PROGRAM NOTES

October 21, 2007 - 5:00 PM
Choral Evensong
All Saints Episcopal Church, Worcester, MA
Introit ~ Middleton, Let my prayer be set forth
Responses ~ Rose
Service ~ Murrill, in E major
Anthem ~ Balfour Gardiner, Evening Hymn

About The Music

Once again the Anglican Singers are privileged to lead the service of choral evensong at All Saints Church, recalling with appreciation their performance here in April of 2005. The group is a unique thirty-member ensemble dedicated to the English choral tradition, particularly as it is emblemized in sung evening prayer. Under the direction of Simon Holt, with Andrew Howell serving as organist, the Anglican Singers, founded by Marianna Wilcox, have been since 1996 artists-in-residence at St. James Episcopal Church in New London, Connecticut.

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The ritual of choral evensong is an old one, established in the mid-16th century with the founding of the Church of England by Henry VIII (he of many wives) and his son, Edward VI. The liturgy of evening prayer, spoken or sung, is a conflation of two ancient Catholic rites: vespers and compline.

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Tonight's program is an all-British one, featuring the works of early-to-mid-20th-century English composers, from H. Balfour Gardiner to Bernard Rose. Their compositions represent the finest of the cathedral-collegiate choral repertoire in Great Britain and North America, and are part of a continuation of the resurgence of high caliber church music begun in the late 19th century.

Hubert Middleton (1890-1959), composer of this evening's Introit, "Let my prayer be set forth," is remembered as a teacher, organist, and writer of church music. One of his obituaries noted that his creative gifts, teaching skills, and generosity to fellow musicians would long be remembered, both at Cambridge University where he taught for many years, and beyond.

"Let my prayer be set forth," a motet for double choir, is a piece of otherworldly beauty, whose haunting harmonic and rhythmic suspensions befit the pleading text taken from verses 2 and 3 of Psalm 141: ("Let my prayer be set forth before Thee . . . Set a watch before my mouth, keep the door of my lips . . ."). Its mood and tone are reminiscent of motets written by the 16th-century English composer, Christopher Tye.

Bernard Rose (1916-1996), who wrote one of the most enduring and popular settings of the Preces, Responses, and Suffrages taken from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, was a musicologist, composer, and performer, affiliated for many years with Oxford University as a Fellow and organist. As a musical historian, Rose specialized in the study of the 17th-century English composer, Thomas Tomkins.

Rose's service music, written for seven parts, is stylized, ornamental, and expansive, influenced as he may have been by Tomkins; who broke away from the functional and spare character of earlier English church composers like Tallis and Tye, and developed a more Italianate, embellished style.

Herbert Murrill (1909-1952) wrote the setting of tonight's Service in E (Magnificat and Nunc dimittis). In a brief lifespan of forty-three years he accomplished much, and contributed enormously to popular, classical, and sacred music. Endowed with eclectic musical gifts and tastes, he produced an opera, film scores, instrumental pieces, and secular and sacred choral compositions.

Murrill's Magnificat is a sparkling dance of textures and moods, from the brisk yet held-in-check opening phrases to the exuberant finale of the Gloria. The serene tempo and sonorous harmonies that begin the Nunc dimittis create space for quietness and tranquility, then build to a dazzling climax with the words "To be a light to lighten the Gentiles," before subsiding to near silence on the word "Israel." The Gloria, while not a duplicate of the Magnificat Gloria, is as sumptuous and resplendent.

It is perhaps fitting that the final composer mentioned, H. Balfour Gardiner (1877-1950), was first among equals in his day, taking up the mantle of C.V. Stanford and Edward Elgar, those standard-bearers of the English musical renaissance. Gardiner's "Evening Hymn" (Te lucis ante terminum) is a rich merging of organ and choir, each enjoying, together and separately, its full measure of grandeur. Though the anthem begins as robustly as a morning hymn, the timbre soon shifts to a mysterious diminuendo as a tremulous supplication arises to God for protection from the terrors on 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 subsiding into silence.

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The Anglican Singers wish to extend their thanks to the clergy and parishioners of All Saints Church for the joyful experience of singing again in this beautiful and resonant and holy space.

Anne Carr Bingham

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