuse this visionary element in his music with an overtly Christian outlook on life. It would not be unreasonable to suggest that the liberalisation of the Christian ethos today might well encompass the views that Vaughan Williams held.

Lord, Thou has been our refuge is described as being 'a motet for chorus, semi-chorus and orchestra (or organ)', and was published in 1921. The origins of the work remain uncertain, but it is one of his larger pieces in the cathedral repertoire. Two texts are set in this motet: Psalm 90 and the first verse of Isaac Watts's hymn O God our help in ages past to the tune 'St Anne' by William Croft. Both texts share Vaughan Williams's interest in the past; at the outset of the work the psalm text is set in D minor while the hymn is in D major. The two sections of the choir sing together at the words 'As soon as Thou scatterest them' before engaging in another dialogue. An organ interlude heralds a return to the opening material. The hymn tune is now played on the trumpet; the final section being based on fragments of the hymn tune.

Hugh Wood (b1932) read history at Oxford and studied privately with Lloyd Webber. Like many composers of his generation he sought musical inspiration abroad, studying with Mátyás Seiber. He has taught at Morley College (where another of his teachers, Iain Hamilton, also taught), at the Royal Academy of Music, and at the universities of Glasgow and Liverpool and, since 1976, at Cambridge where he is a Fellow of Churchill College.

Wood was attracted to the music of the Second Viennese School and adopted a twelve-note technique. He has had a number of important commissions from the BBC for the Cheltenham Festival and the Promenade Concerts.

His anthem The Kingdom of God, Op 38, is a setting of a poem by Francis Thompson and was commissioned by the 1994 City of London Festival. It was premiered by St Paul's Cathedral Choir on 3 July 1994. The music is written in twelve parts, each of the treble, alto, tenor and bass parts being subdivided into three. These groups of three parts sing a series of triads which are superimposed upon each other, echoing the way in which chords in a resonant building (such as St Paul's) merge into each other. A new section at the words 'Does the fish soar to find the ocean', based on a broken triad and the interval of a fifth, is punctuated by a polytonal ritornello of superimposed triads. A second new idea, a rising and falling phrase (at 'the traffic of Jacob's ladder') comes to a head at the fortissimo chord at the words 'Charing Cross'. The final section recalls the texture of superimposed triads before arriving at the exotic closing chords.

Sir Henry Walford Davies (1869-1941) was a chorister at St George's Chapel, Windsor, and acted as a pupil assistant to Walter Parratt. As a student at the Royal College of Music his peers were Parry and Stanford and at the age of twenty-five he was appointed as a teacher of counterpoint at that college. Davies held various church appointments before becoming organist and choirmaster to the Temple Church in 1898. It was there that he became almost a legendary figure. Between 1903 and 1907 Davies was conductor of the Bach Choir and in 1918 he was appointed Musical Director to the Royal Air Force. From 1919 to 1926 he was Professor of Music at University College, Aberystwyth, and Director of the National Council of Music in Wales. He was knighted in 1922 and from 1924 was Gresham Professor of Music, achieving great success as a broadcasting lecturer in music. He was organist of St George's Chapel, Windsor, between 1927 and 1932, and from 1927 held an advisory post at the BBC. When Elgar died in 1934, Davies succeeded him as Master of the King's Musick.

Percy Scholes described Davies as 'a man of whims' and this is demonstrated by his wide-ranging career. Davies was also an important teacher; his Saturday morning class in 1914 contained George Thalben-Ball, Arthur Bliss, Ivor Gurney, Arthur Benjamin, Eugene Goossens, Herbert Howells and Douglas Fox.

Of the many stories that surround Davies's life, one in particular is worth recounting. He was taken ill one Sunday at the Temple Church and George Thalben-Ball was sent for to play evensong. It being 'Cantata Sunday', Thalben-Ball found a full score of Bach's B minor Mass on the organ console from which he was expected to play. The deputation sent to obtain the services of the young Thalben-Ball said to him, 'By the way, we usually do it down a semitone'!

As a composer Davies earned some recognition with his oratorio Everyman (1904) and with a well-known RAF march. Although his music has been described as 'sentimental', the composer captures the mood perfectly in his short anthem Blessed are the pure in heart.

Philip Radcliffe (1905-1986) was a student at King's College, Cambridge, between 1924 and 1929. He subsequently became a Fellow of King's College between 1931 and 1937 and again from 1948. In 1947 he was appointed a University lecturer in music, a post he held until 1972. Radcliffe was an important teacher and influenced many generations of students at Cambridge. He lived in Cambridge most of his life and remembered his first visit to King's whilst still at Charterhouse: 'I had my first sight of Cambridge in December 1923 when I sat for a scholarship examination. I attended evensong in the Chapel of my future College and can still recall the impact made upon me by the quiet, other-world sound of the choir singing Remember, O thou man.'

Radcliffe's interests in music were wide-ranging; he published articles and books on subjects from Arcangelo Corelli to John Ireland. As a composer he wrote mainly church music, songs and incidental music. Radcliffe was tragically killed with his sister Susan in a motor accident in France on 2 September 1986.

There are many settings of the text 'God be in my head', but Radcliffe's must be one of the most beautiful: it is written in eight parts—for double choir—and the composer achieves a rich and sonorous texture whilst not losing sight of the simplicity which the text inspires. His memory of the 'other-world sound of the choir' clearly surfaces in this work.

Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934) wrote his Opus 67, Great is the Lord, between August 1910 and March 1912 and orchestrated it in 1913. It is dedicated to the Very Reverend J Armitage Robinson DD, Dean of Wells, and is described as 'an anthem for the foundation or commemoration of a church', being a setting of Psalm 48. It was first performed in Westminster Abbey on 16 July 1912 and is considered a companion work to his setting of 'Give unto the Lord' written in 1914 for St Paul's Cathedral (recorded in Volume III of this series).

The work is interesting from several points of view: first, two of the themes are taken from the Violin Concerto (1910), and secondly the text is very carefully set. The expansive beginning reflects the opening words perfectly: the upper voices are suggestive of the heavenly joys of Mount Zion; the staccato accompaniment of the fearful assembly of kings; the almost delirious unrest of the women in labour; the meditative, unhurried andante of the bass solo and the youthful, playful daughters of Judah.

Elgar's provincial origins (he was the son of a west-country piano tuner) and his Roman Catholicism made it difficult for him to find work in the Protestant London of the 1890s. Nonetheless, his rise to fame was rapid: he was knighted in 1904 and in 1911 received the Order of Merit; in 1924 he became Master of the King's Musick (being succeeded by Sir Henry Walford Davies) and in 1931 was created baronet.

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