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September 2019

Musical notes for September

Peter Foggitt

This is a month of beginnings and endings: David Moore comes to the end of his decade-long tenure as Assistant Director of Music at Eucharist on the 8th, at which we will be bidding him farewell with appropriate pomp and ceremony. We will, after some consultation, shortly be advertising for a new Senior Organ Scholar (which was originally David's position) or Assistant Director of Music, and for a Director of the Junior Choir. In the interregnum, Aidan Coburn has generously offered to direct the Choristers in their midweek rehearsals and services, and the organ will be played by Geoffrey Webber, for the last thirty years concurrently Precentor, Director of Studies, and Director of College Music at Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge. We are extraordinarily fortunate to have secured the services both of Aidan and of Geoffrey, for which I am extraordinarily grateful. Tilly Mattich continues in her position as Organ Scholar, and will be playing for the majority of services sung by the Choristers, as well as at other services.


You will, I hope, notice that the mechanism of the organ is significantly less noisy: new electronic solenoids have been fitted to the Great, Swell, and Pedal (though not yet to the Nave and Choir divisions), which allow the organist to set up registrations without disturbing the service. Previously, an unseemly thumping noise accompanied the drawing of any stop on these divisions, which did not—in my considered opinion—draw the listener any further into the beauty of holiness.


The full choral programme of services begins immediately at the start of the month, with one notable exception: the service on Thursday the 5th is a Choral Eucharist sung by the Choir of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, with whom I am travelling to New York the following day (and if you happen to be in the States that week, do come and hear us in NYC (three performances) – Greenwich, CT – Harvard – Boston – Ithaca – Rochester – Toronto). For the first Sunday Eucharist, I'm delighted to have unearthed Bairstow's full-throated setting of the BCP Communion Service; that evening, Stanford's evening canticles in A are complimented by the first of three motets this month by the Flemish composer Adrian Willaert.


We are in the course of a series of lessons from Isaiah at Evensong, which have led me down some interesting repertoire-related paths. The rather lovely coincidence of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the 8th and the Old Testament pericope for that day pointed again towards two more works of Willaert's. The Isaiah text begins:


Remember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.  [43.18–19]


Just as the Feast of the Circumcision (January 1) has historically been observed as the prefiguring of Christ's passion (since the mark of the Old Covenant is the first of many wounds inflicted on his body), so the birth of Mary is celebrated as the precursor to that of her Son: Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? Both Audite insulae and Salve sancta parens seemed peculiarly appropriate here, and I trust that they will serve their purpose well at Evensong on the second Sunday of this month.


Services sung by the Choristers begin on the twelfth, with Choral Evening Prayer: I commend this service to you for its simplicity, and for the welcome (and well-considered) change it brings from Evensong. The first BCP Evensong sung by the Choristers is on the twenty-sixth, with the Regency composer Thomas Clark's jaunty setting of Sternhold & Hopkins' metrical paraphrase of the sixty-eighth Psalm.


There is some less-known repertoire, too (which will come as no surprise): at Evensong on the 22nd, Tomkins' brilliant and madrigalian It is my well-beloved's voice is another metrical paraphrase, this time from the Song of Songs. Williams' Here is love vast as the ocean on the evening of the 15th is a moving text set to a famous Welsh tune; I recently discovered that the final verse had not been rendered in English, and have, consequently, translated it for this service.


German-speaking composers feature prominently at the end of the month: at the all-age service on the twenty-ninth, we have a movement from a Mass that Mozart wrote when he was younger than many of our Junior Church (though I'm not sure how Mass-writing counts towards a points-based system of school admissions, so don't worry too much if your child isn't yet composing complete works for the Roman liturgy); that evening, for the Feast of St Michael—who, despite the rumours, is not the patron saint of department stores—the choir sings the first movement of Bach's vigorous depiction of war in Heaven, Es erhub sich ein Streich, Praetorius' charming and dramatic Latin Magnificat, Schütz's second setting of the Nunc dimittis, and finally a lovely work from the decidedly un-German composer Laloux, Stetit angelus.

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