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Harwood’s music—particularly his organ works—lost their popularity, although in the last decade there has been renewed interest in his two organ Sonatas. Harwood’s music is, perhaps, rather typical of its era, but the craftsmanship in its construction is clear. His anthem O how glorious was originally scored for orchestra, although the organ transcription is certainly most effective.
Any recording of church anthems will inevitably include music by Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924), not because he wrote more than any of his contemporaries, but because he set the words of the anthems to good, honest tunes, in a thoroughly fluent and musical manner without undue repetition of the words. Performers cannot ask more of a composer than to write gebrauschmusik which does not require excessive rehearsal and which is rewarding to sing. This almost guarantees that a work will be performed again and again. In Stanford’s case his music has not lost its initial charm and seems unlikely to do so. This anthem was written in 1886.
The Hymn to the Mother of God by John Tavener (b1944) is the first of the Two Hymns to the Mother of God, both of which were written in memory of Tavener’s mother who died in 1985. The words are taken from the Liturgy of St Basil. Tavener has written that the words ‘speak of the almost cosmic power attributed to the Mother of God by the Orthodox Church’. The composer was converted in to the Orthodox faith in 1977 and has found the writings of its religious mystics a source of inspiration. Tavener’s music is often concerned with aspects of religious ritual; in this hymn the solemnity and richness of the widely-spaced harmony is given an extra dimension by the canonic writing between the two choirs. The work was first performed on 14 December 1985 by the Choir of Winchester Cathedral conducted by Martin Neary.
As a composer, Charles Wood (1866-1926) exhibited ‘fastidious taste and fine scholarship’. Wood wrote most of his church music in his later years, and it seems only a matter of time before his larger choral works, and his chamber and orchestral music come under closer scrutiny. Wood was an important teacher at Cambridge University where he became Professor of Music in 1924 following Stanford’s death. He had been a pupil of Stanford’s at the Royal College of Music and perhaps suffered from being in that composer’s shadow.
Expectans expectavi was published in 1919. It is slightly unusual in its construction: it has a short but effective pianissimo coda, and a bar of silence before the build-up to the climax begins.
Sir William Harris (1883-1973) studied at the Royal College of Music under Sir Walter Parratt, Charles Wood and Sir Walford Davies. He became Davies’s assistant at the Temple Church and eventually went to Lichfield Cathedral as assistant organist. In 1919 he became organist at New College Oxford and in 1923 was appointed professor of organ and harmony at the Royal College of Music. Ten years later he became organist of St George’s Chapel, Windsor and was widely acknowledged to be an outstanding choir trainer.
Harris wrote a number of services and anthems of which the finest is Faire is the Heaven. Scored for double choir, the anthem was written in 1925 and was very much in the style of Charles Wood. The central section is the most impressive where the music moves to an antiphonal climax.
Thomas Attwood (1765-1838) became a chorister at the Chapel Royal at the age of nine. At the age of sixteen he was presented to the Prince of Wales (who later became George IV) who was impressed enough to send him on a course of study abroad in Naples and then in Vienna where he became a pupil of Mozart. Attwood enjoyed considerable royal patronage (his father had been a trumpeter in the King’s Band) and when he returned to England he became tutor to the Duchess of York and the Princess of Wales. In 1796 he was appointed organist of St Paul’s Cathedral.
Despite his modest attainments in the field of composition—which include thirty-two operas—Attwood will be remembered not just for his association with Mozart, but also for his friendship with Mendelssohn who dedicated his Three Preludes and Fugues for organ to him. Attwood was a founder member of the Philharmonic Society and became one of the first professors at the Royal Academy of Music on its foundation in 1823. By all accounts he was a charming fellow who had many friends; he did not set out to impress, and yet he had a subtle but profound influence upon the English music scene in the nineteenth century. The anthem Come, Holy Ghost has taken its place in the English church music repertoire. Its appeal is in its simplicity.
Samuel Wesley (1766-1837), the father of Samuel Sebastian Wesley (1810-1876), was a child prodigy. Dr William Boyce visited the Wesleys in 1774 and exclaimed of the young Samuel. ‘Sir, I hear you have an English Mozart in your house’. Shortly after this encounter, Boyce was astonished to be presented with a complete oratorio, Ruth, composed by the eight-year-old boy.
Rumours were rife in the mid-1780s that Samuel had become a Roman Catholic. Later in his life Samuel denied this, but attracted to it he most certainly was. He set much Latin to music in the years following the 1780s, although it has been suggested that this was more out of love of the liturgy and the music than of Catholicism. His Latin music is some of his best, and he continued to write for the Catholic liturgy for over forty years.
In exitu Israel is written in eight parts, and scored for double choir. Many criticisms have been levelled at the work form the point of view of the anthem’s musical form, although the musical content is quite thrilling. One writer has commented that the discords with which the work ends would have made poor Attwood shudder!
Robert Saxton (b1953) is Head of Composition at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. he has studied composition with Luciano Berio, Elisabeth Lutyens, and at Cambridge with Robin Holloway and at Oxford with Robert Sherlay Johnson. Saxton was a Fullbright Fellow at Princeton University (1985-1986). He has attracted much attention as a composer and has received many important commissions, including several from the BBC. His Concerto for Orchestra was performed at the BBC Promenade Concerts in 1984, and more recently Glyndebourne commissioned his Paraphrase on Mozart’s Idomeneo (1991). Saxton has commissions for a Trumpet Concerto for John Wallace and the London Sinfonietta, and a Cello Concerto for Rostropovich and the London Symphony Orchestra.
Saxton’s choral work At the round earth’s imagined corners was commissioned by Michael Kaye for the opening service of the City of London Festival held in St Paul’s Cathedral, 5 July 1992. The composer has written of the work:
The poem is a sonnet, with the normal break after the eight of the fourteen lines. The first part is set for nine-part a cappella choir and begins over a pedal note A, the music representing the round earth and its imagined corners (the clashing B sung by the basses). It develops in dramatic fashion, the trebles at first representing the angels’ trumpets. The music, while being harmonically directional, is largely homophonic or ‘layered’. The second part matches Donne’s change of mood—the drama and vision of Resurrection give way to a personal prayer by the sinner. The choir is now in eight parts and the texture predominantly homophonic as the text moves from ‘But let them sleep Lord’ to the final ‘As if thou hadst sealed my pardon with thy blood’. The initial A of the anthem has flowered into full-blooded A major, representing the fulfilment and hope of salvation for which Donne pleads so powerfully and eloquently.
The anthem is dedicated to John Scott and the Choir of St Paul’s Cathedral, and to my partner Teresa Cahill, for whom St Paul’s means so much.
Gustav Holst (1874-1934) was of Swedish ancestry, the son of Theodor von Holst who taught the harp and the piano from his home in Cheltenham. Gustav began composing at an early age—although his father did not encourage this—and, after studying with Stanford at the Royal College of Music, he became a trombonist, touring with the Carl Rosa Opera Company. In 1905 he became music master at St Paul’s Girls’ School, Hammersmith, and in 1907 music director at Morley College. He held both these posts until his death. He was also a visiting lecturer in composition at Harvard University and was awarded the Royal Philharmonic Society gold medal in 1930 and the Howland Memorial Prize from Yale University.
Holst’s contact with church music was not extensive and he was certainly not a church composer. His other interests included learning Sanskrit to know more of Hindu literature and philosophy and reading about the space-time continuum.
Written in 1916, Turn back O man is the second of Three Hymns for Chorus and Orchestra. The melody (The Old 124th Psalm) is taken from the Genevan Psalter. The ostinato in the bass is a simple but effective device which makes it unusual in the anthem repertoire.
Sir C Hubert H Parry (1848-1918) was one of the most important figures in late nineteenth-century English music. Parry’s role as a teacher and a writer was crucial; both he and Stanford were able to revitalize English music at a time when standards were low. He obtained his MusB degree whilst still at Eton, and before he went up to Exeter College, Oxford, one of his morning services had already been sung at Magdalen College. After Oxford he worked for Lloyd’s Shipping, but continued musical studies with Dannreuther who brought his work to the fore in 1880 when he played his Piano Concerto at the Crystal Palace.
Parry was appointed to the staff at the Royal College of Music when it opened in 1883, succeeding Grove as its director the following year. In 1900 he succeeded Stainer as Professor of Music at Oxford. As a scholar Parry made many contributions (particularly in his later years), including an important work on J S Bach.
Although much of Parry’s music has not stayed in the repertoire, his anthem I was glad (written for the coronation of Edward VII in 1902) seems unlikely to be dropped. Parry’s five Symphonies have recently attracted renewed attention, and his Nonet for wind in B flat, and Violin Sonatas, amongst other works, are available on Hyperion recordings. The six motets, written between 1916 and 1918, which constitute the introspective Songs of Farewell (of which There is an old belief is the third) are fine choral pieces.
Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934) has been described as being ‘ecumenical long before the word was fashionable, at home in the Anglican and Roman Catholic worlds, but not at ease.’ Whilst the inspiration for Elgar’s church music springs form his Roman Catholicism, he was aware that the opportunities afforded by the Anglican church—specifically the Three Choirs Festival—were greater than those of the Catholic church. Several of Elgar’s anthems were commissioned for Anglican church festivals.
Give unto the Lord dates from 1914. Sir George Martin, then the organist of St Paul’s Cathedral commissioned Elgar to write an anthem for the 200th anniversary service of the Festival of the Sons of the Clergy. The work was scored for chorus, organ and orchestra.
William McVicker © 1992