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July 2019

Musical notes for July

Peter Foggitt

Before I draw your attention to a few interesting features of this month's music list: I've been having a look through the last eighteen months'-worth of music, and have unearthed some interesting statistics, which I'd like to share with you.

I was particularly interested to find out if any one compositional period is more represented than another — and unsurprisingly, the Renaissance, with its huge repertoire of liturgical texts, features heavily: an average of 1.5 anthems, introits, or motets per week came from this period. By contrast, contemporary and modern settings of the Evensong canticles and the Communion service are rather thin on the ground: only sixteen post-Romantic settings of Evensong were sung across the seventy-eight weeks in question, and only ten Mass settings of this period.

During the course of these eighteen months, we gave twelve first performances, often in the presence of the composers; we also gave what I believe to be the first London liturgical performance of a piece several centuries old (the Missa Tornacensis). Music of the Classical period was also well represented, with almost as many Classical masses sung as Renaissance settings. Of the modern works performed, the majority were by reactionary tonalists of the mid-twentieth century (essentially, anyone writing for mainstream Anglican use), or by modern tonal composers such as Rutter, Goodall, and their ilk. Two were serialist works, and only one was truly atonal.

The Edwardian period — which lasted far longer in church music than in any other artistic field — had a good showing, too: all of Stanford's evening canticles and communion service settings were included, some on multiple occasions. I found myself rather hastily obliged to write a new Gloria in the style of Walmisley, upon discovering that he hadn't written one for his Communion Service in D — so that is included both in the world premieres and the Romantic mass settings — and I was delighted to discover the excellent early Magnificat and Nunc dimittis by Healey Willan, which he wrote at the age of nineteen.

A handy table, in summary, showing all of the pieces sung between January 2018 and June 2019:

























The first three weeks of July feature Mass settings and anthems from the same pen: works by Jonathan Dove, Dvorak (the anthem Blessed Jesu, fount of mercy is in fact a contrafactum of a section of his Stabat Mater: there is an interesting sub-genre of explicitly Catholic music whose late nineteenth-century English versions preserve the music perfectly, but create an often entirely different set of (Protestant) lyrics to go with it), and Schubert, an excerpt from whose characterful and extensive setting of Miriam's song of triumph over the Egyptians is sung during Communion on the 21st.

The Evensong music features four of the most well-known settings of the Canticles, by Harwood, Murrill, Noble, and Kelly (based, apparently, on 'Latin American Rhythms'). Martindale Sidwell's beautiful chant for Psalm 65 features on the 7th, together with movements of a Bach cantata for the feast of John the Baptist. On the 14th, I am delighted to be giving what is probably the first British performance of Barbara Monk Feldman's atmospheric and accessible setting of Gerard Manley Hopkins' Carrion Comfort (since the first lesson that day is the story of Jacob wrestling with God). Finzi's festal setting of Crashaw's Aquinas translations, written for St Matthew's, Northampton, is the final anthem of the month, and there are two other works written for famous commissioning churches, too: my own translation of Cynewulf's Christ II, concerning the skills given to people by God (a sort of outdoorsy gifts-of-the-Spirit), written for the Festival of Contemporary Church Music two years ago; and Matthew Martin's brilliantly constructed Missa Speravimus, composed for the Edington Festival of Music in the Liturgy last year.


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