|Gerald Finzi (1901–1956)|
Gerald Finzi (1901–1956)
Magnificat, opus 36 (1952)
Gerald Finzi’s father, a London shipbroker of Italian-Jewish ancestry, died soon before the boy’s eighth birthday. In 1915, as the First World War turned dark, Finzi’s mother evacuated the family to Harrogate, in Yorkshire in the industrial north of England. Finzi, who had decided at age nine to become a composer, began to study privately with the organist Ernest Farrar, himself a former student of Charles Villiers Stanford. Farrar died in the Western Front in 1918, and by the end of the war, young Gerald had also lost his three elder brothers. These family tragedies imbued in the already introspective lad a deep sense for the transience of time and of life, prominent themes in many of the texts that he would later set. Finzi continued his musical studies, now under the organist at York Minster, Edward Bairstow, and attended rehearsals and concerts of the large choral societies in nearby York, Leeds, and Bradford.
In 1922, Finzi and his mother moved to rural Gloucestershire. This was also the year of his first published music, a song-cycle on poems of Thomas Hardy titled By Footpath and Stile, which was well received. Three years later Finzi re-located again, now to London, where he attended counterpoint classes at the Royal College of Music, attended even more concerts, and befriended fellow composers Arthur Bliss, Edmund Rubbra, Howard Ferguson, and Gustav Holst. Finzi’s most important friendship of this period was surely that of Ralph Vaughan Williams, the leading composer in England, who conducted an early performance of his younger colleague’s eventually discarded Violin Concerto and provided lifelong moral support and camaraderie. Finzi taught part-time at the Royal Academy of Music from 1930 until 1933, when he married the artist Joyce Black. The young couple soon escaped urban hubbub, first to quiet Wiltshire and then, in 1939, to a custom-built home on sixteen acres in the Hampshire hills.
The calm, rural lifestyle suited Finzi perfectly, allowing him to focus on composition and other pursuits. He kept an apple orchard. He collected books of poetry and literature. He assembled the manuscripts of Sir Hubert Parry for archival at Oxford University. He arranged for publication and otherwise promoted the songs of Ivor Gurney, who was invalided during the War and lived in a mental hospital. Slowly Finzi’s compositions gained prominence, particularly his six Hardy cycles and other songs to words of Milton, Shakespeare, Vaughan, Rossetti, Bridges, Masefield, and his contemporary Edmund Blunden. January 1940 saw the premiere of his most acclaimed masterpiece, the orchestral song-cycle Dies natalis, to poems by the seventeenth-century preacher Thomas Traherne.
By this time, the Second World War had begun to rage. Finzi was drafted into the Ministry of War Transport and hosted German and Czech refugees. In order “to fill that terrible hollow feeling,” he founded the Newbury String Players, an amateur ensemble of his Hampshire neighbors who performed at nearby schools, village churches, and army camps. This ensemble led him to scholarly research into forgotten music by eighteenth-century English composers such as William Boyce, John Stanley, and Charles Wesley. Finzi resolutely declined to conduct his own music, but frequently presented untested works by younger composers.
After the War, his compositional output increased both in quantity and in its popular acceptance. Especially noteworthy are the Clarinet Concerto (1949), which remains one of the most often performed works in its genre, and the large-scale choral setting of Wordsworth, Intimations of Immortality (1950). In 1951, Finzi received a diagnosis of Hodgkin’s disease, but he continued vigorously to compose, to conduct the Newbury Players, to make scholarly editions of older music, and to promote young composers. Two of his greatest works—the Christmas cantata In terra pax (1954) and the impassioned Cello Concerto (1955)—were also among his last. He died from complications of chicken pox at age 55. Upon his death, his 700 volumes of eighteenth-century English music, both in manuscript and printed, were considered the greatest such collection in England; this was given to St. Andrews University. His library of literature, about 3,000 volumes in total, expanded the library at the university in Reading, near Finzi’s Hampshire home. But Finzi was perhaps most proud of having preserved from extinction several rare English varieties of apples.
In most every description of Finzi’s music—whether it be his songs, his choral anthems, or his orchestral music—the word “lyricism” can be found. While such melodiousness and smoothness are ever-present, it is too easy to describe such an inventive mind with one word. Sometimes it is said that the Cello Concerto, his last major work, points in new directions: it is more dissonant, more passionate, more heart-on-the-sleeve than his previous works. Yet, at his core, Finzi belonged to the so-called pastoral tradition of Vaughan Williams. These two agnostic pacifists shared a world-view that extended to humanistic compassion, philosophical introversion, elegiac spiritualism, and rich pathos. Returning to purely musical matters, these characteristics are found in modal harmonies, flowing rhythm, syllabic word-setting, and carefully crafted counterpoint. Composer Kenneth Leighton has observed that Finzi’s “pure lyricism … imbued not only the vocal line, but top, bottom and middle of the accompaniment too.” Every line is a melody. Every gesture is beautiful, moving, memorable, easy to hum. Perhaps “lyricism” may suffice as a summary after all.
Finzi’s Magnificat was composed in 1952 for the choirs of two American liberal arts colleges—Smith and Amherst, in western Massachusetts. These ensembles, which had recently toured Europe, provided Finzi with his first commission from outside Britain, an indication of the increasing international appeal of his music. They premiered the Magnificat in a Vespers service that Christmas. The text— the song of Mary who has just been informed that her unborn child will be Jesus Christ— is one of the most prominent in Anglican worship, but this setting is definitively not intended for liturgical use, as Finzi replaces the traditional closing doxology (“Glory to God in the highest…”) with a brief “Amen.” The elaborate part for organ is conceived along orchestral lines. Finzi’s adaptation of the work for full orchestra, in 1956, was among the last music he wrote.
The organ’s opening salvo sets out several important elements. The tonality is roughly D major, with modal C-naturals. The first notes rise steadily by a step and a third, followed by an leap of a sixth (D–E– G–E). Most of the melodies throughout the Magnificat are based on this idea, including the choir’s first appearance at “My soul doth magnify the Lord.” This rising-then-leaping motive gives the work its prevailing lyrical yet jubilant mood, appearing prominently at “He hath shewed strength” and “He hath filled the hungry.” There are unaccompanied sections such as “holy is his Name,” which is strongly reminiscent of Vaughan Williams’s famed Mass in G minor. The work’s most dramatic episode is “He hath put down the mighty,” with its unison chain of falling sevenths sung by the full choir in octaves. Finzi invokes Abraham with desperate cries, music that he also used to powerful effect in his concurrently written Cello Concerto. The final, reflective “Amen” is comfortably in D major, but the penultimate C-major seventh chord provides a final modal touch of gentleness.
My soul doth magnify the Lord,
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour,
For he hath regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden.
For behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath magnified me, and holy is his Name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him throughout all generations.
He hath shewed strength with his arm; [shewed = showed]
He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat and hath exalted the humble and meek. He hath filled the hungry with good things and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel [holpen = helped]
As he promised to our forefathers, Abraham and his seed, for ever.
Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (1848–1918)
|Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (1848–1918)|
There is an old belief (1916), No. 4 from Songs of Farewell (1916–18)
Few composers’ output has been received with such a sudden shift from rapture to dismissal as that of Sir Hubert Parry. He was born into a wealthy Gloucestershire family. He studied privately with George Elvey, the organist of the royal chapel at St. George’s Chapel, the royal private chapel at Windsor Castle. Under Elvey’s tutelage he achieved a Bachelor of Music from Oxford while still a student at Eton. He then studied law and modern history—more respectable endeavors for a gentleman’s son than music— at Exeter College, Oxford, though he managed to spend the summer of 1867 in Stuttgart studying under the composer Henry Hugo Pierson. He was an active organist and composed Mendelssohnian church music, but to assuage his family (and, crucially, that of his fiancée), he left Oxford to work as an insurance underwriter for Lloyd’s of London in 1870. He continued to study music privately, especially with the pianist Edward Dannreuther. Parry was one of rather few musicians at the time who embraced principles of both Wagner and Brahms: the former is heard in the choral Scenes from Prometheus Unbound (1880), the latter in the chamber music he composed for Dannreuther’s private salons.
In 1877, Parry left Lloyd’s, confident in his ability to support a family through music. George Grove employed him as a sub-editor for his new music encyclopedia, an activity which fueled the composer’s love of scholarship. His articles were so well received that he was engaged as the Professor of Musical History at the Royal College of Music upon its creation in 1883. Throughout the 1880s, his orchestral music gained in prominence, particularly the Piano Concerto (1880) and the four symphonies, of which Brahms and Mendelssohn were the principal models. His biggest hit, however, was The Blest Pair of Sirens (1887), an ode on words by Milton, premiered by the Bach Choir under Charles Villiers Stanford. The acclaim of this work led to a series of biblical oratorios and similar large-scale works for the great choral festivals of England: among the highlights were Judith (1888) for Birmingham, The Lotus-Eaters
(1892) after Tennyson for Cambridge, Job (1892) for Gloucester, and Invocation to Music (1895) on a Purcell-inspired text by Robert Bridges. In 1895 he succeeded Grove as director of the RCM, where his students included Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gustav Holst, Herbert Howells, Frank Bridge, John Ireland, and George Butterworth. Parry was known for his charming, cheerful, inspiring, and idealistic instruction, much the opposite of the gruff, demanding nature of his colleague Stanford; Holst said that Parry provided “a vision rather than a lecture.” By the end of the nineteenth century, Parry was hailed as an unofficial composer laureate: he was knighted, appointed the Professor of Music at Oxford, risen to a baronetcy, and contributed the anthem I was glad (1902) for the coronation of King Edward VII.
However, two factors led to a sudden diminishment in his popular appeal. The first was a matter over which Parry had no control: the rapturous reception of Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations (1899) and The Dream of Gerontius (1900), which catapulted the younger composer to international prominence. The second factor was Parry’s own series of six so-called “ethical cantatas,” choral works on self-consciously philosophical themes that the public largely ignored. He became little more than an establishment figure, out of tune with the times. His scholarly pursuits culminated in a major study of Bach (1909). He wrote a Te Deum (1911) for the coronation of George V, but mostly turned his attention back to orchestral music, revising his Fourth Symphony (1910) and composing a Fifth (1912). He also continued a series of seventy-four songs, or English Lyrics, and composed fine music for the organ. The First World War affected him deeply; Howells called it “a scourge that cast a devastating shadow over Parry’s mind and heart.” Yet Parry’s two musical reactions to the war— the unison choral song Jerusalem (1916) and the six Songs of Farewell (1916–18) for unaccompanied chorus—were the primary works that secured his lasting recognition in the public eye after his death during the 1918 flu epidemic.
The Songs of Farewell are among history’s great masterworks for unaccompanied chorus. They were composed at the height of the First World War, as many of Parry’s students at the Royal College of Music were dying in the trenches. Also, in 1908, he developed heart troubles that caused him to resign his professorship at Oxford, so Parry’s mind dwelt keenly on his own mortality. All of the texts in the
Songs of Farewell deal with dying. These six motets increase steadily in matters of choral demands and difficulty and expand gradually from four voices for the first and most famous of the cycle, “My soul, there is a country,” to eight voices for the final “Lord, let me know mine end.” All of them were premiered by Hugh Allen, Parry’s successor at Oxford and the RCM.
The fourth motet, “There is an old belief,” takes its text from John Gibson Lockhart, an eighteenth-century Scottish writer best known for his ten-volume biography of Sir Walter Scott. Lockhart reflects on the belief that, after death, we will meet our already deceased friends. The text, like others in the Songs of Farewell, is thus only tangentially sacred, and would be more aptly described as devotional or generically spiritual. This motet begins contrapuntally, with two of the six voices displaced from the remainder. Parry briefly establishes G major, but quickly moves through the adventuresome territory of C minor, A-flat major, and A major, to rest in D major, harmonically reflecting a journey “beyond the sphere of grief.” The six voices are increasingly contrapuntal, passing back and forth the melodic material of each line of text, but they sing a unison plainchant of “Credo in unum Deum” at Lockhart’s invocation, “That creed I fain would keep.” The choir’s imitative texture thickens further for “Eternal be the sleep,” pausing on an exotic E-diminished-seventh chord. Parry ends with a soothing, sonorous swell for the full choir.
There is an old belief,
That on some solemn shore,
Beyond the sphere of grief
Dear friends shall meet once more.
Beyond the sphere of Time
And Sin, and Fate’s control,
Serene in changeless prime
Of body and of soul.
That creed I fain would keep,
That hope I’ll ne’er forgo;
Eternal be the sleep,
If not to waken so.
—John Gibson Lockhart (1794–1854)
|Sir William Walton (1902–1983)|
Sir William Walton (1902–1983)
Where does the uttered Music go? (1946)
Born in industrial Lancashire to two voice teachers, the ten-year-old William Walton secured a post as a choirboy at Christ Church, Oxford. The cathedral choir stalls thus provided his seminal education. During the height of the First World War, Walton transferred from the cathedral choir school to an undergraduacy at the university, where he fell under the spell of the three Sitwell siblings, all notorious writers of the lesser nobility. Leaving Oxford without a degree, he lodged with the Sitwells in the roaring London of the 1920s. The chamber work Façade (1922) gained mild notoriety, but it was not until he composed three orchestral masterpieces—the Viola Concerto (1929), the cantata Belshazzar’s Feast
(1931), and the First Symphony (1935)—that his reputation was secure. The late 1930s saw two prominent commissions: Crown Imperial (1937), a march for the coronation of George VI, and a Violin Concerto (1939) for Jascha Heifetz.
Walton passed the Second World War composing music for propagandistic films, notably Laurence Olivier’s revered Henry V (1944). After the war, Benjamin Britten was all the rage in British music, as Walton’s idiom was deemed insufficiently modernist. His music, though still regularly performed and well received by audiences, suffered a critical damnation. That he moved to the Italian island of Ischia didn’t help his status among English composers. His opera Troilus and Cressida (1954) failed at both Covent Garden in London and La Scala in Milan. Yet he was still respected internationally as an albeit stodgy establishment figure, as evidenced by two works written for the coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953. He continued to write masterworks for orchestra such as the Cello Concerto (1956) for Gregor Piatigorsky, the Second Symphony (1960), and the Variations on a Theme of Hindemith (1962). Walton also turned to small-scale carols and liturgical works for cathedral choirs. His muse gradually faded, and he composed little in his final decade.
Once Walton established his mature compositional voice with the Viola Concerto, he stayed with it, notwithstanding changes in prevailing musical trends. This was not the result of a conscious conservatism, but simply because his musical language was so tied to the nature of his expressive personality. He frequently invokes jazzy chords, varied rhythm, melodic lines, engaging inner voices, gently dissonant harmony, and carefully plotted dynamics and articulation, all attributes which lend themselves well to either melancholy or vigor. Walton’s triumph was in always remaining true to his musical self.
In August 1944, the great conductor Henry Wood died. He was one of the most prominent figures in English music, having established the popular (and still ongoing) summertime Promenade Concerts. In that capacity he championed the works of many emerging composers, Walton among them. Walton was asked to write a choral work for the unveiling of a memorial window at St. Sepulchre-without-Newgate, the large church in the central London neighborhood of Holborn where Wood had played the organ in his youth. The new music was to accompany a newly written poem by John Masefield, the official Poet Laureate. The two struggled for a time to find words that Walton felt he could set to music; Masefield in fact prepared six options. Walton had begun two different settings, but was satisfied with neither, and even suggested writing a work for strings instead. (He was at the time also working on his brilliant String Quartet in A minor.) Masefield, however, was impressively patient, and finally crafted the current poem, titled Sir Henry Wood. Walton preferred to title the music with the first line of the poem: Where does the uttered Music go?.
Walton begins with a D-major triad, but immediately places under it a B-flat; such dissonant but gentle harmonies are a mainstay in Walton’s writing, but especially in this work. For example, the mystical sonority that concludes “What is this creature, Music,” is merely an inverted D-major triad with a dissonant C-sharp. As befitting a former cathedral chorister, Walton handles the voices expertly. Usually the three women’s parts function as a unit, with either the bass or tenor lines set apart in range or rhythm. The chorus dramatically divides into eight overlapping parts to invoke “everlasting thanks.” “All that he uttered” returns to the music of the opening, though slightly modified; Walton rarely, in any of his scores, repeats himself verbatim. As a final apotheosis, on the text, “O Mortals, praise him,” Walton divides the choir into sixteen voices, in what Christopher Palmer eloquently describes as an “ecstatic, starbursting climax [with] voices colliding and commingling and coalescing like some great cosmic firework-display.” That Henry Wood should have inspired such a musical memorial is a sign of his importance to Walton and to British musical life in general; any musician would be fortunate to be found so worthy.
Where does the uttered Music go?
When well attempered mind and hand
Have made the mortal clay to glow
And separate spirits understand?
Ah, whither, whither goes the boon,
The joy, that sweeps the wilful sense
Into the planetary tune
Of sun-directed influence?
What is this creature, Music, save the Art,
The Rhythm that the planets journey by? The
living Sun-Ray entering the heart, Touching
the Life with that which cannot die?
This Man with Music touched our minds
With rapture from the shining ranks,
The Loves and Laws of unknown kinds
Who utter everlasting thanks.
All that he uttered, may remain
As Light, as Order, cleaving Space,
Within the emptiness, a gain,
Within the solitude, a grace.
O Mortals, praise him, for his hand
Brought to his brothers many a ray
From Light perceived, though never scanned,
From Law unknown, which all obey.
— John Masefield (1878–1967), Sir Henry Wood (1946)
|Herbert Howells (1892–1983)|
Herbert Howells (1892–1983)
Requiem aeternam [I], from Requiem (1932)
Herbert Howells came from a poor family in a small Gloucestershire town. Thanks to a generous landowner, he was able to begin private studies with the organist at Gloucester Cathedral, Herbert Brewer. He attended the premiere of Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis at Gloucester in 1910, and also heard Elgar conduct The Dream of Gerontius; those two composers provided deep inspiration to the sensitive boy. Two years later he gained a scholarship at the Royal College of Music in London, quickly becoming Charles Villiers Stanford’s favorite pupil. Stanford suggested that Howells spend time at Westminster Cathedral, the Catholic cathedral in London, to hear the resuscitation of Tudor music undertaken by the choirmaster, Richard Terry. Within weeks, Westminster performed Howells’s newly composed Mass in the Dorian Mode. Other performances quickly followed: Stanford conducted his First Piano Concerto (1913), the London Symphony Orchestra performed his Elegy for Strings (1917), and his Piano Quartet (1916) won a national competition. By the end of his five years at the RCM, Howells already had a national reputation as the leading light of his generation.
Howells became sub-organist at Salisbury Cathedral in 1915, but Grave’s disease, an autoimmune disorder that had kept him out of war service, became life-threatening. He was forced into three years of convalescence, during which he edited Tudor manuscripts for Terry and began teaching at the RCM. He composed solo songs (most famously King David, to a text by his friend, Walter de la Mare), secular partsongs, and orchestral and chamber music. After the poorly received premiere of his Second Piano Concerto (1925), he suppressed all of his orchestral works. The great promise of his youth seemed to be cut short.
In 1935 his nine-year-old son, Michael, contracted polio while on vacation in his beloved Gloucestershire. Michael died quickly and painfully. This tragedy cast a shadow over the rest of Howells’s life. He revisited an unaccompanied Requiem composed three years earlier, re-fashioning it into the choral-orchestral Hymnus Paradisi (1938). But this, like the Requiem and many other works, Howells also suppressed, believing them to be too personal for a public performance. He slowly re-entered the public sphere, succeeding Gustav Holst as Director of Music at St. Paul’s Girls’ School (1936– 62), serving as wartime organist of St. John’s College, Cambridge (1941–5), and accepting a professorship at the University of London (1950). Yet he published no further orchestral music, and very little for piano or for chamber forces. Vaughan Williams and his other friends encouraged him to allow Hymnus Paradisi to be heard in 1950. It was immediately and justly hailed as his masterpiece.
In 1944, Howells composed a Te Deum for the world-renowned choir of King’s College, Cambridge. This unleashed a torrent of liturgical music written over the next four decades for the most prestigious churches in England: the cathedrals at Canterbury, Worcester, Salisbury, Winchester, Chichester, Hereford, and York, as well as New College and Christ Church, Oxford; St. Paul’s in London; St. George’s Chapel, Windsor; St. John’s College, Cambridge; and St. Mary, Redcliffe, in Bristol. Even North America joined in the fray, with scores for Washington Cathedral and churches in New York and Dallas. He also composed organ music, church anthems and motets, many of which recall the death of his son, particularly A Sequence for St. Michael (1961) and Take him, earth, for cherishing (1964), the latter written for a memorial service for John F. Kennedy.
The name of Herbert Howells is still today synonymous with postwar Anglican music. His musical language, steeped in the modality of the sixteenth-century Tudor composers and Vaughan Williams, suited itself well to the cathedral. Melody reigns supreme, but his harmonies are often spiked with chromatic neighbor tones. Most of his music is contemplative and nostalgic. Howells never truly recovered from the premature death of Michael, and the resulting music has provided consolation for myriads throughout the world.
For many years it was believed that Howells composed his Requiem for unaccompanied chorus soon after the death of his son, Michael, in 1935. He certainly deemed it an intensely personal work, not allowing it to be performed or published until 1980. But more recent scholarship has determined that it pre-dates Michael’s death by three years. It is an unconventional work, more a series of motets on texts such as Salvator mundi, Psalms 23 and 121, and the Book of Revelation. His model was A Short Requiem composed in 1915 by Henry Walford Davies (1869–1941), one of Howells’s teachers at the RCM. Davies’s work includes nearly all the same texts, and in the same order. There are even similarities in phrasing, structure of the movements, and rhythmic underlay of the text. The magic of Howells is in transforming an intriguing idea into a musical masterpiece. He later adapted some of the music into Hymnus Paradisi (1938), itself not heard until 1950.
This performance will present the third movement from the Requiem, itself the first of two settings in the work of the traditional Catholic “Requiem aeternam” text. The melody rises gently stepwise, and the four-part harmony is modal and ambiguous. To depict “perpetual light” (“lux perpetua”), Howells shifts to an eight-part texture with shimmering chords taken from whole-tone and octatonic scales more often encountered in Debussy or Ravel. The movement closes in a gently luminous D major.
Requiem aeternam dona eis, Rest eternal grant unto them,
et lux perpetua luceat eis. and may perpetual light shine on them.
Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine. Rest eternal grant unto them, Lord.
|Sir William Henry Harris (1883–1973)|
Sir William Henry Harris (1883–1973)
Faire is the heaven (1923)
At the age of fourteen, William Harris was appointed assistant organist at St. David’s Cathedral in western Wales. He was already a noted performer upon entering the Royal College of Music in 1899. He held various positions in London, followed by a succession of ever more prestigious posts as organist and choirmaster at Lichfield Cathedral (1911), New College, Oxford (1919), and Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford (1929). He finally settled in 1933 at St. George’s Chapel, the private royal chapel at Windsor Castle. In the latter post he gave the future Queen Elizabeth II weekly music lessons; it is a sign of his closeness to the royal family that she awarded him the Royal Victorian Order, a special knighthood in honor of services to the crown, in the year after her coronation. Concurrent to these church jobs, he taught at the Royal College of Music (1921–53) and become director of musical studies at the Royal School of Church Music in 1956. He retired from the RSCM and St. George’s in 1961, one of the most revered figures in English church music.
Today Harris is best remembered for two double-choir motets: Faire is the heaven (1925) and Bring us, O Lord God (1959). These are very much in the tradition of music of Hubert Parry, who presided at the RCM when Harris was a student. The opening word in Faire is the heaven is repeated, imbuing the anthem immediately with a sense of subdued awe in the unusual key of D-flat major. The two four-part choirs are mostly treated antiphonally, each group responding to music sung by the other, as Harris reserves the full power of eight voices for moments that are either especially dramatic (as at “fiery light” and “each other far excelling”) or peacefully sacrosanct (“God’s own person,” “endless perfectness”). The shifting harmonic centers of Faire is the heaven are akin to a travelogue through the Christian heaven: cherubim are a bright A major, archangels a vibrant C major, but “God’s own person” returns to the becalmed D-flat major, clearly Harris’s chosen key for perfection itself.
Faire is the heav’n where happy soules have place,
In full enjoyment of felicitie;
Whence they doe still behold the glorious face
Of the Divine Eternall Majestie;
[More faire is that, where those Idees on hie Enraunged be, which Plato so admyred, And pure Intelligences from God inspyred.]
Yet farre more faire be those bright Cherubins
Which all with golden wings are overdight. [overdight = covered over]
And those eternall burning Seraphins,
Which from their faces dart out fiery light;
Yet fairer than they both, and much more bright,
Be th’ Angels and Archangels which attend
On God’s owne Person without rest or end.
These then in faire each other farre excelling
As to the Highest they approach more neare.
Yet is the Highest farre beyond all telling
Fairer than all the rest which there appear,
Though all their beauties joynd together were;
How then can mortall tongue hope to expresse
The image of such endless perfectnesse?
— Edmund Spenser (c.1552–1599), from A Hymne of Heavenly Beautie (1596) [The lines italicized in brackets are omitted by Harris.]
Herbert Howells (1892–1983)
Like as the hart desireth the waterbrooks, No. 3 from Four Anthems (1941)
The severe bombing of London in the summer of 1940 caused devastation throughout the city. In September, the Howells family’s home was destroyed. They relocated to Cheltenham in the composer’s native Gloucestershire. On days when he returned to London to fulfill his teaching obligations at the Royal College of Music, he slept on a bed in the basement. However, over New Year’s, 1941, the family was snowed in at Cheltenham. Remarkably, for two weeks Howells composed a new work every day. On January 7th, he wrote his popular anthem Like as the hart in one sitting. It is dedicated to Thomas Armstrong, then the organist at Christ Church, Oxford, and conductor of the local orchestra and Bach Choir.
Like as the hart begins ostensibly in E minor, with harmony built on unstable fourths. A piquant F-sharp dominant seventh chord in the second measure confirms that Howells is treating the harmony unconventionally. The men’s melody conveys a similar sense of yearning for repose. Both “when” and “where” are given accented, sparse harmonies in the full choir; perhaps Howells is yearning to see his deceased son? When the opening melody and text return, a meandering soprano descant joins. The chorus concludes in a resigned E major, but the organ’s C-naturals imply that sadness remains.
Like as the hart desireth the waterbrooks, so longeth my soul after Thee, O God.
My soul is athirst for God: yea, even for the living God.
When shall I come to appear before the presence of God?
My tears have been my meat day and night, while they daily say unto me:
Where is now thy God?
— Psalm 42:1–3
|Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (1852–1924)|
Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (1852–1924)
Magnificat in B-flat major, opus 164 (1918)
In 1870, one of the most prominent lawyers in Dublin granted permission for his only son to study classics, rather than law, at Queen’s College, Cambridge. This was a compromise, for the son, who had already gained a reputation as an organist and church composer in Dublin, was determined to pursue musical activities, including refined training in Leipzig and Berlin. Thus did young Charles Villiers Stanford enter Cambridge. Within three years he was conductor of the university’s informal orchestra, the Cambridge University Musical Society (CUMS), and had transferred from Queen’s to Trinity College as the chapel organist, a rare honor for an undergraduate. In both of these posts he brought some of England’s and Europe’s most prominent performers to Cambridge: Walter Parratt, Basil Harwood, and Frederick Bridge participated in Trinity’s series of organ recitals, while conductor Hans Richter, violinist Joseph Joachim, and cellist Robert Hausmann appeared as guests with the CUMS. The orchestra also presented the first performances in England of many of Brahms’s works, including the First Symphony, and several premieres of British composers like Hubert Parry, Alexander Mackenzie, and Frederic Cowen. Notwithstanding his busy schedule as a student, conductor, and organist at Cambridge, Stanford pursued several months of refined training under Carl Reinecke in Leipzig and, more profitably, under Friedrich Kiel in Berlin. His own compositions, including church music and works for orchestra, began to gain notice throughout England and even on the Continent.
When the Royal College of Music was founded in 1883, Stanford was the logical choice as professor of composition and director of the orchestra. Four years later he was also appointed to a professorship at Cambridge. (Not until 1892 did he resigned from his post as organist at Trinity College, and the following year he left the CUMS.) At the RCM he taught nearly all of the prominent British composers of the next generation, including Herbert Howells, John Ireland, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gustav Holst, Frank Bridge, George Butterworth, Arthur Bliss, and George Dyson. Stanford demanded much of his students, not only in matters of craft but also in conservatism. He disliked most Wagner, and was downright scornful of the advanced style of Richard Strauss. This was typical of his gruff personality; George Grove once called him “nasty and quarrelsome and contradictious.”
Stanford was among the first British composers to gain a reputation on the Continent, especially with his concertos, written for the leading performers of the day, and his Third Symphony, the “Irish” (1887), which was heard in Hamburg, Berlin, Vienna, Amsterdam, and even New York (conducted by Gustav Mahler in 1911). While his output of orchestral and chamber music never faltered, he devoted great energies to his nine operas, which were performed in England and Germany. Most notable among them are The Veiled Prophet of Khorassan (1881) and Shamus O’Brien (1896). This latter work demonstrated his love of Irish folksongs, which also feature in a series of orchestral Irish Rhapsodies written for the leading conductors in Europe. Stanford himself was a prominent guest conductor and pianist throughout England; he even conducted a concert of his own works in Berlin in 1889. He hoped for broader recognition in Europe, but the meteoric rise of Edward Elgar in 1900 rendered his style old-fashioned.
Stanford knew the choral milieu well, having served as conductor of the Bach Choir (1886–1902) and of the Leeds Triennial Festival (1901–10). Of his several large-scale works written for England’s choral festivals, the most noteworthy are the Requiem (1897), Songs of the Sea (1904), Stabat mater (1907), and Songs of the Fleet (1910). But it is for his sacred, liturgical music that he is most renowned. His many settings of service music—beginning with the Service in B-flat, opus 10 (1879)—developed a tradition that Herbert Howells and others would further expand in the twentieth century. By the end of the First World War, Stanford’s liturgical music—together with three Latin motets (c.1890) and a secular partsong, The blue bird (1910)—were his only works to be performed with any regularity.
Like everyone in Britain, Stanford was deeply affected by the First World War. His son had survived the Battle of the Somme, but many of his students suffered great adversity in the trenches: Arthur Bliss and E.J. Moeran were wounded, Ivor Gurney was gassed, and George Butterworth and Ernest Farrar were both killed. Stanford’s own health was precarious, and he left London to avoid the nervous strain brought on by air raids. His always gruff demeanor was exacerbated, leading in 1917 to a deep rift between him and his erstwhile friend, Hubert Parry. The two composers had undertaken a rapprochement of which Stanford’s new Magnificat was to be a tribute, but Parry died before its completion. Stanford added an inscription, in Latin, to the score: “This work, which death prevented me from giving to Charles Hubert Hastings Parry in life, I dedicate to his name in grief.” Parry had recently completed his unaccompanied choral masterpiece, the Songs of Farewell, and this Magnificat is Stanford’s comparable accomplishment.
Scored for double chorus, this is the most elaborate of Stanford’s many settings of the Magnificat, and the only one in Latin. His models are clearly the multi-sectional motets of Bach and Brahms. The opening melodic material is heavily indebted to Bach’s Magnificat, and it shares a key, B-flat major, with his similarly ebullient double-chorus motet Singet dem Herrn. Stanford knew these works, and indeed all of Bach’s choral writings, very well through his years as conductor of the prestigious Bach Choir in London. The second section, “Quia fecit mihi magna” (the striking resemblance of which to “I’ve been working on the railroad” is assuredly coincidental), juxtaposes a strong (“potens”), jaunty figure with a smooth, stepwise, devotional (“sanctum”) line. Stanford invokes an antiphonal texture for “Fecit potentiam,” as a conversation between the two choirs. “Esurientes” shifts delicately from C major to D-flat major, as the women’s voices are pitted against those of the men. More antiphonal writing follows, and the eight voices finally sing together to dramatically invoke Abraham and other ancestors. As in Bach’s Magnificat and many others, Stanford’s returns to the opening music for the closing “Gloria Patri” to depict the text “sicut erat in principio” (“as it was in the beginning”).
Magnificat anima mea Dominum My soul magnifies the Lord,
et exultavit spiritus meus in Deo salutari meo. and my spirit rejoices in God, my savior.
Quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae: For he has considered the lowliness of his maidservant:
ecce enim ex hoc beatam me dicent behold, for from now blessed I shall be called
omnes generationes. by all generations.
Quia fecit mihi magna qui potens est, For he has made me great, he who is powerful,
et sanctum nomen ejus, and holy is his name,
et misericordia and he is merciful
a progenie in progenies timentibus eum. to the progeny of those who fear him.
Fecit potentiam in bracchio suo; He has made powerful with his arm;
dispersit superbos mente cordis sui. he has dispersed those of proud mind and heart.
Deposuit potentes de sede, He has deposed the powerful from their seats,
et exaltavit humiles. and he has exalted the humble.
Esurientes implevit bonis, The hungry he has filled with good things,
et divites dimisit inanes. and the rich he has dismissed empty.
Suscepit Israel puerum suum, He has supported Israel, his servant,
recordatus misericordiae suae. and he has remembered his mercy.
Sicut locutus est ad patres nostos, As was spoken to our fathers,
Abraham et semini ejus in saecula. to Abraham, and to his seed forever.
Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto. Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
Sicut erat in principio, nunc est, as it was in the beginning, now is,
et erit in saecula saeculorum. Amen. and will be for generations of generations. Amen.
Gerald Finzi (1901–1956)
Lo, the full, final sacrifice: Festival Anthem, opus 26 (1946)
Some people are remembered through the generations for their art. History is generally less kind to those who inspired or requested such art, but every once in a while a patron was so influential that his name is still invoked with hallowed awe. Such is the fate of the Reverend Walter Hussey (1909–85). When he was vicar at St. Matthew’s Church in Northampton, he commissioned the choral cantata
Rejoice in the Lamb from Benjamin Britten to commemorate the church’s fiftieth anniversary in 1943. Artistic commissions soon became regular events at St. Matthew’s, including music by Michael Tippett, Edmund Rubbra, and Lennox Berkeley; poetry by W.H. Auden and Norman Nicholson; the painting The Crucifixion by Graham Sutherland; and Henry Moore’s famed sculpture, Madonna and Child. Later, when Hussey was Dean of Chichester Cathedral, he continued this fine work. Among his later commissions was Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, which became one of the most popular choral works of the twentieth century.
One of Hussey’s commissions was Gerald Finzi’s large-scale anthem, Lo, the full, final sacrifice, written for the fifty-third anniversary of the consecration of St. Matthew’s, in 1946. (Finzi orchestrated the organ part the following year.) For his text, Finzi conflated two hymns of St. Thomas Aquinas—Adoro te and Lauda Sion salvatorem—as translated by Richard Crashaw (1612–49). The resulting composite poem preserves Crashaw’s Metaphysical commentary on Jesus’ crucifixion, mingled with references to the symbolism of Communion, but the precise flow of ideas is Finzi’s own.
Finzi establishes a mood of solemnity by an organ introduction that is improvisatory and chromatic, roughly in E minor with Phrygian F-naturals. The choir’s initial phrase has already been heard three times in the organ. Its melodic contour—a rising half-step, followed by a tritone and a return to the initial pitch—is strikingly memorable. As the anthem unfolds, the organ unifies several sections with a walking bass line. The section that begins “O let that love which thus makes thee” is typical of Finzi’s vocal writing, in that the writing is syllabic and the meter changes at almost every measure. This is a duet, pitting the tenors and basses together against the sopranos and altos. Finzi frequently employs similar devices to create variety from one section to the next: sometimes the choir functions as one, sometimes one line is heard solo, and sometimes certain sections are juxtaposed against the others. There are but brief moments of drama or counterpoint.
The second half of the anthem is littered with highlights. For example, at “Rise, Royal Sion,” Finzi paints the text not with a rising melodic contour, as might be expected, but by each entrance growing from mezzopiano to forte on a single pitch. Here the melody subtly recalls the work’s opening motive: the sopranos rise a step and return to the starting pitch, but an octave lower. Similarly, for “This sovereign subject,” Finzi displaces the motive by leaping a minor ninth, with the full choir in three octaves. There is an extended duet for tenor and bass soloists at “O soft self-wounding Pelican” in the delicate key of D-flat major, far removed from the E minor of the start. Among Finzi’s most inspired creations is the delicate caress of each repeated call to “come away.” At “When this dry soul those eyes shall see,” Finzi returns to the opening motive. The final “Amen” is in a gentle E major, but the final cadence includes two half-step neighbor tones, as if to reinforce the primary melodic material of the entire work.
Lo, the full, final, Sacrifice
On which all figures fix’t their eyes.
The ransomed Isaac, and his ram;
The Manna, and the Paschal Lamb.
Jesu Master, just and true!
Our Food, and faithful Shepherd too!
O let that love which thus makes thee
Mix with our low Mortality,
Lift our lean Souls, and set us up
Convictors of thine own full cup,
Coheirs of Saints. That so all may
Drink the same wine; and the same Way.
Nor change the Pasture, but the Place
To feed of Thee in thine own Face.
O dear Memorial of that Death
Which lives still, and allows us breath!
Rich, Royal Food! Bountiful Bread!
Whose use denies us to the dead!
Live ever Bread of loves, and be
My life, my soul, my surer self to me.
Help Lord, my Faith, my Hope increase;
And fill my portion in thy peace.
Give love for life; nor let my days
Grow, but in new powers to thy name and praise.
Rise, Royal Sion! rise and sing
Thy soul’s kind shepherd, thy heart’s King.
Stretch all thy powers; call if you can
Harps of Heaven to hands of man.
This sovereign subject sits above
The best ambition of thy love.
Lo the Bread of Life, this day’s
Triumphant Text provokes thy praise.
The living and life-giving bread,
To the great twelve distributed
When Life, himself, at point to die
Of love, was his own Legacy.
O soft self-wounding Pelican!
Whose breast weeps Balm for wounded man.
All this way bend thy benign flood
To’a bleeding Heart that gasps for blood.
That blood, whose least drops sovereign be
To wash my worlds of sins from me.
Come love! Come Lord! and that long day
For which I languish, come away.
When this dry soul those eyes shall see,
And drink the unseal’d source of thee.
When Glory’s sun faith’s shades shall chase,
And for thy veil give me thy Face.
— Richard Crashaw (1612–49), after Adoro te and Lauda Sion salvatorem by St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–74), adapted by the composer
— Notes and translation by Gary D. Cannon
Dr. Gary D. Cannon is active as a conductor, singer, and musicologist. He is the Artistic Director of the Cascadian Chorale and the Vashon Island Chorale, both since 2008. He was also the founding conductor of the Renaissance choir, Sine Nomine (2008–15), Principal Conductor of Vashon Opera (2009–11) and Chorusmaster for the Northwest Mahler Festival (2001–10). As a tenor he has soloed with Byrd Ensemble, Choral Arts, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Seattle Bach Choir, Tudor Choir, and several area orchestras. He has lectured for the Seattle Symphony and has provided program notes for many local choirs. His musicological research spans music of six centuries, with special emphasis on William Walton.