This Sunday at Morning Prayer the Parish Choir will be singing Sir Charles Villiers Stanford’s (1852-1924) setting of the Te Deum from his Morning Service in C major. Written in 1909, the year Stanford was knighted, when he was at the height of his powers, the Te Deum is a fine work that bears all the hallmarks of an impressive and mature compositional technique. Stanford’s earlier work, the Morning Service in B flat, had been written for the Coronation of King Edward VII in 1901 when the majority of the music sung and played had been written by his pupils or associates at London’s Royal College of Music (RCM). During his time as a professor at the RCM, Stanford was responsible for nurturing the talents of the lion’s share of British composers of note, including Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gustav Holst, Herbert Howells, John Ireland, T Tertius Noble, and Frank Bridge among others.
At Choral Evensong, the Staff Singers will be treating us to the Jacobean composer, Orlando Gibbons’s (1583-1625) beautiful Second Service (Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis). A ‘verse service’, it was written for full choir and several soloists. Gibbons came from a large and illustrious family of musicians. Between 1596 and 1599, he sang in the choir at King’s College, Cambridge, entering the University of Cambridge in 1598. In the 1603 he became a member of the Chapel Royal in London, later being appointed as organist, a post he held for the remainder of his life. In 1622, he was made a Doctor of Music by the University of Oxford, and the following year was appointed to become organist of Westminster Abbey. In this capacity, he officiated at the funeral of King James I and attended Charles I. He enjoyed a wide reputation as a renowned keyboard player and was said to be without rival in England.
Written in 1951 for a St Cecelia’s Day service at the musician’s church in London, St. Sepulchre’s, Holborn, God is gone up is probably Gerald Finzi’s (1901-1956) most well-known piece. The words are a version of Psalm 47 set by the Puritan poet, Edward Taylor (c. 1642-1729), in his Preparatory Meditations. The piece is in ABA form and the organ part is challenging to organ and organist alike. Born and brought up in London, Finzi became one of the most characteristically English composers of his generation. Despite being an agnostic of Jewish descent, several of his choral works employ Christian texts very effectively. During the First World War, he moved with his mother to Harrogate, where he began to study with Ernest Farrar. Farrar had been a pupil of Stanford, and, by all accounts, Finzi found him to be a sympathetic teacher. Farrar’s death at the Western Front affected Finzi deeply: during these early years he also lost three of his brothers all of which, understandably, contributed to a bleak outlook. Finzi went on to study privately at York Minster with the organist, Sir Edward Bairstow. After five years’ study, he began composing in earnest and moved to London where Vaughan Williams (who had succeeded Stanford as professor of Composition at the RCM) secured for him a post at the Royal Academy of Music. Success followed with commissions from the Three Choirs’ Festival. In 1951 he learned that he was suffering from Hodgkin’s disease. The immune suppression caused by the disease led to encephalitis from which he subsequently died.
The Elizabethan composer, Peter Philips’s (c. 1560-1628) five-part setting of words from Psalms 47 and 104, Ascendit Deus is one of only a handful of his works to have made it into print. Despite being born and raised in London, where he was a choirboy at St. Paul’s Cathedral, Philips left England, possibly as a result of Catholic persecution, at an early age and never returned; indeed he spent the rest of this days in the Spanish Netherlands (now Belgium) where he ended up as one of the organists at the Court Chapel. As a result, his choral works contain material of both old and new styles. The opening section begins with an imitative passage between soprano and tenor and broadens into rich, five-part counterpoint and the imitative effect between the voices suggests a strong European influence. A triple-time alleluia at the end brings the piece to a close.
This Sunday’s hymns reflect Ascensiontide. Hence we shall be singing:
103 See, the Conquerer mounts in triumph IN BABILONE
106 The head that once was crowned with thorns ST MAGNUS
352 Crown him with many crowns DIADEMATA
356 At the name of Jesus CUDDESDON
106 The head that once was crowned with thorns ST. MAGNUS
–Dr Giles Brightwell