Category Archives: Choral Evensong Blog

Choral Eucharist for the Feast of All Souls: 4th November 2018, 6.30pm

This article is the latest instalment of the Choral Evensong Blog, giving an insight into the history of and background to music sung by the choir at our monthly Choral Evensong services.  Click here to read all previous instalments of the blog.

Some of you may already have in your diaries Andrew Green’s talk on Tuesday 20 November on Vaughan Williams short opera The Shepherds of the Delectable Mountains. If not, put it in straightaway! More details here

Andrew Green will be talking about his conviction that (though not stated publicly by the composer) the piece is a memorial to those who died in the Great War. The text of the opera is largely adapted from John Bunyan’s allegory of 1678 The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World, to That Which Is to Come, which was hugely popular at the time of the Great War. Some of us have heard Andrew’s talk before, and we can promise a moving, intriguing and fascinating evening, just a few days after the centenary of the Armistice. The evening will include the playing of a recording of the whole opera. But don’t worry, it is not a work of Wagnerian proportions, and lasts just over half an hour.

It occurred to Kathy Goodchild that movements from this work and Vaughan Williams’s later and longer opera The Pilgrim’s Progress (of which The Shepherds forms a part) would adapt well into a service for All Souls. She has therefore arranged four movements for choir, organ and viola (to be played by choir member and webmistress Kate Ford).

The Introit and motet after the commemoration of the departed are from ‘Watchful’s Song’ of The Pilgrim’s Progress, including words from Psalms 31, 127 and 121 and Isaiah 11 and 14.

Into thy hands O Lord, I commend my spirit.

Except the Lord keep the house, the watchman waketh in vain. The Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep peace: the whole earth is at rest and is quiet.

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills from when cometh my help. My help cometh even from the Lord who made heaven and earth. He will not suffer thy foot to be moved. He that keepeth thee shall not sleep. Behold he that keepeth thee shall neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord himself is thy keeper, he shall preserve thee from all evil: yea it is even he that shall keep thy soul from this time forth for evermore

The Gradual is from The Shepherds of the Delectable Mountains, and sets words from Psalm 91:

Whoso dwelleth under the defence of the most high shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. He shall defend thee under his wings, and thou shalt be safe under his feathers. He shall give his angels charge over thee, that thou hurt not thy foot against a stone.

To this the Requiem words have been added:

Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis   (Give them eternal rest O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon them)

The anthem, taken from The Shepherds of the Delectable Mountains sets words from Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd, therefore can I lack nothing. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures, he leadeth me beside the still waters, he restoreth my soul, he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his Name’s sake. Yea though I walk thro’ the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

We hope that this music will give solace to the bereaved in 2018 just as it did after the Great War.

Jonathan Goodchild

Choral Evensong Blog: Festal Evensong for Harvest, 7th October 2018

We’ll begin this service with a new introit by Kathy Goodchild “dedicated to the memory of Mary-Jane Boffey”, a member of our choir who sadly died this year. The words ‘Lead us, O God’ were chosen by Kathy specifically with Harvest thanksgiving in mind, and are by George Appleton (1902-1993), an important writer for the Anglican church, whose wide-ranging career included spells as Archdeacon of Rangoon and of London, and Archbishop of Perth, Australia, and of Jerusalem.

The responses will be those by Philip Radcliffe (1905-1986), who went to King’s College, Cambridge as an undergraduate, was appointed a Fellow in 1931 and pretty well never left. He was primarily a teacher and critic but was an enthusiastic composer, whose style was described in The Times obituary as ‘Vaughan-Brahms’. His responses were written between Good Friday and Easter Day in 1972 for Edington – flash of inspiration, last minute activity or well in advance of commission for annual August Festival? They include a full Gloria and a setting of the Lord’s Prayer.

The canticles will be sung to Wood in D. Charles Wood (1866-1926) was born in Armagh and received his early education at the cathedral school and in the cathedral choir there. At the age of 17, he was awarded a scholarship to the Royal College of Music, where he studied composition with Parry and Stanford, with whom he was later to work in Cambridge. It should be no surprise, then, that Anglican church music played an important part in his life, and, although he wrote in other forms, it is by his church music that he is known today. What is surprising to me is that he wrote so many settings of the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis – 13 in all, with two additional Latin settings of the Nunc. In my July article I could think only of Weelkes (9 settings) as the closest to Howells (21). I might have remembered that Wood is one (I’d better not say the only) composer with two settings in the same key (E flat) which have to be identified as no.1 and no.2. Wood’s 13 settings include two on Gregorian tones, one on the Genevan Psalter, a metrical version to a Sternhold and Hopkins text, and two for double choir.

Wood in D is the second of his settings, dating from 1898. It follows very much in the Stanford tradition: important organ part with dramatic interruptions, strong unisons, word painting (He hath put down), wide modulations, and contrasted quieter sections. Whether Wood intended it or not, the opening of the Gloria bears a strong likeness to the grave of Bach’s Fantasia in G BWV572. If he did intend it, it is not a cause for censure. There exists a long tradition of acknowledging another composer’s work in a new composition. The sixteenth century abounds with ‘parody’ masses paying tribute to earlier works, Bach and Handel borrowed extensively, almost always with interest, and there are numerous later examples. The Nunc Dimittis ingeniously contrasts the melody in the basses with pianissimo reflections in the upper three parts, before repeating the Gloria of the Magnificat.

Our anthem is ‘Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth’ by Lloyd Webber. Written in 1957, this is, of course, William (1914-1982), who at that time had no need to distinguish himself from his illustrious sons. 1957 comes at the end of Lloyd Webber’s most fruitful compositional period, after which he turned to teaching, becoming Principal of the London College of Music. The text of the anthem, most appropriate for Harvest, is from Isaiah, chapters 49 and 51. What I haven’t been able to discover is who the recipient of this piece was, because that might explain why there is no tenor part. We’ll have to make sure that our tenors don’t go off in a sulk; perhaps they could sing along with us basses! What is clear is that Lloyd Webber was skilful in 3-part writing. (The absolute master of this was Purcell.) The texture changes from unison to full harmony, with several solo and imitative sections. The independent organ part secures the lowest note of the harmony, so that the basses at times can leave their natural role and act as quasi-tenors.

The closing voluntary is Mendelssohn’s ‘War March of the Priests’ (Kriegsmarsch der Priester) from his incidental music to Racine’s play Athalie. If you want a quick summary of why the priests are on a war march (and I did), go to Wikipedia. Alternatively, the story can be found (and I’m extremely grateful that we’ve inherited my mother-in-law’s concordance!) in 2 Kings chapter 11 and 2 Chronicles chapter 22. Even if you don’t recognise any of the above, you may well recognise the piece. It is based on one of Mendelssohn’s characteristic melodies. I hope the Redbourn organ is up to the organist’s war-like intentions!

Damian Cranmer

Choral Matins: 19th August 2018

We are singing the second August Matins at St Mary’s in what I hope will become an annual event. It is sometimes possible, and I am guilty, to be pessimistic about Matins beyond the cathedrals of England. But in recent times, Isobel and I have attended matins at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, The Guards Chapel (with military band), the Temple Church, St Peter ad Vincula in the Tower of London, St Peter’s in St Albans, and at St Mary’s. We have our eyes on Hampton Court and St James’ Palace. It’s no coincidence that Matins is more readily available in and near the capital where the professional choir set-up is a major influence.

So, it’s great to be singing another Matins in Redbourn; and the music is a celebration of Ralph Vaughan Williams. Last month I was reflecting on the important work he did for the English Hymnal, and you may have noted him as one of the composers who reached, but did not pass, nine symphonies, in answer to the question I posed in a previous post. He is regarded as one of the quintessentially English composers, and his work covered every genre, hymn tunes, songs, chamber music, operas, symphonies and film music, and iconic works such as The Lark Ascending, the Sea Symphony and the Mass in G minor are among pieces which stand the test of time. His style was not entirely to everyone’s taste: Peter Warlock described his Pastoral Symphony as like “a cow looking over a gate”, and a one-time European colleague of mine commented that his music would have been better if it was all “on a theme by Thomas Tallis”.

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958)

Vaughan Williams was born in 1872 in the Gloucestershire village of Down Ampney, and this is the name that he gave to perhaps his most famous original hymn tune, intrinsically associated with the words ‘Come down, O love divine’. Appropriately in this VWfest, this is the first hymn in our service. It is one of the earliest that he wrote (c1905), and, of the 14 or so original tunes, the few that are in regular use are all early: ‘For all the saints’ and ‘Hail thee, festival day’ for instance. We sing the Te Deum and Jubilate from Vaughan Williams’ 1939 Service in D minor, “written for and dedicated to Dr CS Lang and his singers at Christ’s Hospital”. Craig Sellar Lang (1891-1971) was a New Zealander who was Director of Music at Christ’s Hospital from 1929 to 1945, when he retired to Cornwall to concentrate on composition. He edited the music for the Public School Hymn Book (1949), which included 18 of his own tunes, many with the names of Cornish towns, and over 20 descants to well known tunes. None of his music has found its way into HON, but some of the descants (like a dog, they aren’t only for Christmas!) deserve to be heard today. This is relevant because Vaughan Williams’ Service in D minor is very much a public school piece. As well as the usual four-part choir, there is an important and independent congregational part. A photograph on the school’s website of its chapel, with high and open space and inward-facing seating, prompts one to imagine the tremendous sound of perhaps more than 500 voices singing VW’s music. We may not have quite that number in August in Redbourn, but we intend to give the piece a good run for its money. As for the music, it’s not long before one recognises Vaughan Williams as the composer: the triple time with cross rhythms and flat 7ths are some of the features that show the influence of folk music and the English Tudors. The key changes easily from D minor to D major and F minor and the melodic line is fluent and singable.

The anthem is VW’s ‘O how amiable are thy dwellings’. The words of the first four verses of Psalm 84 are set to largely reflective music, before the mood changes and the last verse of Psalm 90 (“The glorious company of the Lord our God be upon us”) leads directly into the first verse of ‘O God, our help in ages past’. You could almost, but not quite, add Lang’s descant: the transposition would take the sopranos up to top C!

The closing voluntary for this service will be Vaughan Williams’ Prelude on the Welsh hymn tune ‘Hyfrydol’. (You have to ask a Welsh person how to pronounce this, but you can be sure it isn’t the obvious way!) We’ll sing this tune as our final hymn to the words ‘I will sing the wondrous story’. It is the most enduring of the many tunes written by Rev Roland Huw Pritchard (1811-1887), for some time minister in Bala. Hymn books vary in their noting of Vaughan Williams as the arranger of the tune. HON does, but English Hymnal doesn’t, for example. A quick look at the original on WIkipedia suggests that “tidying up” might be a better description of Vaughan Williams’ contribution.

Most of his arranged hymn tunes come from folk music, but it’s interesting that Vaughan Williams, who rejected much of English 19th century music, turned additionally to Celtic music of the time for inspiration.   The organ prelude is a straightforward setting with the tune in the top part and incorporating the repeat of the second part. But the tune is the only straightforward part of the piece. Everything else, and particularly the pedal part, goes at a much quicker pace and not always in the direction you might expect. A seat behind the organ would be instructive!

The responses are by Smith and the psalm is no.106 to a chant by Thomas Jackson of Newark (c1715-1781). Why are the chants often by people you’ve never heard of? Well I suppose it’s that short pieces – and chants are short pieces – are easier to write, and serious composers can’t always be bothered with short pieces, though there are some original ventures into chant-writing by Elgar and others.

Damian Cranmer