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Lord, thou hast been our refuge

composer
1916; published 1917
author of text
Psalms 90: 1, 2; 144: 3, 4; 102: 12; 90: 15

 
After a spell teaching in Windsor Sir Edward Bairstow (1874–1946) was articled to Sir Frederick Bridge at Westminster Abbey 1893, where he stayed for six years as pupil and amanuensis. He also held an appointment as Organist and Choirmaster at All Saints’, Norfolk Square, in London until 1899 when he went to Lancashire to take up the post of Organist at Wigan Parish Church. In 1906 he moved to Leeds Parish Church and was appointed Organist of York Minster in 1913, a post he held until his death in 1946. He took the Doctorate of Music examinations at the University of Durham in 1902 and became Professor of Music there in 1929. This did not necessitate a move from York to Durham, for he was only required to give one lecture each year in order to fulfil his commitment.

Scarcely a month in the life of any choral foundation will go by without Bairstow’s music appearing on the music lists. He seems able to create an atmosphere in his music and to evoke the great spaces of a cathedral by dramatic or intimate musical gestures that reflect the detailed attention he paid to the text he was working on. This contrasts well with the work of Stanford who frequently produces a straightforward musical structure and a singable tune that one could whistle on the way home. Bairstow, by contrast, is interested in the relation­ship of the organ part to the choral parts, building great climaxes in the music and contrasting them with simple yet dramatic ideas. The technical construction of the work is subservient to the music which often feels as if it is almost continuously unfolding on a vast canvas. His approach is scholarly and meticulous, showing the influence of Bach and Brahms.

The anthem Lord, thou hast been our refuge was commissioned for the 263rd Festival of the Sons of the Clergy in 1917, held at St Paul’s Cathedral—indeed, some of the cathedral choir’s scores even to this day are marked ‘Proof copy—Private’ and contain some minor textual differences to the published edition. Dr Francis Jackson OBE in his book Blessed City, The Life and Works of Edward C Bairstow (Sessions, York, 1996) describes the anthem as follows:

It has accompaniment for full orchestra and is one of his biggest anthems, full of melody, colourful harmony and dramatic treatment of the words, especially at ‘Man is like a thing of nought: his time passeth away like a shadow’, the last word uttered in a breathy whisper. Some say it is over-sentimental or too pompous; others, that it is nothing more or less than a very imaginative account of these words from Psalm 90. It is the high point, the apotheosis and summation of an Edwardian composer writing in the darkest days of war-torn Britain.

from notes by William McVicker © 1999

Recordings

Bairstow: Choral Music
CDA67497
The English Anthem, Vol. 7
CDA67087

Details

Track 5 on CDA67497 [7'59]
Track 5 on CDA67087 [8'45]

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