January 18, 2009 - 7:00 PM
Choral Evensong
Association of Anglican Musicians - Region I Mid-Winter Conference
Christ Church Cathedral, Springfield, MA

Introit ~ Byrd, Sing Joyfully
Responses ~ Rose
Service ~ Noble, in B minor
Anthem ~ Wood, Hail gladdening light

PROGRAM NOTES

The Anglican Singers are privileged to lead this evening, on the second Sunday after the Epiphany, the service of choral evensong at historic Christ Church Cathedral, and are especially honored to be part of the Region I gathering of the Association of Anglican Musicians. The Singers are a unique thirty-member ensemble dedicated – like AAM and the Cathedral choir – to the English choral tradition, in particular as it is represented in sung evening prayer. Under the direction of Simon Holt, with Andrew Howell serving as organist, the Anglican Singers, founded by Marianna Wilcox (a member of AAM), to have been artists-in-residence since 1996 at St. James Episcopal Church in New London, Connecticut, seat of America’s first Episcopal bishop, The Right Reverend Samuel Seabury.

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The tradition of choral evensong is an old one, instituted in the mid-sixteenth century with the establishment of the Church of England by Henry VIII (he of many wives) and his son Edward VI. The liturgy of evening prayer is a conflation of two ancient Catholic rites, vespers and compline. The Anglican Singers, in concordance with the mission of the Association of Anglican Musicians, recognize that “the music of the church finds its primary expression within the framework of the liturgy,” and so the ensemble’s purpose is to familiarize its listeners with that eloquent merging of the spoken and the sung word.

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In keeping with this goal, the Singers present, through evensong, the richly textured palette of Anglican music – though the group’s repertoire includes works of composers from around the world. This evening’s program is an all-British one, bridging the sixteenth to the twentieth century.

William Byrd (c. 1543-1623), a lifelong Catholic in a predominantly Protestant culture, is considered one of the greatest composers of English church music. He was also a survivor, outlasting four monarchs (three of whom were affiliated with Protestantism) and living, and thriving, well into the reign of the fifth (King James I, an ardent Anglican) – no mean feat during an era when to be of the wrong faith often meant death. The text of Byrd’s sixpart motet “Sing Joyfully,” the service introit, is taken from the first four verses of Psalm 81. In keeping with the exuberant and vigorous motif of the psalm, this piece is the epitome of the composer’s style: ornamental, polyphonic, sprightly.

Bernard Rose (1916-1996), who created one of the most charming and popular settings of the Preces, Responses, and Suffrages taken from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, was a historian as well as a composer and organist. His specialty was the study of the 17th-century English legend Thomas Tomkins, who introduced the Italianate, Baroque style to English church music. Rose’s Versicles and Responses in D major, written for five parts, are themselves ornamental and intricate, influenced as he may have been by Tomkins.

T. Tertius Noble (1867-1953) was an eminent Anglo-American composer who, following his emigration from England to America, founded in 1919 the famous St. Thomas Choir School for Boys in New York City. Though he wrote orchestral and chamber music, Noble is best remembered for his compositions for the Anglican Church as well as for establishing at St. Thomas the Anglican men-and-boys’ choral tradition. One of Dr. Noble’s preeminent choral works is his Service in B minor (Magnificat and Nunc dimittis). The adjectives that perhaps best describe this Service are “spacious” and “noble” (as befitting its creator). Essentially chorale-like, there emerge throughout Noble’s setting of these familiar canticles unexpected passages of exquisite rhythmic and harmonic modulations.

The Anglo-Irish composer Charles Wood (1866-1926) studied composition at the Royal College of Music with the renowned Charles Villiers Stanford, as well as with the eminent C.H.H. Parry.  Wood’s own later pupils included Ralph Vaughan Williams and Herbert Howells.  His “Hail, gladdening Light” is an anthem for double chorus, performed antiphonally between the two choirs.  This is a work of explosive joy and vitality, interspersed with passages of tender luminosity, combining the seasonal celebration of revelation and renewal with the contemplative mood of compline.  And its buoyant text, created by the poet and churchman John Keble (1792-1866) – which paraphrases the vespers canticle Phos Hilaron – merges the glory of heaven with the tranquility of evening prayer.

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                The Anglican Singers wish to thank The Very Reverend James G. Munroe, Dean; Peter Beardsley, Organist and Choirmaster; and the entire community of Christ Church Cathedral for the honor of performing in this sacred place, as they share with them and with the Association of Anglican Musicians the service of choral evensong – and in this sharing perpetuate a venerable yet ever-emergent tradition.

Anne Carr Bingham

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