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This latest addition to the long-running 'English Anthems' series presents fourteen more favourites from the Anglican repertory. The earliest work on the disc is Thomas Attwood's beautiful Turn thy face from my sin, from which we move into anthems by Sir John Goss, Stanford, Sumsion, Bairstow and others. The middle of the twentieth century is represented by Howells, Britten and Walton's perennially popular A Litany ('Drop, drop, slow tears') while we then have exciting new works by Geraint Lewis and Philip Moore, alongside Rutter's famous—and enchanting—God be in my head.
Stanford was, like many composers of his generation, gifted in writing musical miniatures. Victorian England had a huge appetite for ‘drawing-room music’ and so there was much demand from composers to publish material for that market. Stanford was also at ease with the larger forms; his works include nine operas, seven symphonies, ten concertos, six Irish Rhapsodies, four Masses, twenty-two secular cantatas, eight string quartets, six organ sonatas, and so on. His experience with these larger musical structures evidently taught him terseness in his smaller works. His choral music has survived when much of the work of his contemporaries has not. The renewed interest in him as a composer should allow his works to survive as one of the highest achievements in Victorian and Edwardian music.
How beauteous are their feet is a setting of words by Watts; it has no opus number and is a late work, composed in 1923 for use on saint’s days. It is an uncomplicated setting with a charming melody and simple accompaniment in which the composer makes abundant use of the dominant pedal. An inspired moment is to be found at the words ‘The Lord makes bare his arm’ where the opening melody of the anthem is treated in augmentation—the notes being twice their original value.
Sir John Goss (1800–1880) has suffered at the hands of the slayers of Victoriana. Like Stainer, he merely responded to the musical demands of his day. Goss became one of the Children of the Chapel Royal in 1811. He was appointed Organist of the then newly-built church of St Luke in Chelsea in 1824, succeeding Attwood (of whom he was a pupil) as Organist of St Paul’s Cathedral in 1838. He was appointed as one of the composers of the Chapel Royal in 1856 following the death of William Knivett; he was knighted in 1872, resigning his position at St Paul’s shortly afterwards. His pupils included Sir Arthur Sullivan, Sir Frederic Cowen and Sir Frederick Bridge.
Goss wrote a musical drama, The Serjeant’s Wife, which ran at the London Lyceum for a hundred nights from 24 July 1827. He took to writing church music in later life. The anthem If we believe that Jesus died was written for the funeral of Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington, who died at Walmer Castle, Kent, on 14 September 1852. He lay there in state until 10 November and then in Chelsea Hospital until his burial. The funeral was held at St Paul’s on 17 November and ‘Arthur, Duke of Wellington’ was buried in the crypt. According to Marjie Bloy’s contribution to The Victorian Web, Wellesley had declared himself in favour of Catholic emancipation as early as 1825 and, despite unpopularity in his political policies, in later years he was remembered for his military greatness as a general. His personality and inherent honesty impressed a whole generation and so it is no surprise that the sombre event in St Paul’s that marked his passing should have had a suitably sober setting of the words from Saint Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians.
The opening phrase of Goss’s anthem is quoted on his memorial tablet in the Chapel of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in the crypt of St Paul’s. The inscription reads: ‘His genius and skill are shewn in the various compositions with which he has enriched the Music of the Church. His virtues and kindness of heart endeared him to his pupils and friends who have erected this monument in token of their admiration and esteem.’
Herbert Sumsion (1899–1995) was Organist of Gloucester Cathedral between 1928 and 1967 and Director of Music at Cheltenham Ladies’ College between 1928 and 1968. Between 1926 and 1928 he was Teacher of Harmony and Counterpoint at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. As Organist at Gloucester he was responsible for the Three Choirs’ Festival every three years. He was awarded his BMus from the University of Durham in 1920, the DMus from Lambeth in 1947, and was made a Fellow of the Royal College of Music. His honours included the CBE in 1961 and honorary awards from the Royal Academy of Music, the Royal College of Organists and the Royal School of Church Music.
Sumsion wrote books, services and a number of anthems, including They that go down to the sea in ships which was written in 1979 for Dennis Kiddy and the Choir of Repton Preparatory School. The piece unfolds with a remarkable economy of material: a rippling, listless organ part with an attractive solo melody; rising and falling choral writing and later imitative writing, mostly developed over long-held organ pedal-notes and through changes in tempo—an object lesson in the development of musical material.
John Rutter (b1945) must rank as one of the most successful composers alive today. He was educated at Clare College in Cambridge where he was Director of Music between 1975 and 1979. He was a Lecturer at the Open University between 1975 and 1988 and was made an Honorary Fellow of Westminster Choir College, Princeton, in 1980. He is much in demand as an arranger, composer and conductor both in this country and in America. His large-scale works, Gloria (1974), Requiem (1985) and Magnificat (1990), have become some of the most widely performed of all pieces in the choral society repertoire.
His music has been described as pastiche—but this is to decry the sensitivities that he exhibits in writing a particular type of music for amateur musicians. His work is beautifully crafted, and is written sensitively for voices and instruments alike. Any composer willing to attempt a setting of words such as God be in my head, usually sung to a different and well-known tune—in this case by Walford Davies—must do so with an unshakeable conviction. This short work represents a mere shaving from the composer’s workbench in terms of numbers of bars, but nonetheless the result is a very beautiful setting of fine words from the Sarum Primer.
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.
Oldham-born Sir William Walton (1902–1983) was a chorister at Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford between 1912 and 1918. Dr Henry Ley (1887–1962) who had succeeded Harwood as Organist there in 1909 recognized his outstanding talents and introduced him to Sir Hugh Allen, Fellow of New College and Choragus to the University. The Dean at that time, The Very Reverend Dr Thomas Banks Strong, took an interest in young Walton’s welfare and managed to persuade the boy’s father to allow him to become an undergraduate at the University at the early age of sixteen. But Walton left in 1920 having repeatedly failed Responsions—a requirement of the BA degree. He was taught piano by Basil Allchin the Assistant Organist at Christ Church. Despite being surrounded by so many talented musicians and teachers, Walton was virtually self-taught—his teachers merely claiming that they gave him some advice. He later received similar advice from Ansermet and Busoni.
Although much of Walton’s musical success was in the world of secular music-making, he did not abandon church music and wrote a number of anthems and other liturgical works: The Twelve (1965), Missa Brevis (1966), Jubilate Deo (1972) and seven other shorter works, of which one is A Litany—a setting of the beautiful text by Phineas Fletcher (1582–1650). It is quite remarkable that this piece bears the date ‘Oxford 1917’ after the final bar, which means that the composer was only fifteen when he wrote it. All the more remarkable that the piece begins with a discord and that the music paints so dramatically the words ‘Drop, drop, slow tears’—the work of an iconoclast to be sure.
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. Parry 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. He was famous at school as a baritone and spent much of his time at Oxford playing sport. He found time to found the Oxford University Musical Club with C Harford Lloyd and studied privately with Sterndale Bennett and G A Macfarren. He also sampled the flavour of continental music, studying with the Englishman Henry Hugo Pierson in Stuttgart. After Oxford he worked for Lloyd’s Shipping, but continued his 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 of the Royal College of Music in 1883 when it opened, succeeding Grove as its director the following year. In 1900 he succeeded Stainer as Professor of Music at Oxford. Parry made many contributions to musical literature as a scholar (especially in his later years), including an important work on J S Bach. Although Parry played the organ as a youth and wrote some important pieces for the instrument, the life of the cathedral musician never attracted him. He did contribute much to the cathedral repertoire and his music was quickly absorbed into the repertoires of the choral foundations.
Never weather-beaten sail is the third of the six so-called Songs of Farewell. It is a setting of words by Thomas Campion (1567–1620) and was published in 1916. It is written in five continuous parts, each of which has independence; the result is finely-crafted texture.
Thomas Attwood (1765–1838) became a chorister at the Chapel Royal at the age of nine. By the age of sixteen he had been presented to the Prince of Wales (later to become 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 achievements in the field of composition—which include some thirty-two operas—Attwood will be remembered not just for his association with Mozart, but also for his friendship with Mendelssohn who wrote his Three Preludes and Fugues for organ for him. Mendelssohn stayed in London at Attwood’s large house on Beulah Hill in South Norwood. Attwood was a founder member of the Philharmonic Society and became one of the first professors at the Royal Academy of Music upon its foundation in 1832. 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.
Turn thy face from my sins is a setting of words from Psalm 51, suitable for Lent. 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. Attwood had the good sense not to allow his anthems to lean too far towards the secular musical world and his taste is at its keenest in this short work. A treble soloist sings at the outset, as if it were an aria; the chorus replies and midway through the response Attwood cannot resist the temptation to borrow from opera: the trebles sing ‘renew’, the chorus replies and the basses add their own comment. One can almost imagine this set on stage.
Kenneth Leighton (1929–1988) was born in Wakefield in Yorkshire and became a chorister at the cathedral there. He remained faithful to his Yorkshire upbringing, commenting: ‘Any natural composer is a product of his background, experience and training, and I like to think that my music has the characteristic qualities which have been described as vigour, forthrightness and emotionalism tempered by common sense.’
In 1947 Leighton went up to Queen’s College in Oxford with a Hastings Scholarship in Classics, and it was in this discipline that he graduated in 1951. He also studied for a BMus with Bernard Rose and graduated in the same year. After the Second World War, many young British composers sought enlightenment in new techniques of composition by going to study abroad in order to free themselves of what Leighton himself described as a ‘narrowly British’ background. A Mendelssohn Scholarship enabled him to go to study with Petrassi in Rome—a natural focal point for a Classics scholar.
Leighton was showered with prizes from his early twenties: the Royal Philharmonic Society Prize, the George Butterworth Award, the Harry Danks Prize, the coveted Busoni Prize, the City of Trieste Prize, the Bernhard Sprengel Prize, the Cobbett medal for his distinguished services to chamber music, and the National Federation of Music Societies Prize. In 1970 Oxford University awarded him the Doctorate in Music. Further accolades followed in 1977 with the award of Honorary Doctor of the University of St Andrews and, in 1982, he was made an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Music.
The anthem Give me the wings of faith was commissioned for the Patronal Festival of St John the Baptist, Leytonstone, in June 1962. It is a setting of words by Watts and is scored for two soloists—treble (here sung tutti) and baritone—choir and organ. Written in his gritty quasi-serial style, Leighton hints at the powerful effects he obtained in his impressive large-scale choral and organ works: the crescendo which ensues from the words ‘They wrestled hard’ rises above eleven of the twelve notes of the chromatic scale which stride out in the pedals. As the baritone solo unfolds, the pedals once again creep slowly downwards—an effect which continues as the chorus re-enters and leads majestically to the final section which the choir sings in unison as the organ winds its contrapuntal way to the to the close.
It has been written of Herbert Norman Howells (1892–1983) that he is ‘more widely respected than performed’. Whilst this may sadly be the case with respect to his orchestral and chamber music, it is certainly not true of his organ and choral music. Howells was articled to Herbert Brewer 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 was to return to the Royal College as a teacher from 1920 and became almost as well known in that capacity and as an examiner and adjudicator as he was as a composer. He succeeded Gustav Holst in 1936 as Director of Music at St Paul’s School in Hammersmith, a post he retained until 1962. In 1950 he was appointed King Edward VII Professor of Music at London University.
Amongst Howells’s self-confessed influences were plainsong, the modes, the pentatonic scale, folk-song, his friendship with Ralph Vaughan Williams and a feeling of oneness with the Tudor period. Howells’s music is frequently contrasted with that of his contemporaries, Boughton, Bridge, Delius, Gurney, Holst and Vaughan Williams; the young composer was particularly influenced by the first performance in 1910 of Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on a theme of Thomas Tallis, which took place in Gloucester Cathedral. Comparisons to Howells’s contemporaries are often unfair and laboured; there are many of Howells’s contemporaries whose music has been strongly affected by some or all of the influences that prevailed upon him. In reality Howells is not a pastiche composer of the twentieth century, but rather a testament to the fruits of the Second English Renaissance, and a fine composer in his own right.
The anthem O pray for the peace of Jerusalem was completed on 5 January 1941 whilst the composer was in Cheltenham and is the first in a set of four short anthems. This work demonstrates the composer’s ability to build up seamlessly to a climax and then to release the tension and allow the music to slip away into the stillness of a great cathedral. This arch form is a structure that the composer often used to great effect. The work is dedicated to Sir Thomas Armstrong who at that time was organist at Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford.
Benjamin Britten (1913–1976) made a small but highly significant contribution to liturgical music. He was born in East Anglia and was educated at Gresham’s School, Holt, later settling at Aldeburgh in Suffolk. He studied piano with Harold Samuel and composition with Frank Bridge whilst still at school. He went up to the Royal College of Music in London where he was a distinguished, prize-winning pupil. There he studied composition with John Ireland and piano with Arthur Benjamin.
Britten’s own philosophical approach to music is worth repeating:
I believe … in occasional music … almost every piece I have ever written has been composed with a certain occasion in mind, and usually for definite performers, and certainly always human ones.
I consider their voices, the range, the power, the subtlety, and the colour potentialities of them.
I consider the instruments they play—their most expressive and suitable individual sonorities … I also take note of the … circumstances of music, of its environment and conventions; for instance, I try to write dramatically effective music for the theatre … And then the best music to listen to in a great Gothic church is the polyphony which was written for it, and was calculated for its resonance.
On receiving the First Aspen Award
A speech by Benjamin Britten (Faber and Faber, London, 1964)
The Hymn to St Peter was written in 1955 and first performed in the same year at the Church of St Peter Mancroft in Norwich. The work draws on a text taken from the Gradual of the Feast of St Peter and St Paul, with its associated plainsong. The plainsong, presented at the outset, is woven into the organ pedal ostinato. The Latin text ‘Tu es Petrus’ (‘Thou art Peter’) is sung by a solo treble, with echoes of the plainsong theme, juxtaposed with Britten’s own harmonic language. This conveniently draws the ancient to the modern as the chorus translates the text the treble sings.
Geraint Lewis was born in Cardiff in 1958 and educated at St John’s College, Cambridge. On graduating he was appointed to the music staff of the University of Wales at Bangor, working with Professor William Mathias. He has worked on the music staff of BBC Wales and is now Artistic Director of the Nimbus Foundation. Lewis has published extensively on the composer Tippett and holds a number of important artistic positions. He is Artistic Director of the North Wales International Music Festival, a member of the Arts Council of Wales and Chairman of the Arts Council of Wales Music Panel.
His compositions include many setting of Welsh texts and are mostly choral, with works written for St David’s Cathedral, St John’s College, Cambridge, and Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford. The anthem The souls of the righteous is subtitled ‘In memoriam William Mathias’ and was composed for the Service of Thanksgiving for the life and work of Mathias at St Paul’s Cathedral on 20 November 1992. It was first performed by the choir of St Paul’s Cathedral conducted by John Scott, with Andrew Lucas at the organ. The composer has supplied the following note for this recording:
This work was suggested by a request from Nina Walker for an All Souls’ anthem for 1992. I started work before Christmas 1991 and showed the part that I had completed to William Mathias during one of my many visits to see him in Anglesey. He liked what he heard and urged me to complete it. I held back however and put it to one side. A month later Mathias was diagnosed as having terminal cancer and given six months to live. I visited him every other week during this time (travelling from Monmouth to Menai Bridge) and he died on 29 July 1992. During this time we put his manuscript in order and tidied up his catalogue and I helped him with his last works.
We then planned a Service of Thanksgiving for his life and works in St Paul’s Cathedral. John Scott suggested that I write a work for the service (which otherwise consisted entirely of Mathias’s music—much of it with St Paul’s connections) and so I went back to my setting of The souls of the righteous and completed it as a tribute to my closest friend and colleague. The text is from Wisdom and is variously a collect for All Saints—eve of All Souls. Mathias was born on 1 November 1945—All Saints’ Day—and All Souls’ Day is 2 November. It has been widely performed by many choirs in Wales and England, and as far away as South Africa and Norway.
Like Stanford, his teacher, friend and colleague, Charles Wood (1866–1926) was Irish by birth. After studying at the Royal College of Music in London, Wood took up residence at Selwyn College, Cambridge, moving to Gonville and Caius College upon his appointment as Organist-scholar (1889–1894) before being elected to a fellowship. After the death of Stanford (his former teacher at the Royal College of Music) in 1924, Wood proceeded to the professorship.
Wood’s influence on music was widely felt through his pupils: Vaughan Williams, Armstrong Gibbs, Sir Thomas Beecham, Sir William Harris, and Sir Michael Tippett. But it is evident that Wood appears not to have been an ambitious man and most of his music was published posthumously. He spent much of his life in the shadow of Stanford; Wood’s own compositions have their origins in his teacher’s style and harmonic vocabulary.
Most of Wood’s church music was written with the Cambridge college choirs in mind, with their ability to sing double-choir music with relative ease. Much of his music is beyond the abilities of most parish church choirs. By way of contrast, Oculi omnium is the second of two easy, short, four-part introits published in 1927.
Philip Moore (b1943) was awarded the degree of BMus from the University of Durham before becoming an Assistant Music Master at Eton College in 1966. In 1968 he moved to Canterbury Cathedral as Assistant to Allan Wicks, a post he held until 1974 when he became Organist and Master of the Choristers at Guildford Cathedral. In 1983 he succeeded Dr Francis Jackson as Organist and Master of the Music at York Minster. Moore has a strong interest in composition and his output includes instrumental music, music for chorus and orchestra, as well as choral and organ works. His largest work is the Organ Concerto (1993).
The anthem Lo! God is here! was commissioned by the Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral on the occasion of their Tercentenary Celebrations in 1997. The composer has kindly supplied the following note about the work for this recording:
Finding suitable words to set can be a surprisingly time-consuming part of the process of composition. The authorities at St Paul’s made life easier for me by submitting a variety of helpful and appropriate suggestions. Of the texts offered, the hymn Lo! God is here! immediately struck me as being eminently suitable for the occasion at which the anthem was to be sung. Further research produced an extra verse not normally included in the hymn books.
Once the process of composing began in earnest, thoughts of the unique sounds of the St Paul’s choir and organ were clear in my mind. I decided not to be too constricted by the abundant resonance, but rather to make use of the warm richness of eighteen men and the bright intensity of thirty boys, as well as the kaleidoscope of colours available on the organ. It was at this stage that the idea of including a plainsong psalm came into my mind. I have always found plainsong curiously compelling, and, even more so, accompanied plainsong. For a service commemorating the dedication of a church or cathedral few texts are more appropriate than Psalm 84, whose verses are below printed in italics.
The altos, tenors and basses in unison sing the opening theme of the work. The melody and the accompanying chords are the germ ideas for the whole work. A treble soloist sings the plainsong. The way in which it introduces an element of stillness and tranquillity is intentional and contrasts with a sense of awe engendered by the first verse of the hymn. The meaning of some of the words has now changed: ‘dreadful’ in this context means ‘full of awe’—awe-full.
The material for the fast and vigorous middle section is based on the opening ideas. For much of the time the organ and choir are in dialogue with each other and the music builds inexorably towards the line ‘Disdain not, Lord, our meaner song, Who praise Thee with a stammering tongue’. The climax comes on the word ‘praise’, after which the music subsides (the word ‘stammering’ here means ‘faltering’) and leads to a return of the opening material for the last verse of the hymn, interspersed with further verses of the psalm. In this final section the roles of the choir and soloist are reversed, with the plainsong sung by the full choir in unison and the words of the hymn sung by the treble soloist.
After a brief excursion into eight-part imitative writing the work closes with a repetition of the first line of Psalm 84.
William McVicker © 1999