PROGRAM NOTES

September 30, 2007 - 5:00 PM
Choral Evensong
Pequot Chapel, New London, CT
Introit ~ Tallis, If ye love me
Responses ~ Smith
Service ~ Stanford, in G major
Anthem ~ Balfour Gardiner, Evening Hymn

About The Music

This evening – the eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost – marks The Anglican Singers’ 11th appearance at Pequot Chapel for the service of choral evensong. The tradition of launching each season at Pequot is one which the group continues to cherish. This is also their first performance under the direction of Simon Holt, with Andrew Howell at the organ.

The program is an all-British one, from the birth of Anglican music in the mid-sixteenth century to its revival in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

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Tonight’s Introit, “If ye love me,” was composed by Thomas Tallis (1505-1585). Born at the outset of the Tudor dynasty (whose first king, Henry VII, had emerged as victor of the decades’ long Wars of the Roses), Tallis, a devout Catholic, outlasted four monarchs of fiercely opposing religious beliefs, Catholic and Protestant, and lived well into the reign of the fifth, the Protestant Elizabeth I. Though his lifelong allegiance to Catholicism never wavered, Tallis is considered the father of English-Reformation church music, and his spare, delicate motet is an example of the emotive yet unembellished early Anglican style.

William Smith (1603-1645), a probable student of the acclaimed William Byrd, wrote the setting of this evening’s Preces, Responses, and Suffrages. Although details of his life, as well as his musical output, are slender, the compositions he has bequeathed to church music endure by virtue of their beauty and gracefulness.

One of the fathers of the nineteenth-century English musical renaissance, and a worthy legatee of the Anglican choral tradition inaugurated by Tallis and Smith, was C.V. Stanford (1852-1924), who inspired, and continues to influence, subsequent generations of church musicians and composers.

The Anglican Singers are performing for the first time Stanford’s Service in G-Major (Magnificat and Nunc dimittis). Throughout these luminous canticles the composer has artfully blended the heritage of early Anglican music with Victorian charm and a foretaste of modernity. Both the Magnificat and the Nunc dimittis are composed of conversations between solo voices (treble in the Magnificat; bass in the Nunc dimittis) and chorus. Melody, harmony and rhythm suit the timeless words of these prayers – and become an offering of spiritual and emotional delight.

H. Balfour Gardiner (1877-1950) carried into the twentieth century the magnificent tradition of the musical reawakening established in England by the likes of Stanford and his contemporary Edward Elgar. Additionally, Gardiner was a generous patron of young musicians, and a man of spacious musical vision.
His “Evening Hymn” (Te lucis ante terminum) is a sublime merging of voice and organ, each enjoying its full measure of grandeur, separately and in concert. And while the text suggests eventide, the anthem’s chorale-like opening phrases evince the robustness of a morning hymn.

The musical mood, though, shifts suddenly to a mysterious diminuendo as a pleading supplication emerges for protection from the terrors of the night. That danger past, the original motif of hope and thanksgiving is recapitulated, followed by a stunning fourfold Amen, which swells to fortissimo pitch before sinking into silence.

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At this moment of new beginning, The Anglican Singers look back on ten years of celebrating choral evensong at Pequot Chapel: ever mindful of the joyous burden of carrying forward the tradition of a venerable rite which has been a source of sustenance and inspiration for five centuries.

Anne Carr Bingham

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