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The English Anthem, Vol. 2

St Paul's Cathedral Choir, John Scott (conductor), Andrew Lucas (organ)
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Label: Hyperion
Recording details: July 1991
St Paul's Cathedral, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Antony Howell
Release date: February 1992
Total duration: 71 minutes 53 seconds


‘Spellbinding performances of some of the great classics of the repertoire. Buy this one; you'll enjoy every moment’ (Organists' Review)

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Listening to Jonathan Battishill’s anthem O Lord, look down from heaven, one could easily be forgiven for mistaking it as an anthem from the Elizabethan period. Battishill was, in fact, born in London in 1738, where he lived, it seems, for all of his life. He died in 1801. He was a chorister at St Paul’s Cathedral, and was a student of the organ; his ability to improvise and his general facility at the keyboard impressed Boyce, who asked him to deputize at the Chapel Royal. Battishill had a fine tenor voice and appeared regularly as a soloist in London and was appointed conductor at Covent Garden in the mid 1750s. In 1764 he was appointed organist at the joint parish of St Clement Eastcheap and St Martin, Ongar, before moving to Christ Church, Newgate, in 1767. Battishill had an over-zealous attraction to alcohol which came to the fore after his wife eloped with an actor to Dublin. This almost certainly resulted in him not becoming organist of St Paul’s Cathedral in 1796. He maintained a close affection for St Paul’s, and, on his own wishes, was buried there near William Boyce.

It seems probable that Battishill wrote O Lord, look down from heaven with the vast space of St Paul’s in mind, something particularly evident at the words ‘thy mercies towards me, are they restrained?’ As Dearnley has observed, ‘a composer for the theatre would naturally think of his audience’. Battishill seems to have been quite adept at writing in the ‘old style’, particularly when using many vocal parts. Here the harmonic suspensions in the nine-part concluding section are handled quite superbly.

Sir John Stainer (1840–1901) was one of the most significant figures in the musical life of Victorian England but he has perhaps been unjustly maligned by many writers. The late Dr Arthur Hutchings wrote: ‘Do not let us underestimate Stainer. We ought to have sent most of his church music to be pulped, and let us waste no time in delaying the pulping. And if Stainer’s goes, then let most choir music by his contemporaries and inferiors precede it. Not much is worth saving before the best of Stanford’s.’ This misses an important point: Stainer was neither better nor worse than the best of musicians in any generation; his music is not the product of an inferior composer but that of a man responding to the musical tastes of Victorian England. Sir Arthur Sullivan’s music has had to bear similar verbal lashings. Let us not judge Stainer, then, but rather the musical taste of the Victorians if it does not please our ears today, for the Victorians regarded both Stainer and Sullivan very highly. Dr Peter Charlton, the author of a book on Stainer, has written: ‘Whatever the reactions to his music in his time, he realized that much of it would not last; it was written to serve a need and he made no pretensions to being a great composer.’

Stainer was one of the best organists of his generation and a superb improviser. He helped raise the standard of cathedral music-making and made St Paul’s Cathedral, where he was appointed organist in 1872, a centre for contemporary music.

Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion, a saints’ day anthem, was written in 1871 and is dedicated to the Rev J R G Taylor, Hereford, who may have been the same person to whom Stainer handed over the conductorship of the newly formed Oxford Philharmonic Society in 1866. This extract from that anthem shows that Stainer had flashes of inspiration: the contrapuntal weaving of the beautiful opening line creates a fine effect.

Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (1852–1924) has for many years been associated solely with choral and church music. He has also rightly been appreciated for the influence he had, through his teaching, over the next generation of English composers who followed him. Like many composers of his generation he was gifted in writing musical miniatures; Stanford seems to have been particularly good when using the small compositional forms and structures demanded by the canticles. In recent years his orchestral works have come under closer scrutiny revealing that as a composer, Stanford was at ease even with the symphonic form. It seems possible that this composer’s wide experience of large-scale forms taught him a terseness in his miniatures which remains pleasing today.

Justorum animae is the first of his Three Motets, Op 38, dating from 1905.

Edgar Bainton (1880–1956) was a pupil of Stanford’s at the Royal College of Music. He spent much of his life in Newcastle-upon-Tyne as a teacher and principal at the Conservatoire. At the outbreak of World War I, Bainton was abroad, and subsequently was interned in Ruhleben. After the war he returned to Newcastle and once again became an active force in music-making in the north-east. In recognition of his work and influence, and prior to him leaving England to take up the appointment as director of the New South Wales State Conservatorium in Sydney, the University of Durham awarded him the degree of DMus honoris causa and he was also elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Music. Although not a prolific composer—and somewhat ignored as a composer in England—he did have some success with his operas in Australia.

The anthem And I saw a new heaven is typical of Bainton’s work in that he was attracted to late-romantic harmony without indulging in the folksong-influenced modal harmonies which characterize much of the music of his English contemporaries such as Vaughan Williams.

The Welsh composer William Mathias (1934–1992) was educated at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, and subsequently on a Open Scholarship in composition at the Royal Academy of Music where his teachers were Peter Katin for piano and Lennox Berkeley for composition. Mathias maintained a close affiliation to his homeland, being associated with University College, Bangor, from 1959 as a lecturer and as Professor of Music from 1969 until 1988. His reputation as a composer gained him many honours, notably a Fellowship of the Royal Academy of Music in 1965, the Bax Society Prize in 1968, the John Edwards Memorial Award in 1981, and a CBE in the 1985 New Year’s Honours. Mathias was as popular in America as in Great Britain—testimony to this lies in the award of an Honorary DMus by Westminster Choir College, Princeton, in 1987.

Although this composer’s most distinguished compositions arguably lie in his orchestral music—his symphonies and concertos—his chamber works and his opera The Servants, Op 81, Mathias thankfully never neglected liturgical music and received many commissions, including several for Royal occasions—most notably his anthem Let the people praise Thee, O God written for the wedding of The Prince and Princess of Wales in 1981 at St Paul’s Cathedral.

The anthem recorded here is another work associated with a Royal visit to St Paul’s Cathedral: As truly as God is our Father was written at the request of the Friends of St Paul’s Cathedral for their festival and sung in the presence of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, the Patron of the Friends on 30 June 1987.

This gentle anthem takes its text from the writings of Mother Julian of Norwich. The agitated rhythms normally associated with this composer’s celebratory anthems are absent here; the powerful words are reflected in the simplicity of the slowly changing harmonies.

Communication is important to me. I want to be understood, enjoyed and used. I do not want to live in the enclosed and artificial world of ‘Contemporary Music’, but in the repertory of musicians whom I respect, in the schools, in the churches, and in the theatre. I also have a profound respect for the musical culture of amateurs and with this very important section of the musical public I have enjoyed some of my most rewarding musical experiences.

So wrote the South African-born composer John Joubert (b1927). This praise-worthy attitude to composing and music-making has afforded Joubert popularity as a composer in his own lifetime. Joubert has lived in this Britain since 1946 when he was awarded a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy of Music in London. He scored some early successes with his compositions, winning several awards, including the Royal Philharmonic Society Prize, whilst still a student. Like Mathias, Joubert has been the recipient of many awards and honours, the most recent of which is the degree of DMus honoris causa from the University of Durham in 1991.

Although Joubert was associated with the University of Birmingham for 24 years until 1986, he was appointed to a lectureship at the University of Hull in 1950. It was whilst he was there that his anthem O Lorde, the maker of al thing won first prize in the Novello Anthem Competition in 1952. This work has gained a place in every cathedral choir’s repertoire. The sturdy style of the composition makes for compulsive listening and the insistent phrases climax before quickly subsiding to a dark consclusion reminiscent of the brooding opening.

Sir Edward Bairstow (1874–1946) was organist of York Minster in 1913, a post he retained until his death in 1946. His appointment as Professor of Music at the University of Durham in 1929 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.

Save us, O Lord is probably Bairstow’s best-loved anthem. It was composed for the Festival of the Wigan and District Church Choral Asociation in November 1902, when the composer was organist of Wigan Parish Church. This relatively early composition shows his mastery of a seamless style in which the lines of music flow out of each other, best demonstrated in the opening organ introduction, the successive choral entries and in the compatibility of this style with the central fugato.

Sir Frederick Arthur Gore Ouseley (1825–1889) is one of the most neglected, but most fascinating characters in nineteenth-century church music. As a child, his musical precocity was said to be rivalled only by that of Mozart. ‘Only think,’ he exclaimed as a child of five, ‘papa blows his nose in G!’ At the age of eight he is supposed to have written his opera L’Isola disabitata. His father was ambassador to Persia and Russia and was made a baronet in 1808. Frederick took his names from his father (Gore) and his godfathers, Frederick, Duke of York, and Arthur, Duke of Wellington. He entered Christ Church, Oxford, in 1843, the year before he succeeded to the baronetcy. He was ordained in 1849 and received the DMus in 1854. Ouseley became a curate at St Barnabas, Pimlico, where he presented the organ and paid for the choir’s costs. As a man of considerable wealth, Ouseley was able to found St Michael’s College, Tenbury in Worcestershire (completed in 1856) and became its first Warden. There, influenced by the Oxford Movement, he developed his notions of the cathedral service which, as Nicholas Temperely has observed, became the model over its rivals to become the standard form of cathedral service.

Ouseley became Professor of Music at Oxford University in 1855 and was a considerable scholar in his day, editing the sacred works of Gibbons and making a study of Spanish musical treatises. As a composer he wrote relatively little, although several of his anthems are still regularly performed today. He eschewed secular influences in music at a time when organists ‘inflict upon the congregation long voluntaries, interludes, &c. which consist either of his own vulgar imagination, or selections from the last new opera’. Ouseley commented on the use of secular melodies in hymn tunes as follows: ‘How can they result in aught but the disgust and discouragement of all musical churchmen, the misleading of the unlearned, the abasement of sacred song, the falsification of public taste, and (last, but not least) the dishonour of our God and his worship?’ Ouseley influenced many of the subsequent Victorian church musicians through his musical style and his influence both at Oxford and at St Michael’s College Tenbury—including Stainer, who was invited by Ouseley to become organist there in 1857.

The anthem O Saviour of the World is a short and unpretentious essay for double choir, in what might be termed Ouseley’s self-imposed ecclesiastical compositional idiom. The anthem is appealing in its relative simplicity, in which the words speak clearly to the listener.

The composer Patrick Gowers (b1936) has kindly supplied the following note for this recording of Viri Galilaei:

This anthem was commissioned for the Consecration of the Bishop of Oxford in St Paul’s Cathedral on Ascension Day 1988. The words are taken partly from the Proper for Ascension Day and partly from Bishop Christopher Wordsworth’s hymn ‘See the Conqueror mounts in triumph’. The words are as follows:

The work is centred on a chorale melody. This is heard in full as the setting for the hymn, while its first four notes, F–G–B flat–A, form the basis of much of the rest of the music. But whereas such a treatment owes its origins to Lutheran music in general, and Bach’s in particular, the result is completely different. The chorale, though original, is in a style typical of the sixteenth-century Calvinist psalters, and of the work of the two great composers associated with them, Louis Bourgeois and Claude Goudimel.

Bach himself used chorale melodies of this type; but he tended to transform them so that they finished by sounding like unadulterated Bach, with little trace of their original character. This made for superb Bach; but something quite precious had to be sacrificed in the process. As Patrick Gowers is no Bach, he felt it prudent to try to elaborate his chorale in a way that let it retain a good part of its Calvinist character, despite the fact that the very idea of inflating it at all flies somewhat in the face of puritan Calvinist principles. The result is a sixteenth-century Calvinist seed elaborated by a seventeenth-century Lutheran method in a twentieth-century pictorial idiom.

Patrick Gowers has written various other works in this vein: ‘Holy, Holy, Holy!’ is a Trinity anthem based partly on Bishop Heber’s hymn and partly on the passage in Revelations which inspired it; ‘Joy and Triumph’ is an elaboration in two parts of Louis Bourgeois’s melody for Psalm 42 ‘ainsi que la biche ree’; and a six-movement Cantata, taking the form of a meditation on Psalm 139, is based on a metrical translation by The Countess of Pembroke and her brother Sir Philip Sidney, interspersed with various passages in the Coverdale version.

Robin Holloway (b1943) was a chorister at St Paul’s Cathedral before studying composition privately with Alexander Goehr. He went to King’s College, Cambridge, and during his time as an undergraduate, on a visit to the Darlington Summer School of Music, heard Messiaen’s Oiseaux exotiques which made him ‘jump out of his skin’! He later went on to publish his doctoral thesis on Debussy and Wagner. Holloway has been constantly in demand as a composer since the late 1960s.

Like Finzi, Holloway has chosen a text by the English poet Richard Crashaw (1612–1649). Lord, what is man? was commissioned for the opening service of the 1991 City of London Festival held at St Paul’s Cathedral on 7 July. The composer wrote about this first performance in The Spectator as follows:

Something completely different happens to one’s music when it is heard in a liturgical context. No doubt the silence which has become habitual down the generations in concert halls and recital rooms contains an element of reverence for the art and of courtsey towards the artists, as well as conducing to audibility. But in a religious service music has two distinct attributes which do not belong to it in a concert. First and simplest, it is functional … a mass or a motet should, so to speak, show its listeners how to pray, and assist them in doing so. And the second, a more complex function, obviates the very idea of a listener equally with that of applause for performers and self-expression for the composer. Irrespective of the composer’s personal belief or disbelief, liturgical music, by means of humbly fulfilling an exact function aims directly up on high. It is intended to be perceived rather than listened to, just as even the most masterly ecclesiastical architecture, sculpture, painting, glass, wood and metal subsume the delights of the eye into religious contemplation.

Gerald Finzi (1901–1956) was determined to become a composer from his boyhood. He was educated privately, studying music with Ernest Farrar, Sir Edward Bairstow and later with R O Morris with whom Sir Adrian Boult advised him to take a course of lessons in counterpoint. Finzi was not unaware of musical developments on the continent of Europe in the 1920s, but, perhaps like Howells, he decided to forge his own harmonic language culled from the rich leagacy of Parry, Elgar and Vaughan Williams.

Literature played an important part in Finzi’s life, and he amassed a considerable library of material; some of the poetry contained therein was to surface as the texts for his compositions. As a composer he worked very slowly, even the shortest song might take years to complete. Lo, the full, final sacrifice, Op 26, was first performed in 1946 on 21 September at St Matthew’s Church, Northampton, and was commissioned by the Rev Walter Hussey for the occasion of the 53rd anniversary of the consecration of that church. It was orchestrated in 1947 and was performed in that version at the Three Choirs’ Festival in Gloucester on 12 September, with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by the composer.

William McVicker © 1991

Other albums in this series

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