The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead

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May 2019

Musical notes for May

Peter Foggitt

One of the more entertaining challenges facing a director of music is when an interesting commemoration falls on a Sunday: the observance of that Sunday takes liturgical precedence — so the fun bit (for a given value of 'fun') is trying to observe the themes of that Sunday whilst also taking the memorial in question into account. On the fifth of this month — the Third Sunday of Easter and the commemoration of John Calvin — such an opportunity arises: Hezekiah's plea to God in his illness is echoed by the Calvinist reformer Huldrych Zwingli's Hilf, gott, das wasser gat mir bis an dseel; we hear also the French Nunc dimittis from the 1539 Genevan Psalter. The second lesson, meanwhile, is reprised in Paul Spicer's vivid anthem Come out, Lazar.

For the weeks of the Fourth and Fifth Sundays of Easter, we are participating in the London Festival of Contemporary Church Music. On the eleventh, I am conducting the opening concert of the Festival, Praise Him with Trumpets, featuring the vocal ensemble il Suono and the celebrated trumpeter Simon Desbrulais. A fine new set of responses from the Novocastrian composer and conductor Tom Edney features on the twelfth, together with a brilliant setting of Os justi by Noah Max (the youngest composer on our list this year, at 19).

When I premiered Daniel Knagg's apocalyptic Even So, Amen! on Radio 3 two years ago, the organ broke directly before the broadcast. I am hopeful that, despite its recent malfunctionings, our organ might behave itself during the first British performance of his Houston Service, sung by the Junior Choir on the sixteenth.

At this year's AGM of the Friends of the Music, the question was raised about the proper way to engage (or not) with the organ voluntaries at services. There is a common misconception that the organ voluntary is some kind of background entertainment — anyone for a martini? — whereas it is in fact offered as part of the service. At Evensong on the nineteenth, by way of demonstration of how wordless music can be understood to have meaning, we perform one of the great Magnificats of Jean Titelouze (1562—1633), in which the organ and choir alternate verses — there are, of course, no words in the organ verses, but the music depicts the text that would otherwise be sung.

I was delighted to see that March's music notes made their way into Private Eye. I can't always promise such politically apposite music as for the last Sunday in March, but there are often little pleasures to be found: one of these is on the morning of the twenty-sixth, where the lesson from Acts concerns Lydia ( the 'seller of purple cloth'), and the mass setting is of the quinti toni — the Lydian mode.

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