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Evening Service in G

composer
author of text
Magnificat: Luke 1: 46-55; Nunc dimittis: Luke 2: 29-32

 
Francis Jackson has much in common with Sumsion. Both devoted virtually their whole careers to being Organist of one great Cathedral, for 36 and 39 years respectively. Both had been choristers in those same Cathedrals. The two institutions had particular traditions of Organist-Composers; at York Minster, Jackson served between Edward Bairstow and Philip Moore. Sumsion lived to the age of 96, whilst—as I write—Jackson is approaching his 103rd birthday. Jackson has been an international organist of great acclaim, continuing to give recitals throughout his first hundred years.

Byrd, Tomkins, Purcell and Stanford are among the many composers to have written complete works known as Services (not to be confused with the more specific Evening Services on this recording.) These comprised settings of the Morning and Evening Canticles, and also movements of the Communion Service sung in English. I have described above how Eric Milner-White inspired Howells to write a Te Deum which grew into a whole Service for King’s. Having moved to be Dean of York, and after appointing Jackson as his Organist, Milner-White requested from him settings of the nine-fold Kyrie and a Benedicite. Milner-White’s idea for the long text of the Benedicite was that the Decani singers would sing the first half of each verse while the rest of the choir sang the second half simultaneously! (Haydn had adopted a similar but more extreme tactic in his Kleine Orgelmesse, and Swayne’s Magnificat I employs the same technique.) Jackson followed these two movements with a full Communion Service in G, followed by the Evening Canticles in G and a set of Morning Canticles in G.

Jackson’s music is in G, but not G major. There is no F sharp in the key signature, creating a sense of the mixolydian mode. This is like a major scale but with a flattened seventh note, which lends a bluesy tinge to some of the writing. Whereas the settings by Watson and Sumsion were exclusively homophonic, Jackson’s work incorporates more imitative writing than them or than Howells. 'He hath shewed strength' and the Gloria exhibit a muscularity absent in most earlier Anglican music. The first organ phrase and the initial treble phrase generate much of the material for the work. The first four melodic organ notes (containing rising fourths) get squashed into a more lyrical version of the shape at 'and his mercy' (with the fourths becoming seconds.) Jackson uses identical material for 'And his mercy' and 'He remembering his mercy', highlighting parallels in the text as God protects his people throughout all generations and for ever. Where Sumsion had painted 'He remembering' in nostalgic colours, Jackson comforts us at these words; the music relaxes into the warm security of B flat major, as God shows his tender feelings towards his people—the first section of the work in a true major key. A beautiful picture is painted by trebles and basses in canon, accompanied by shimmering chords from the organ and inner voices.

'World without end' has an apocalyptic quality not found in the earlier settings on this disc, but perhaps influenced by the canticles Howells had written for St Paul’s Cathedral in 1950. This phrase’s distinctive broken-chord figure is transfigured into a distant memory as the organ opens the Nunc dimittis. Jackson assigns particular importance to the words 'depart in peace': the tension of F sharp minor is released into a G major chord, with the resolution underlined by the first use of organ pedals in the movement. The slow harmonic movement of 'To be a light' suits the immensity of York Minster, as the music gradually builds towards the Gloria. In his autobiography Jackson writes that at the time of its composition he hoped the Evening Canticles might be 'another ‘Coll-Reg’ in the Wood-Howells line. I don’t think I got as far as proposing its dedication to King’s, but I did play it to Boris Ord on one of his York visits and well remember his noticeable wince at the final cadence of the Gloria with its jazz-influenced chromatics, and his stern injunction that there should be no such thing … Perhaps my trying it on was an earnest of things to come, when so-called jazz invaded the sacred precincts.'

from notes by Andrew Nethsingha © 2021

Recordings

Magnificat, Vol. 2
Studio Master: SIGCD667Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available

Details

Canticle 1: Magnificat  My soul doth magnify the Lord
Track 12 on SIGCD667 [6'26] Download only
Canticle 2: Nunc dimittis  Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace
Track 13 on SIGCD667 [3'57] Download only

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