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This album was recorded in the inspiring acoustic of the Lady Chapel at Ely Cathedral. It gathers together 23 examples of English sacred a cappella choral music drawn from several centuries, and forms a companion volume to Collegium’s earlier collection, Faire is the Heaven.
Remember not, Lord, our offences
Purcell, the greatest English composer of the Baroque period, divided his career between the church and the theatre. As a boy he was a Chapel Royal chorister, and at the age of only 20 was appointed organist of Westminster Abbey. In 1682 was added to this the post of organist to the Chapel Royal, for which much of his large output of church music was written. Remember not, Lord, our offences dates from around 1680 when Purcell was still writing in a style influenced by Tudor polyphony, though with a boldness of dissonance and chromaticism that is distinctively his own.
Come, let’s rejoice
Amner was organist and choirmaster at Ely Cathedral from 1610 until his death, and a fairly prolific composer of church music. Come, let’s rejoice comes from his only published collection, Sacred Hymnes of 3, 4, 5 and 6 parts (1615). With its appealing lightness of texture and dance-like rhythms, it resembles the madrigals of the time, and may in fact have been intended for home rather than church performance.
When David heard
Tomkins was the last of the ‘Tudor’ school of English composers, most of his output in fact dating from the Jacobean era. Believed to have been a pupil of William Byrd, he was organist and choirmaster of Worcester Cathedral from 1596 (with some interruptions) until its organ was dismantled and choral services discontinued in 1646. Also active in London, he was made a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal (i.e. choir member) and later its organist. When David heard was published both in his Songs of 3. 4. 5. & 6. Parts (1622) and in the posthumous compilation of his church music Musica Deo Sacra published by his son in 1668; the two editions are at different pitches, which perhaps tells us something about the relationship between written and performing pitch. Several composers set this text, probably as an expression of the grief at the death of James I’s eldest son, Prince Henry, in 1612.
I sat down under his shadow
Sir Edward Bairstow, organist of York Minster from 1913 until his death, typifies the English organist-composer of the earlier part of the twentieth century: conservative, craftsmanlike, often imaginative, gifted with a real feeling for choral sonority and word setting. I sat down under his shadow, which appeared in 1925, was one of the earliest publications of the then newly-established music department of the Oxford University Press. Its mystic, slightly oriental flavour suggests connections with Bairstow’s exact contemporary, Holst.
These are they which follow the lamb
Goss and his younger contemporary Stainer were the two most prominent Victorian composers of church music. Goss was organist of St Paul’s Cathedral from 1838 until his death, and most of his church music dates from his time there. These are they which follow the Lamb, written in 1859, gives the lie to the belief that all Victorian church music is sentimental or vulgar: it is simple, chaste, and almost completely diatonic.
Christe Jesu, pastor bone
Taverner and Sheppard represent the final, glorious flowering of English pre-Reformation church music. Significant phases of both their careers were spent in Oxford, Sheppard at Magdalen College, Taverner as choirmaster for the magnificent new Cardinal College (now Christ Church) set up by Henry VIII’s chief minister Cardinal Wolsey. Taverner’s choir was large for the time, numbering up to forty voices, and his compositions reflect the splendour of this establishment (which was, however, short-lived: opened in 1526, funds were withdrawn on Wolsey’s fall from office in 1529 and the choir declined thereafter). The statutes specified the daily singing of certain votive antiphons after Compline (the final service of the day), and Christe Jesu, pastor bone is one of these; its text survives only in the Elizabethan adaptation given here, but it is known to have been originally in honour of St William of York.
O beatam et sacrosanctum diem
Peter Philips, together with Richard Dering, stands apart from the illustrious group of English composers active at the end of the sixteenth and start of the seventeenth centuries, by reason of exile. After childhood and youth in London as a choirboy at St Paul’s Cathedral, Philips (who was firmly Catholic) fled to the continent in 1582. After various European travels, he settled in Antwerp, where he enjoyed a succesful career as composer and teacher, later moving to Brussels where he was chapel organist to the Archduke Albert. Philips’s musical contacts being more with his continental contemporaries than with his compatriots, it is not surprising that his motets (most of which were published in his lifetime) are generally more Italian than English in style. O beatum et sacrosanctum diem, from his Cantiones Sacrae of 1612, is a joyful Christmas motet—one which seems, incidentally, to have furnished the model for Sweelinck’s better-known Hodie Christus natus est. The basso continuo part indicates that accompaniment, probably by organ, was expected.
Herbert Howells is a composer as hard to classify as he is easy to recognize. Despite the influences apparent in his work—Tudor polyphony, the modality of his friend Vaughan Williams, the impressionism of Debussy and Ravel—his style remains individual: subtle and evocatively sensitive, it often has a melancholy flavour strangely akin to the blues. Church music formed an increasingly important part of his work, much of it written for specific cathedral or collegiate choirs. The present Nunc dimittis (which, being in Latin, was intended for the Catholic office of Compline rather than for Anglican Evensong) was written for the choir of Westminster Cathedral. The organist, R.R. Terry, who had been introduced to the work of the young Howells by Stanford, invited Howells and three other composers to write settings of the Nunc dimittis for double choir, all to be performed during Holy Week 1914. Howells’ setting was not published at the time and, after Terry’s retirement in 1924, was forgotten until after the composer’s death, when a manuscript came to light, leading to publication in 1989. The music is altogether remarkable. Richly laid out for double choir, it was perfectly calculated for the very reverberant acoustic of the (in 1914) almost brand-new cathedral. Its modal, slightly neo-Tudor idiom might suggest the influence of Vaughan Williams’s Mass in G minor (also for unaccompanied double choir and written for Westminster Cathedral); but the Mass was not written until eight years later.
O vos omnes
This deeply-felt and impressive piece was also written for the choir of Westminster Cathedral, in 1922; it could be regarded as a pre-echo of the Mass in G minor of a few months later. R.R. Terry, who was a pioneer in reviving Tudor church music, was also active in promoting the involvement of leading English composers in church music, and may well have encouraged Vaughan Williams (and Howells a few years earlier) to look back at the Tudor legacy in their own writing for his choir. O vos omnes certainly has a melodic contour influenced by Tudor polyphony, though its harmonies, made up chiefly of unrelated triads that follow the tune around, are more suggestive of Debussy. Overall, the music’s sense of rhapsody and freedom recalls Vaughan William’s own Tallis Fantasia of 1910. With great imagination and effectiveness, the composer uses only the upper voices of the choir, punctuated by eloquent alto solos, for the main part of the motet, reserving the men’s voices for the cries of ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem’ near the end.
Factum est silentium
Dering was, like Philips, an English Catholic musician who went into exile in the Spanish Netherlands (or, according to another account, converted to Catholicism while visiting Rome in 1612). By 1617 he was organist to the convent of English nuns in Brussels, and in the same year published his first collection of Cantiones Sacrae; the publisher was the noted Phalèse of Antwerp who also published music by Philips. Factum est silentium comes from a second collection which appeared in 1618; its declamatory, dramatic style shows clearly the influence of the new Italian Baroque style which Dering’s compatriots in England were perhaps slower to embrace.
Stanford, born in Dublin, spent most of his life teaching and conducting at Cambridge University; he also taught at the Royal College of Music. After studies in Germany, he rapidly gained a reputation in many branches of composition and was appointed Professor of Music at Cambridge at the early age of 35. His relatively small output of church music has a valued place in the Anglican repertory, thanks to its tunefulness, superior craftsmanship and convincing sense of structure. Justorum animae, the first of a set of three motets, was written in 1905 and dedicated ‘to Alan Gray (a friend and colleague) and the choir of Trinity College, Cambridge.’
Hail, gladdening Light
Like Sullivan and Stanford, two other leading figures in the revival of English music which started in the 1880s and gathered strength after 1900, Wood was an Irishman. He taught at Cambridge, becoming Professor of Music on Stanford’s death in 1924. As a composer he is remembered chiefly for his fluent and beautifully-crafted church music. Hail, gladdening Light is one of the best-loved examples.
A Hymn to the Mother of God
John Tavener stands out among composers of his generation as an individual and compelling voice. Most of his works, large and small, involve voices and are religious in inspiration; he draws particular nourishment from the musical and liturgical traditions of the Greek Orthodox Church. Two Hymns to the Mother of God were written in 1985 in memory of the composer’s mother, and were first performed by the Choir of Winchester Cathedral. The first of the two hymns uses the medium of double choir to unusual and striking effect: the second choir (placed on the right in this recording) follows the first choir in strict canon at three beats’ distance).
Hymn for the Dormition of the Mother of God
This hymn, marked ‘solemn, quiet and tender, with a broad, flowing line’, takes the form of a threefold repetition of a gentle, chant-like melody which is heard first over a sustained G major chord, then in simple three-part harmony, then finally in rich parallel chords for the full choir.
They are at rest
As a Roman Catholic, Elgar probably felt himself something of an outsider in the musical England of his day, dominated as it was by Anglican composers and organists. Like Parry and Stanford, his two leading contemporaries, he wrote prolifically for choir, but rather little church music either for the Catholic or Anglican liturgies. They are at rest, described in the score as an ‘elegy for unaccompanied chorus’, was written for a service in 1910 at the Royal Mausoleum commemorating the anniversary of Queen Victoria’s death. For its text Elgar turned to Cardinal Newman (whose poem The Dream of Gerontius had been the basis of Elgar’s great oratorio of 1900). The quiet, reverent dignity of the piece bears witness to the seriousness with which Elgar took the choral medium.
Church music, although never central in Walton’s output, formed a small but valuable part of his life’s work. A Litany was in fact his first published composition, written at Oxford when the composer was only 16, and far more than a precocious trifle. Its craftsmanship is assured, its harmonic language already distinctively Waltonian, its sense of melancholy prophetic of the opening chorus of Belshazzar’s Feast, written more than ten years later.
Nolo mortem peccatoris
Morley is associated more with madrigals and related secular forms than with church music, but he did write a handful of sacred pieces. Nolo mortem peccatoris appeared in a collection called Tristitiae Remedium (A remedy for sadness), a manuscript anthology dated 1616 compiled by Stephen Miriell, Rector of the Church of St Stephen Walbrook in London. Technically the piece is a carol, its text being cast in the characteristic macaronic carol form of vernacular alternating with a Latin refrain.
O nata lux
Tallis’s long and distinguished career spanned the Reformation, and he left quantities of both Latin and English church music. O nata lux, a miniature jewel, would have been proper to the pre-Reformation monastic office of Lauds, but it is known only from its publication in the book of Cantiones Sacrae that Tallis issued jointly with Byrd in 1575, by which time its liturgical use was obsolete and indeed illegal. Tallis may have written it (and his other pieces in the volume) before the Reformation or, if not, may have published with domestic performance in mind, or undercover liturgical use by recusant Catholics—or just for posterity.
Loving Shepherd of thy sheep
This simple setting of a familiar nineteenth-century hymn text was written especially for the present recording.
The Lord’s Prayer
The long-lived Stone was a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal, known to have sung at the coronation of James I in 1603. His simple setting of the Lord’s Prayer, still widely used, first appeared in the collection Certaine Notes, published in 1565.
In manus tuas
The importance and stature of Sheppard has come to be appreciated—and his music widely sung—only comparatively recently. Much of his life is not documented, but he is known to have been choirmaster at Magdalen College, Oxford, from 1543 to 1548 and a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal from about this time until his death. Most of his surviving music is for the Latin rite, some of it dating from the brief period of Catholic revival during the reign of Mary Tudor in the 1550s. In manus tuas is among his simplest choral pieces, its polyphonic sections interspersed with plainchant as was typical of the Office music of the time.
Bring us, O Lord God
For most of his life Sir William Harris was a cathedral organist and teacher; from 1933–61 he was organist at St George’s Chapel, Windsor. His published compositions are few, all of them church or organ music. Bring us, O Lord God, written in 1959, is similar in style and substance to Faire is the heaven, Harris’s best-known work, dating from 1925. Both pieces are spacious double-choir anthems in the rich key of D flat, both have exceptionally fine texts that concern the soul’s longing for heaven, and both combine an unmistakably English aura with a perhaps rather un-English intensity of passionate emotion overtly revealed. Yet it would be wrong to regard Bring us, O Lord God as a mere repeat of an earlier success; its music seems to spring just as spontaneously out of Donne’s magnificent text as Faire is the heaven did from Spenser’s. Both anthems, may it be asserted, are works of stature and vision, these qualities none the less real for being found in what some music critics dismiss as the provincial backwater of English church music.
Collegium Records © 1997
The music of this album has purposely not been grouped chronologically. In allowing composers normally thought of as divided by the centuries to mingle together, some illuminating affinities emerge. Do the Tudor Taverner and the living Tavener not share a similar feeling for sonorously towering and impressive choral textures? For that matter, does not Tavener fit with unexpected ease between Wood and Elgar? Might Morley not have recognized the aching grief of Walton’s Litany as akin to his own Nolo mortem peccatoris? Is it purely accidental that Harris’s prayer to be received into the hands of God follows on so naturally from Sheppard’s written four centuries earlier? One of the glories of a building such as the Ely Lady Chapel is that it helps the centuries to melt away, its seemingly endless reverberation symbolizing an eternity that we can only fitfully glimpse.
John Rutter © 1997