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The English Anthem, Vol. 4

St Paul's Cathedral Choir, John Scott (conductor)
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Label: Hyperion
Recording details: July 1993
St Paul's Cathedral, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Arthur Johnson
Engineered by Antony Howell
Release date: February 1994
Total duration: 64 minutes 49 seconds


‘The choir sing with their customary splendour and assurance’ (Gramophone)

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The music of the Welsh composer William Mathias (1945-1992) was represented in the second volume of Hyperion's series The English Anthem with As truly as God is our Father, a work which was specially written for a Royal visit to St Paul's Cathedral. Mathias wrote an anthem for another Royal occasion, the marriage of HRH The Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer, which took place in St Paul's Cathedral on 29 July 1981; Let the people praise thee, O God, Op 87, is a setting of the Deus misereatur, Psalm 67.

Over the past few decades there have been many composers who have studiously avoided writing works for liturgical use, but Mathias always found a place in his compositional output for church music, and therefore amateur music-making. As with the work of John Joubert, it is this approach to his music which assured him a place in the choral repertoire. Mathias was Professor of Music for many years at University College, Bangor, and was showered with awards and honours, including a CBE in 1985.

Sir Edward Bairstow (1874-1946) was organist at York Minster for thirty-three years from 1913 until his death and was the composer of some of the most impressive anthems in the Cathedral repertoire. His music is to be found in every cathedral music library, if not every parish choir library in the land; scarcely a month in the life of any choral foundation will pass without Bairstow's music being represented in the music lists. Why is this so? The answer is partly to be found in this short anthem. Bairstow was able to create a sense of atmosphere in his music and generally allows the great spaces of a cathedral to be evoked by dramatic or intimate musical gestures which reflect his immaculate attention to the expression of the text he has set. Examples of this are the 'alleluias' of Let all mortal flesh or the series of cadences and tempo changes in Blessed City.

The seventeenth-century Latin hymn, Jesu, grant me this, I pray, set to music by Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625) and sometimes known as 'Song 13', is sung here in an arrangement by Bairstow. The treatment is that of 'fauxbourdon', originally involving a wide variety of specific technical devices but latterly implying a series of variations on the initial melody. Bairstow's craftsmanship is evident: his sweeping independent phrases in verse 3 expressing the temptation of flesh but coming to rest in Christ's 'wounded side' at the end of the verse. The darkness created in verse 4 (with the melody sung by the basses) is counter-balanced by rich harmony matching the sentiment expressed in the text. In essence these are simple devices, but handled by a craftsman and exponent of the miniature.

After Bairstow's death in 1946, Francis Jackson (b1917) succeeded him as organist of York Minster. Dr Jackson had been one of Bairstow's pupils and was to remain organist at York until his retirement in 1982. He has been awarded honorary Fellowships of the Royal School of Church Music, the Royal Northern College of Music and Westminster Choir College in Princeton. He was awarded an OBE in 1978 and in addition to his D.Mus from the University of Durham (gained in 1957) he was awarded the Doctorate of York University and the Order of Saint William of York.

As an organ recitalist, Dr Jackson has travelled widely, both in this country and abroad. He has composed extensively for the organ and his musical output also includes an organ concerto, a symphony, an overture, two monodramas, and much choral music. The double-choir anthem Alleluia, laudate pueri Dominum was composed in October 1971 for Andrew Carter and the Chapter House Choir at York.

Following the opening rhythmic fanfare, the syllables of 'alleluia' are split up and sung by each of the voices in turn; this device is used in a number of different ways throughout the work. There are also dramatic key changes and a simple but energetic melody is used for the words 'laudate nomen Domini'. This melody is passed through the voices, gathering strength before its final triumphal appearance towards the end of the anthem.

Herbert Howells (1892-1983) was articled to Herbert Brewer as a pupil at Gloucester Cathedral in 1905. In 1912 he won an open scholarship to the Royal College of Music where he studied with Stanford and Wood. Howells himself taught at the Royal College of Music from 1920 and was to become almost as well-known as a teacher, examiner and adjudicator as he was as a composer. He succeeded Holst in 1936 as Director of Music at St Paul's Girls' School in Hammersmith, a post he retained until 1962. In 1950 he was appointed King Edward VII Professor of Music at London University.

The lesser-known work A Hymn for Saint Cecilia was commissioned by The Livery Club of The Worshipful Company of Musicians to mark the composer's Mastership of the Company (1959-1960). The inspired text by Ursula Vaughan Williams is complemented by Howells's graceful and sweeping phrases, the climaxes being liberally sprinkled with the composer's inimitable melodic gestures and harmonic twists.

Sir William Harros (1883-1973) was represented in volume 3 of Hyperion's The English Anthem with his well-known double-choir setting of Spencer's text Faire is the heaven. His anthem Bring us, O Lord God is also written for double choir and is of a similar scale. Harris was organist of St Gerorge's Chapel in Windsor and had been a pupil of Sir Walter Parratt, Charles Wood and Sir Henry Walford Davies. It is no surprise that Harris's own compositions should bear the hallmarks of Wood's style. Harris was not as prolific a composer as some of his colleagues in cathedral posts and wrote only a few works. His skills as a choir-trainer are reflected in his anthem-writing in that the complexities of good tuning and skills of independence of both sides of the cathedral choir are taken for granted.

Bring us, O Lord God is a setting of a prayer by John Donne, who was appointed dean of St Paul's Cathedral in 1621 and vicar of St Dunstan's-in-the-West in 1634. Donne secretly married his master's neice (Anne More) which incurred her father's wrath. This impetuous act ensured that Donne was to struggle to find employment worthy of his talents and caused him to sign a letter to his wife 'John Donne, Anne Donne, undone'. It is easy to imagine this prayer, set to music by Harris, as a plea by Donne for equality in the world to come, having suffered discrimination during much of his life.

Robin Orr was born in Brechin in 1909 and studied at the Royal College of Music, Cambridge University and with Nadia Boulanger and Alfredo Casella. From 1938 to 1956 he was Organist and Director of Music at St John's College, Cambridge. He has taught at the University of Cambridge, the Royal College of Music, and at the University of Glasgow where he was Professor of Music, subsequently becoming the first Chairman of Scottish Opera, a post which he held for fifteen years. In 1965 he was appointed Professor of Music at the University of Cambridge. He retired in 1976. Among his many honours are Honorary Fellowships at St John's College and Pembroke College, Cambridge, and he was made CBE in 1972.

Professor Orr has written three symphonies, three operas, and has received important commissions from Peter Pears and Dame Janet Baker. He has also made a significant contribution to Anglican church music. The anthem They that put their trust in the Lord was composed in memory of those members of St John's College, Cambridge, who lost their lives in the Second World War. The mood of the work is traditional in outlook, although the key structure is unusual, which lends an original quality to the profound calm of the work.

The music of Sir Charles Stanford has been represented on all of the three previous volumes of The English Anthem. Volumes 1 and 2 included the motets Beati quorum via and Justorum animae from the Three Motets, Op 38. Coelos acendit hodie is the second of these three pieces and completes the recording of this set. The motets were published in l9l3 although they were probably written in 1892. It has been written of Stanford that `he wore his nerves so near his upper skin that they were easily exposed and his temper celtically aroused'. He was fun-loving and full of wit, but with little sense of humour. This had the unfortunate effect of enabling his wit to become overly acerbic. Stanford's compositional output for the church is vast and a series of recordings devoted to his choral music could only begin to do him justice. His church music has never been absent from the cathedral repertoire and it is almost tempting to see this fact as confirmation of the quality of his other compositions, particularly in the light of renewed (and long deserved) interest in his seven symphonies.

Sir Ernest Bullock (1890-1979) was not primarily a composer. He is remembered today chiefly as an educationalist and organist. He was born in Wigan where Bairstow had begun his musical career as organist of the parish church, became one of his pupils and went on to become his assistant organist at Leeds Parish Church in 1907. In 1912 he became assistant organist at Manchester Cathedral. After demobilisation he became organist at St Michael's College, Tenbury, before moving almost immediately to Exeter as cathedral organist in 1919. Bullock succeeded Sir Sydney Nicholson (to whom he had been Assistant Organist at Manchester Cathedral) as Master of the Choristers at Westminster Abbey in 1928. It was during his time at the Abbey that he provided the music for the coronation of King George VI in 1937. He wrote most of the fanfares both for that event and for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.

In 1941 Bullock went to Glasgow to take up the Gardiner Professorship in Music at the University, a post which also involved being principal of the Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. In 1952 he succeeded Sir George Dyson as director of the Royal College of Music. He was knighted in 1951 and retired in 1960.

Bullock composed only twelve anthems, two settings of the Te Deum and two settings of the Evening Canticles. The anthem Give us the wings of faith is for a saint's day and sets part of a hymn by Isaac Watts. It is written in a pleasing arch form rising to a central climax before ending much as it began.

Jonathan Harvey (b1939) (a chorister at St Michael's College, Tenbury, between 1949 and 1952) has been inspired by many composers and theorists: Erwin Stein, Hans Keller, Schoenberg, Babbit, Schenke, Britten, Tippett and Maxwell Davies. In his early career Harvey embraced a wide range of styles; he is not bound by a stifling artistic credo and is still able to respond to a commission in a variety of ways. Harvey has also written for the electro-acoustic medium where there are few constraints on technique as there are with physical performance. Harvey has been quick to recognise that in order to establish a place in any repertoire, music cannot constantly push performance technique to the limit. Such music is often performed only a handful of times. That is not to say that the present work, I love the Lord, is not without its technical demands, but it is sufficiently approachable to have established itself firmly in the choral repertoire.

I love the Lord was written for Martin Neary and the Choir of Winchester Cathedral and was completed in July 1976. It is scored for 8-part choir and five soloists. At the outset, three of the soloists sing a chord of G major to the words 'I love the Lord'. The chorus symbolically superimpose their own chord (initially the same chord of G major) sung at different times, before they deviate from it in classic bitonality—to stunning effect. Thereafter, following two impassioned pleas, the harmony grows in complexity, the soloists being more insistent with the constancy of their text. Following a section in more restrained mood (at the words `return unto thy rest'), and a final impassioned repetition of the opening text, the chorus and soloists join together in a sonorous chord of G major before the final mysterious cadence.

Thomas Attwood (1765-1838) was appointed organist of St Paul's Cathedral in 1796 and is buried there. One of his short anthems, Come, Holy Ghost, was featured in volume 3 of this series. The present anthem, Teach me, O Lord, shares with that work a successful simplicity which has stood the test of time. But this is not always the case with Attwood's works. In the earlier part of his life he was particularly interested in music for the stage; his output includes thirty-two operas.

At the end of the eighteenth century the deteriorating taste of English church music was reflected in the introduction of over-ornate solos in verse anthems, which, stylistically, were borrowed wholesale from opera. This is documented in A Short Account of Organs Built in Britain (1847) by Sir John Sutton who writes:

[The cathedral organist] considers himself as a first-rate performer, and persuades other people that he is so too, and on the strength of this he inflicts upon the congregation long voluntaries, interludes, which consist either of his own vulgar imagination, or selections from the last new opera.

Attwood was part of this tradition, although he had the sense to write simpler music too. The orchestral introduction to his coronation anthem I was glad contains the national anthem as a counter-melody, whilst that of O grant the king a long life contains more than a nodding acquaintance with Dr Arne's Rule, Britannia!

Attwood had many friends and was widely known as a gentleman. He was a pupil of Mozart and owned a large house on Beulah Hill, Upper Norwood in South London, where Mendelssohn, a good friend, was a visitor.

Charles Wood (1886-1926) wrote a considerable amount of church music and most of it is still in use today simply because it is well written and enjoyable to sing. Much of it is skilfully crafted, and this is amply demonstrated in the anthem O Thou, the central orb where the organ part which accompanies the melody sung by the basses shows careful handling of the chromatic counter-melody.

Wood spent much of his life in Cambridge at the University and wrote the chimes for the Gonville and Caius College clock. Like Stanford, Wood collected and published Irish folksong (both were Irish), and he succeeded Stanford to the post of Professor of Music at the University of Cambridge in 1924. Wood only began church music towards the end of his life and much of it was published posthumously. In his earlier years he composed much larger works for stage, oratorios, and three string quartets.

After an organ scholarship at King's College Cambridge, Francis Grier became assistant organist at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, succeeding Simon Preston as organist in 1981. He rapidly established himself as a recitalist and appeared at the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts as an organ soloist in 1985. In the same year he resigned his posts in Oxford and studied music, meditation and theology in India, working with people with learning difficulties in London and Bangalore. Since 1989 he has been based in England and performs and composes as well as working in the field of mental health.

As a composer he has received many commissions in recent times, and 1993 saw the premiere of his opera St. Francis at Eton College. He has written instrumental and chamber music and many choral works including the anthem Let us invoke Christ. The composer has kindly provided the following note:

A commission to write for St Paul's was a most welcome challenge, not only because of my long-standing admiration for John Scott and his work with the choir, but also because of the extraordinary acoustics of the cathedral. I wished to come up with a work which would be enhanced by the reverberations swirling around the dome and the length of the nave, and it also needed to have an air of celebration befitting its first performance during the opening service of the l993 City of London Festival. By a happy coincidence I found an inspiring ancient eucharistic text which I hope has evoked just this mood, and the musical setting of which will, I hope, sound glorious in the unique sound-world of St Paul's.

Sir C Hubert H Parry (1848-1918) wrote the anthem Hear my words, ye people for the Festival of the Salisbury Diocesan Choral Association in 1894. The format follows that of the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century verse anthem, but on a grander scale. It was originally scored for orchestra, soloists and festival chorus but is now generally sung as an anthem using the two groups of singers in a cathedral choir—Cantoris and Decani.

The introduction promises a work of symphonic proportions, although much of the anthem is of a more intimate nature in that there are bass and soprano arias as well as quartets bringing variety to the various sections of this work. The promise of the introduction is, of course, fulfilled in the most splendid fashion with a setting of Baker's hymn 'O praise ye the Lord' which rounds off the work. This final section was so popular that it became a hymn in its own right and is now to be found in most hymn books. Baker's hymn is so familiar to our ears today in Parry's setting that it is difficult for the listener to imagine how the first audiences heard the final section of this anthem.

William McVicker © 1994

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