Hyperion Records

Magnificat and Nunc dimittis 'Collegium Sancti Johannis Cantabrigiense'
1961; for the 450th anniversary of the foundation of St John's College, Cambridge
author of text
Magnificat: Luke 1: 46-55; Nunc dimittis: Luke 2: 29-32

'Canticles from St Paul's' (CDA68058)
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'The Feast of Michaelmas at Westminster Abbey' (CDA67643)
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Canticle 1: Magnificat  My soul doth magnify the Lord
Canticle 2: Nunc dimittis  Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace

Magnificat and Nunc dimittis 'Collegium Sancti Johannis Cantabrigiense'
Sir Michael Tippett (1905–1998) is part of an illustrious line of English composers who, whilst admiring the legacy and music of the church, were at best agnostic, and in some cases out-and-out atheists. Unlike Benjamin Britten, Tippett’s evolving musical genius was on a slow burn. He was thirty before any pieces were published and he could be fiercely self-critical about his work, destroying many of his earliest compositions. Tippett was born in Eastcote in Middlesex but the family soon moved to Suffolk and Tippett was sent off to boarding school, first at Swanage in Dorset, then at Fettes College in Edinburgh and finally at Stamford School in Lincolnshire. In 1923 he began studies at the Royal College of Music. Tippett’s output includes five operas, alongside significant orchestral, chamber and choral works: his cantata A Child of our Time is one of his best-known works.

In 1962, St John’s College, Cambridge, was celebrating its 450th anniversary and Tippett was commissioned to write a liturgical work in celebration. Tippett himself decided to set the evening canticles and the first performance was given in the Chapel by the College Choir under George Guest on 13 March 1962. Controversial at the time and controversial to this day, the setting underlines the revolutionary nature of the text (he ‘hath exalted the humble and meek … and the rich he hath sent empty away’). Tippett was particularly interested in the Trompetta Real stop which had recently been added to the St John’s organ and which, with its trumpets protruding at a 45-degree angle from the casework, was an inspiration from the organs George Guest had discovered on trips to Spain. The Magnificat starts with an ecstatic flourish from the Trompetta and can be a rude awakening to those used to the comfortable and comforting settings of the previous ages. The Nunc dimittis is particularly affecting. Ian Kemp describes the low organ chords as ‘the thumping in Simeon’s heart as he is about to meet his Creator’ and goes on to say that ‘Simeon is too old to voice his own thoughts. All he can do is say “Lord”. An angel plucks the words out of his thoughts and sings them for him’ (Kemp, Ian Tippett The Composer and his Music, OUP, 1987, p374).

from notes by Andrew Carwood 2014

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