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20th Century English Choral Masterpieces at Temple

We're nearing our concert in Temple church of 20th Century choral masterpieces. Here is a rundown of the programme.

Howells – A Hymn for St Cecilia

‘A Hymn for St Cecilia’ by Herbert Howells is a captivating and uplifting piece that pays tribute to the Patron Saint of music.

Through a soaring melody, Howells brings to life the words of Ursula Vaughan Williams' poem describing music's ability to transcend earthly boundaries and reach celestial realms.

Written as three simple hymn verses that are embellished with increasing majesty by the choir, A Hymn for St Cecilia masterfully conveys the universal joy and vitality of music.

Hadley – My beloved spake

Patrick Hadley’s anthem ‘My Beloved Spake’ is an unusually direct portrayal of romantic love for a piece of church music.

It was written for the wedding of one of his students, Ursula Grotrian, in 1936. She chose the text, from the Song of Solomon, where the female character recalls Solomon urging her to seize the moment.

The anthem opens with a magnificent burst of adoration which subsides to gentle affection as the ‘beloved’ points to the arrival of spring. As this theme develops the music shifts intriguingly between keys, reaching a thrilling resolution just as Solomon repeats his call: ‘arise, my love, my fair one, and come away’.

Harvey – Come, Holy Ghost

The beautiful Gregorian chant behind ‘Come Holy Ghost’ has inspired composers from Bach to Duruflé. Jonathan Harvey’s version for double choir dates from 1984, when he was exploring the use of tapes and electronics in his compositions, and is infused with a similar sense of adventure.

The plainsong melody is repeatedly layered over long-held chords, creating an otherworldly spiritual sound which shifts unsettlingly between tonalities. In the final section the singers all improvise their own parts from fragments of tune, creating a chaotic murmur which grows in ecstasy before returning to the calm and familiarity of unison plainsong.

Rutter – Hymn to the Creator of Light

Our programme of 20th century English gems includes ‘Hymn to the Creator of Light’ by John Rutter, written in 1992 for Gloucester Cathedral’s dedication of a new stained glass window to the memory of Herbert Howells.

Rutter’s magnificent anthem for unaccompanied double choir weaves together elements of plainsong, English antiphonal writing and German chorale to create an uplifting and peace-loving homage to the great composer.

Britten – Hymn to St Cecilia

Benjamin Britten was born on St Cecilia’s day in 1913. He completed his exquisite Hymn to St Cecilia, the patron saint of all musicians, while sailing back from self-imposed exile in New York to his beloved Suffolk in 1942.

After much deliberation over what text to use, Britten decided to set three poems written for him by W H Auden. The very personal and strikingly original words reflect on the legend of this Roman saint, the poignancy of lost innocence, and the transformational power of music.

Finzi – Lo, the full, final sacrifice

Finzi's 'Lo, the full, final sacrifice' is a dramatic and expressive work of grand proportions.

The text is taken from Richard Crawshaw’s 17th century poetic translations of the Latin Hymns of St Thomas Aquinas. The poems are mystical reflections on the Eucharist, suffused with vivid imagery and lavish alteration.

The ecstatic mood of the text is matched by Finzi's writing, which moves from a dark and brooding opening through alternately triumphant and reflective passages to arrive finally at a richly enveloping and touchingly beautiful eight-part 'Amen'.

Walton – Jubilate Deo

William Walton’s Jubilate Deo (Psalm 100), written in 1972, is an exuberant affirmation of life as a Christian.

The words ‘O be Joyful in the Lord’ and ‘O go your way into His gates’ come with fanfare-like chords in the choir and organ. Between these bright passages, more contemplative sections gently acknowledge the Lord’s majesty and grace.

We love the energy that this short piece demands of the choir. The Gloria builds up to a splendid final cadence, which will complete our programme of English 20th century choral masterpieces at the Temple Church on 6th June.

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