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Call to remembrance, O Lord

composer
author of text
Psalm 25: 5-6

 
In William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet (Act 2, Scene 2), Rosencrantz says to Hamlet: ‘There is, sir, an eyrie of children, little eyases, that cry out on the top of question, and are most tyrannically clapp’d for’t. These are now the fashion, and so berattle the common stages—so they call them—that many wearing rapiers are afraid of goose quills and dare scarce come thither.’ The ‘little eyases’ to which Shakespeare (1564–1616) alludes are in all probability the choirboys of St Paul’s, the Chapel Royal and St George’s Chapel in Windsor. Richard Farrant (?1525–1580) leased a building in 1564 of ‘six upper chambers, loftes, lodgynges or Romes lyinge together within the precinct of the late dissolved house or priory of the Black ffryers’. Here he ‘rehearsed’ the boys in public, effectively staging musical and theatrical events.

Farrant became a wealthy man through this venture and the boys were much in demand at the court of Elizabeth I. He was one of the Gentlemen of the Chapel Royal in the 1550s and sang there during the reign of Mary Tudor, taking up the post of Master of the Choristers at St George’s Chapel in 1564. In 1569 he became Master of the Choristers of the Chapel Royal. Each winter from 1567 he presented them to the Queen and produced a play.

Farrant exercised an important influence on church music. His association with the stage (using his choristers) must have led him to compose anthems in a new idiom—now known as the ‘verse’ style. He may well have been the first to introduce soloists to sing the verses. Few of his compositions survive, and the anthem Call to remembrance—although written in quite the opposite of the verse style—shows considerable sensitivity in the setting of the words. This, too, betrays his association with the stage. Consider, for example, the restrained trumpet calls of the opening of this anthem, and the changes of style at ‘thy tender mercies’, ‘which hath been ever of old’, ‘O remember not the sins’ and ‘but according to thy mercy’. These all reveal the hand of a skilful composer and musician.

from notes by William McVicker 1997

Recordings

Passiontide at St Paul's
CDH55436

Details

Track 2 on CDH55436 [2'20]

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