While most composers found inspiration in post-Reformation hymns, Charles William Pearce (1858-1928) became fascinated by the legacy of plainsong. In the early nineteenth century, members of The Oxford Movement, a grouping associated with high churchmanship, had sought to reform Anglican church worship by reviving past traditions. Pearce saw the possibilities for organ literature, as in the two compositions included here: Creator of the Starry Height
(Conditor alme siderum
), one of Three Hymn-Studies on Ancient Sarum Melodies
Op 25 (1884); and Corde natus ex parentis
(Of the Father sole begotten
), Op 27 (1885). The first of these is a gentle meditation, the second a wide-ranging fantasia which Pearce calls a ‘Symphonic Poem for Organ’. Describing the melody of the latter, he writes: ‘Around such a theme, florid contrapuntal devices entwine themselves as naturally and as gracefully as do the wreaths of holly and ivy around a Gothic pillar at Christmastide’. The classic image of the typical Victorian Christmas is embodied in this piece – ruddy faces, muffler and fur, picturesque village scenes, festive cheer, church steeple topped with snow and so on. It has very little to do with Gregorian chant, and everything to do with the Victorians’ re-interpretation of the past and their desire, in Nicholas Temperley’s words, ‘to restore through symbolism a sense of wonder and majesty in God’s presence’.
from notes by Graham Barber © 2003