Music Lists

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Sunday 17th May 2020

For this Sunday's musical offering we return to the world of Tudor England, and to one of its most famous sons, Thomas Tallis.

Thomas Tallis (c.1505-1585) - If ye love me)

Thomas Tallis is one of England's most successful composers. He began his career as a jobbing organist, a career which took him from Dover Priory, in Kent, to St. Mary-at-Hill, near the Tower of London, to Waltham Abbey in Essex, where he remained until its dissolution under Henry VIII. His next work was as a singer, firstly in Canterbury Cathedral, and then as a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal, where he sang, played the organ, and began composing seriously for the first time in service of the King (as a point of interest, the dissolution of the monasteries actually gave rise to more opportunities for choral music - many of the monasteries were turned into secular cathedrals, and given the money to run a professional choir on a scale which wouldn't have been possible before. Roughly half of the cathedrals of the time [Ely, Durham, Canterbury, Bath, Winchester, Worcester to name a few] were originally Benedictine priories). Being appointed a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal was at the time the highest one could rise in a musical career, and his appointment laid the foundations for him to receive the support he would need to compose.

Tallis, along with his friend, pupil, and colleague William Byrd, were supported by the monarchs whom they served, sometimes in spite of their unwillingness to turn from their Catholic faith (Byrd himself was fined on many occasions for being a recusant). Tallis's standing within the Chapel Royal led Queen Mary to gift him a lease on a manor in Kent, giving him a substantial income, and Queen Elizabeth famously, in 1575, granted both Byrd and Tallis a 21-year monopoly on printing polyphonic music (which they used, at the Queen's request, to publish Cantiones Sacrae, a collection of 17 Latin works from each composer to celebrate 17 years of Elizabeth's reign). The publication was effectively produced to show off the richness of the Tudor musical world to other countries.

The fact that all the music was written in Latin (in the more Catholic style - long, flowing, melismatic lines and polyphonic writing) caused some consternation. The society of the time was predominantly Protestant, and Catholics were often driven underground to find their worship. The major musical divide was caused by clarity of text: the Protestants argued that melismatic music meant the text couldn't be heard at all, especially if it were in Latin, and was therefore a distraction to worship. Music such as his famous setting of the Lamentations of Jeremiah were thus likely to have been written for private performance - the final Jerusalem, return unto the Lord thy God could be seen as a social and political commentary as much as a religious one. The Queen's showing off went against the Protestantism she was promoting.

Tallis was, perhaps more than Byrd, a master of changing his own style to suit the times. The versatility he shows as a composer is unparalleled: His 40 part, Latin, motet Spem in Alium is one of the great settings of all time, and his beautiful "Suscipe Quaeso Domine" (Accept, I beseech thee o Lord, a seven-voice anthem which also, centuries later, inspired a male-voice polyphonic quartet called The Suspicious Cheese Lords) is a masterclass in how to write flowing polyphony. When he needed to write Protestant, English music (where the text was the sole focus) he was a master of that too: the beauty of his English anthems lie in the small harmonic details and the hints of dance rhythms.

One of his finest English anthems is, of course, If ye love me. It is the perfect example of what was required for composers writing for a Protestant monarch - absolute clarity of text above all else. It still contains beautiful flowing polyphonic lines, but lines which always join together for the important text (for example, when the voices sing that he may bide with you forever, they join together for the last four words, arguably the most important words of that sentence). The music itself is brought to life by the subtle use of triples (looking at the soprano part: If ye love me, keep my commandments, and I will pray the father - the triples are in bold. Count in 3, rather than 4, when you reach those words in the video and you'll see!), and just a hint of the beautiful, flowing melodic writing for which Tallis is famous. For me, the simplicity of the work is the most moving thing: the music is almost like incense, lifting the words of the prayer to God.

Here is John Rutter with the Cambridge Singers: Click Here

As a final bit of amusement, typing "Tallis Suscipe Quaeso Domine" into Google Translate (Latin -> English) translates as "Please Byrd O".

Text:

If ye love me, keep my commandments,

and I will pray the Father,

and he shall give you another comforter,

that he may bide with you forever,

even the spirit of truth.

MUSIC LIST

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Sunday 10th May 2020

For this Sunday's anthem we travel to northern France, to a composer who is often overlooked in favour of the two musical giants of his era, Josquin and Palestrina.

Jean L'Heritier (c.1488-1552) - Surrexit Pastor Bonus (The good shepherd has arisen)

L'Heritier was born in northern France, in the Pas-de-Calais, in the late 15th century. Little is known about his upbringing, aside from him being a pupil of the famous composer Josquin

MUSIC LIST

Hosanna

 

Thursday 9th April 2020

We are offering two pieces of music for Maundy Thursday, an Offertory motet and a Communion motet.

Offertory motet: Maurice Duruflé - Ubi Caritas

Maurice Duruflé's (1902-1986) oeuvre is relatively limited: he was, as many musicians are, a perfectionist, and one who frequently scrapped many of his compositions due to them not being good enough in his eyes.

MUSIC LIST

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Sunday 26th April 2020

GF Handel - Worthy is the Lamb (from The Messiah)

This Sunday's anthem is one of the finest final choruses in the history of music. I will never tire of performing The Messiah: in my opinion it's one of the greatest pieces of music ever written.

George Frideric Handel is one of Britain's stand-out composers, in spite of the small issue of him being German

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Hosanna

 

Wednesday 8th April 2020

Thomas Tallis - The Lamentations of Jeremiah

We begin our musical Holy Week with the service of Tenebrae (darkness). It is the most austere of the services of Holy Week, made up of Psalms, readings, and responsories. The readings are based around the liturgy of one of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, or Holy Saturday, with the service held the day before. For today's Music List we will use the

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Hosanna 

Sunday 19th April 2020

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) - Easter (part 1 - Rise Heart, thy Lord is risen)

Ralph Vaughan Williams is another of my musical heroes. He attended my secondary school (Charterhouse) as a pupil, so his influence was all around me as I was growing up. The music building at the school is still called the Ralph Vaughan Williams building. His writing encapsulates and builds upon

MUSIC LIST

Hosanna

 

Sunday 5th April 2020

As the choir would have sung two pieces in church for this week’s Palm Sunday festivities, I have chosen two works for today’s Music List.

Arr. Shaw - Ride on King Jesus
We begin with a piece which our choir have sung every Palm Sunday in recent times, an arrangement of the Negro Spiritual “Ride on, King Jesus”.

MUSIC LIST

Hosanna 

Sunday 12th April 2020

Happy Easter! We celebrate Jesus rising again with two gloriously joyous pieces of music, with one very special change to previous music lists (at the end of the page, for those who want to get there without reading my notes first!!).

Norman Caplin - Gloria in Excelsis Deo (from Missa Omnium Sanctorum)

Norman Caplin was an extremely talented organist and

MUSIC LIST

James Macmillan

 

Sunday 29th March 2020

My choice for this morning’s music list is one which may not be familiar to you: it is a piece I have performed many times, and one which never fails to enthrall audiences, congregations, and performers alike: James MacMillan’s Miserere mei, Deus.

I have had the privilege of working closely with James on a number of occasions over the past few years. He is an

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Hosanna

 

Saturday 11th April 2020

Holy Saturday is a difficult day for which to choose music. We are between the drama of the Crucifixion and the Vigil service, where we celebrate the light of Christ once again. For me, the message in this short space of time is one of hope: we return to a similar place to where we were in Advent, waiting for the coming of Christ to bring his glory and healing to us. In these unusual times we need hope, courage, and faith more than ever.

MUSIC LIST

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Sunday 22nd March 2020

Given the difficulty with using music in church services at the present time, I shall draw up a weekly 'music list', drawing on the liturgy to choose one piece of music suitable for each Sunday and major festival. We begin this Sunday with one of my favourite pieces of music. It is a work which means a lot to me personally, and also encapsulates the joy of celebrating Mothering Sunday: Ave Maria, by Robert Parsons.

MUSIC LIST

Hosanna

 

Friday 10th April 2020

For today's music list we have two contrasting works, each showing the horror of the crucifixion in their own way.

Antonio Lotti (1667-1740) - Crucifixus

A staple of music lists of many Cathedrals and churches up and down the country, Lotti's famous setting of the Crucifixus is not actually a stand-alone setting. It is from a larger work, Credo in F, which in turn was placed by Lotti into a full mass setting, his Missa Sancti Christophori. The piece has

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