Pequot Chapel, New London, CT |Directions|
- Introit: Jesu, the very thought of thee - Bairstow
Canticles: Stanford in C
Anthem: O, for a closer walk with God - Stanford
Director Simon Jacobs, guest organist Andrew Howell, and The Anglican Singers open their 2014-2015 season at Pequot Chapel, having returned from a memorable sojourn in England where they served, during the last week in July, as choir-in-residence at the magnificent Ely Cathedral in East Anglia. To sing in such a spiritually and historically significant space was an experience never to be forgotten.
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This evening’s program features music of some of the finest composers in the Anglican tradition, including Edward Bairstow and Charles Villiers Stanford.
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The eminent composer and organist Edward C. Bairstow (1874-1946), a native of Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, was never one to pull his punches. When asked once if he would ever consider a visit to the United States, he snapped that he would “rather go to the devil.” (It may be mere coincidence that his closest friend was one Dr. Charles Moody, organist at Ripon Cathedral.)
It is difficult to reconcile such surliness with the soulful beauty of Bairstow’s anthems and motets. “Jesu, the very thought of Thee” (from a poem written by Charles Wesley) is an example of the tenderness apparently missing from the composer’s personality that somehow found its way into his musical compositions.
Little is known about the English composer William Smith (1603-1645), beyond the fact that his birthplace was Durham (he may have been affiliated with Durham Cathedral), that his life was brief, and that his compositional output was limited: seven verse-anthems, five psalm-settings, two communion scores (including a Kyrie written “severall wayes”), and the Preces and Responses being sung this evening. Between Smith’s Lesser Litany and the Suffrages, the ensemble will sing Robert Stone’s charming setting of The Lord’s Prayer. A singer and composer during the Tudor and early Jacobean reigns, Stone, who was born in 1516, lived to the jaw-dropping (for those times) age of 97. He was a colleague of William Byrd and may have been acquainted with Thomas Tallis as well.
The texts used by the Singers in the performance of Anglican chant are taken principally from the Coverdale Bible. The Coverdale Bible is one of several 16th-century English editions of the Old and New Testament that preceded the King James Version of 1611. Myles Coverdale based his edition on translations of earlier scholars Thomas Matthew and William Tyndale. In 1539, the “Great Bible” (Coverdale’s) was promoted by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and granted royal license by King Henry VIII. It was, until the publication of the Authorized Version in 1611, the official bible of the Church of England. The Coverdale text continues to be used regularly in Anglican services, including the Singers’.
Edward John Hopkins (1818-1901), who wrote this evening’s hymn-like setting of Psalm 34, was an eminent organist throughout his career and a founding member of the Royal College of Organists. As a boy, Hopkins sang at the coronation of King William IV (“The Sailor King”) at Westminster Abbey. During his active career, he wrote a number of psalm chants and hymn tunes still sung today, and may be best remembered for the popular hymn, “Saviour, again to thy dear Name we raise.”
The Anglo-Irish composer Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924) was more than a man: he was a monument. In the vanguard of late 19th-century British composers who paved the way for such luminaries as Ralph Vaughan Williams and Herbert Howells, C.V. Stanford contributed to the emergence of a neo-renaissance of church music in Britain – summoning, within a Victorian context, the genius of 16th and 17th-century composers like Thomas Tallis, William Byrd, Thomas Tomkins and Henry Purcell.
The scope and breadth of Stanford’s compositional output is staggering: seven symphonies, nine operas, and numerous concertos and chamber works. Yet it is for his organ and choir compositions that he is primarily remembered – rightfully so, as they endure as his masterpiece and his legacy to Anglican worship.
Stanford’s full professional life included a teaching career at Cambridge University and at the Royal College of Music where he served as one of the founding professors. He also was instrumental in bringing to the English public renowned composers and conductors from other lands. Among these (the number includes Camille Saint-Saëns, Edvard Grieg and Walter Damrosch) was the renowned Russian composer Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky, whom Stanford successfully nominated for an honorary doctorate of music at Cambridge in 1893. Of the high-strung Tchaikovsky, Stanford, who took an instant liking for him, wrote: “He…was as polished as a Frenchman in his manner…[and despite] the belief which he had in himself, he was…the acme of modesty.” It was on this occasion that Tchaikovsky premiered his brooding symphonic poem, Francesca da Rimini, at the University’s Guildhall.
C.V. Stanford’s Magnificat and Nunc dimittis in C may be his most iconic Service and the one most often performed; yet so fine is it that it loses none of its stirring power through repetition. The Magnificat soars and swoops across the horizon, rising and falling in intensity toward the breathtaking climax of the Gloria. The Nunc dimittis, beginning sedately, accelerates and intensifies, layer upon layer, to a majestic recapitulation of the Gloria.
Sir Charles wrote many anthems for the Church. One of these, “Oh! For a closer walk with God,” is set to the hymn tune Caithness, which appears in the 1635 Scottish Psalter (as well as in the 1940 and 1982 Hymnals). Stanford’s contemporary and fellow musician, Richard Runciman Terry, published the first modern edition of John Calvin’s 1539 Psalter, as well as that of the Scottish Psalter of 1635, from which the hymn tune Caithness is taken.
Sopranos introduce the single line of melody, then are joined by the lower three parts who take up the principal motif as the trebles sing the descant line. It is a miniature musical gem, which perfectly complements the tender yet intense prayer-poem of the English poet and hymnodist William Cowper.
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Still savoring memories of Ely, the Singers are privileged, as always, to begin their season back in America at the venerable and beloved Pequot Chapel.
Anne Carr Bingham