Music Notes for Holy Week and Easter

Wilby-Philip-b1949On Maundy Thursday the Parish Choir will be singing Philip Wilby’s setting of If ye love me. Born in Yorkshire in 1949, Wilby was an undergraduate at Keble College, Oxford. Upon leaving Oxford, he was appointed lecturer, and subsequently professor (chair) in composition at Leeds University in the north of England. He earned the much-coveted degree of Doctor of Music from Oxford. Wilby, whose influences include Herbert Howells, is a versatile composer who has been commissioned to write works for the choirs of St Paul’s Cathedral, London and Trinity College, Cambridge, the Festival of Contemporary Church Music at Norwich Cathedral in England, and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra.

He has been commissioned to write a new cantata especially for St. Thomas’. The work, for choir, organ, brass, percussion and the St. Thomas’ pipe band, will receive its premier in December, 2016.

If ye love me is a short melodic setting of Christ’s mandate to love our neighbours as ourselves; it fuses together musical influences from Elgar and Pachelbel. See if you can spot the quotation from the Pachelbel Canon in D.

Durufle-Maurice-1902-1986The French composer, Maurice Duruflé’s (1902-1986) setting of the plainsong melody Ubi caritas, the antiphon (a sung response between choir and congregation) traditionally sung during the foot washing ceremony on Maundy Thursday, will be sung by the choir in its appropriate place. The Communion motet will be a setting of St. Thomas Aquinas’s hymn, Tantum ergo by the French composer, Déodat de Severac (1872-1921). After leaving his native Toulouse, he studied in Paris but at the Schola Cantorum rather than the more conventional (and secular) choice of the Paris Conservatoire.

John-IV-Portugal-1604-1656The choir will sing a setting of the hymn traditionally sung during the adoration of the Cross on Good Friday, Crux Fidelis. This setting was originally thought to be by King John IV of Portugal’s (1604-1656), but the prevailing opinion is that this is not, in fact, the case; indeed, on stylistic grounds, it remains doubtful that the work was written in the seventeenth century at all but its eloquent poignancy has ensured it a well-deserved place in the Holy Week repertoire.

Palestrina-Giovanni-Pierluigi-da-1525-1594On Easter Day the Sunrise Service will include Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina’s setting of Exsultate Deo. A setting of part of Psalm 81, the text of which includes the words ‘Blow up the trumpet in the new-moon; even in the time appointed, and upon our solemn feast-day’, the text is appropriate for Easter Day. Palestrina’s compositions fall into the category of the northern European style of polyphony, which owed its dominance in Italy primarily to two influential Netherlandish composers, Guillaume Dufay (1397-1474) and Josquin des Prez (c.1450-1521), who had spent significant portions of their careers there. Italy itself had yet to produce anyone of comparable fame or skill in polyphony. From 1544 to 1551, Palestrina was organist of the cathedral of St. Agapito, the principal church of his native city. His first published compositions, a book of Masses, had made so favorable an impression on Pope Julius III (previously the Bishop of Palestrina) that in 1551 he appointed Palestrina maestro di cappella or musical director of the Cappella Giulia, the chapter of canons at St. Peter’s Basilica.

Tallis-Thomas-1505-1585-400x396The Communion motet, by the English Renaissance composer, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-1583), is a five-part polyphonic setting of St. Thomas Aquinas’s hymn O Sacrum Convivium from the Cantiones Sacrae and was possibly written during his time at Waltham Abbey in Essex. Along with his pupil, William Byrd (c.1539-1623), Tallis was granted the extraordinary favour of a twenty-one year monopoly to print music by Queen Elizabeth I of England ‘either in English, Latine, Frenche, Italian or other tongues that may serve for musicke either in Churche or chamber, or otherwise to be plaid or soonge.’ He held posts as organist of Canterbury Cathedral and was subsequently appointed to the Chapel Royal where he composed and performed music for Henry VIII, Mary Tudor, Edward VI and Elizabeth I, successfully avoiding political and religious controversy during the turbulent times of the English Reformation.

howells-herbert-1892-1983The setting (Te Deum & Jubilate) at Choral Matins is by the English composer, Herbert Howells (1892-1983). This setting was written for Kings College, Cambridge and Boris Ord in 1944 during World War II when he himself was organist at the neighbouring college, St. John’s. Born in Lydney, just outside Gloucester in England, Howells trained at London’s Royal College of Music under composers, Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924) and Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958). His style is impressionistic and imaginative. Of particular note is that he starts the Jubilate in E flat minor, which may have been a statement of the mood of war-torn England.

Mascagni-Pietro-1863-1945-sqAt the Festal Eucharist, the Offertory Anthem is Pietro Mascagni’s (1863-1945) setting of the Easter Hymn from the opera Cavalleria Rusticana (1890), notably Queen Victoria’s favourite. And the Communion motet is Sir Hubert Parry’s (1848-1918) ‘Long since in Egypt’s Plenteous Land’ from his oratorio Judith (1888). It is more commonly known as the hymn tune REPTON (‘Dear Lord and Father of mankind’); however, we shall be singing it in its original form.

— Giles Brightwell