| May 15, 2011 - 5:00 PM
- Introit ~ John Blow, Praise the Lord, ye servants
Preces ~ Martin Neary
Psalm 103 ~ Benedic anima mea chant by Kellow J. Pye
Canticles ~ Howells ‘St. Paul's Service’
Anthem ~ Patrick Hadley, My beloved spake
“For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and done.” Once again, sings the poet of the “Song of Songs,” spring has returned to a weary world. The short dark days of winter are over, the dormant earth is once again awakened and clothed in her most vivid colors, and the cycle of life continues in the turning of the year.
It is also the season of Easter, for Christians the culminating event of their faith by which the yearly renewal of nature is an allegorical metaphor for the Resurrection of Christ and the continual blessings he bestows upon his Church.
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For the final service of their 2011-2012 Season, the Anglican Singers present an all-British program of music from the seventeenth to the twentieth century.
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The date of English composer John Blow’s birth, 1649, coincides with the execution of King Charles I and the commencement of Britain’s brief flirtation with “republican” government. By the time of Blow’s death in 1708, the late king’s descendants had been restored to the throne, and England now enjoyed a constitutional monarchy and union with Scotland.
Blow may be as well known for his famous pupils, Jeremiah Clarke and Henry Purcell, as he is for his music. In fact, he was in his own right an accomplished organist and composer of a fine collection of sacred music as well as music for the Court. After earning his doctorate, Blow was appointed organist of Westminster Abbey, a position he held for many years; additionally, he attained the prestigious post of Composer to the Chapel Royal.
“Praise the Lord, Ye Servants´ is a cheerful and spirited motet based on two celebratory verses of Psalm 113.
Martin Neary’s (b. 1940) accomplishments, honors and awards are far too many to enumerate here. He is considered one of Great Britain’s preeminent composers and church musicians. He enjoys international acclaim for his own works and for his promotion of the works of both contemporary composers like John Tavener, and those of an earlier era like Henry Purcell.
In 1976, Neary wrote his silvery arrangement of tonight’s Preces and Responses for the installation at Winchester Cathedral of Canon-Precentor Anthony Caesar as Canon Residentiary.
Kellow J. Pye, born in 1812 – another an interesting year in British (and American) history – arranged a pleasing setting of Psalm 103 (Benedic, anima mea). Over the course of a long life (he lived to be 89), Pye was a highly respected church musician who played a role, albeit a small one, in the late 19th-century renaissance of Anglican music.
As a young man, Herbert Howells (1892-1983) was taught and promoted by the finest in their field: Herbert Brewer, C.V. Stanford, Hubert Parry, and Charles Wood; as well as mentored by the already-distinguished Ralph Vaughan Williams. Howells’ association with the latter began in 1910 at a concert premiering Williams’ “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.” Young Herbert was enchanted and deeply moved by its evocative beauty.
Articled at an early age at Gloucester Cathedral, Howells in due course became a professor of music at the Royal College of Music (RCM).
When he was only 23, he contracted Graves Disease (hyperthyroidism), then considered a fatal condition, and was told he had six months to live. Given an experimental course of treatment, Howells not only defied that prediction but went on to live another sixty-eight years. Then in 1935, he suffered the greatest tragedy of his life when his nine-year-old son Michael died of meningitis. This blow not only affected him personally, it changed the style and ambience of his compositions; but despite his grief, Howells continued to write prolifically – much of his music either dedicated to Michael’s memory or influenced by a latent melancholy over the loss of his boy.
The St. Paul’s Service, being sung tonight for the first time by the Singers, reflects, as does much of his work, Howells’ deepening introspection. It is enigmatic, elusive, otherworldly; yet its remote beauty transcends its inscrutability to fill the deepest recesses of the heart, capturing the essence of pain and healing, loss and restoration, despondency and hope.
Patrick Hadley’s life (1899-1973) was unexpectedly interrupted in 1918 when he suffered a severe wound in the Great War that necessitated the removal of part of his right leg. Nonetheless he resumed his musical studies, and in 1925 was appointed to the faculty of the RCM where he met Herbert Howells, William Walton, and Frederick Delius – for whose work he maintained a lifelong admiration and enthusiasm.
Hadley is probably best remembered for his tender Christmas motet, “I Sing of a Maiden,” and for the anthem being sung tonight, “My Beloved Spake,” whose text is taken from the Book of Solomon. The “Song of Songs” is perhaps the most sensuous, even quasi-erotic, book of the Old Testament. The allegorical depiction of a young woman and a young man coming toward one another from afar to wed and consummate their love is tantalizing. Hadley superbly grafts onto these onomatopoeic words the lush, sinuous texture of his musical phrasing.
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As the Anglican Singers conclude their fifteenth year as artists-in-residence at St. James, once again they extend thanks to the clergy and parishioners – and to all who come to hear the rich music of the Anglican tradition – for their generosity and continuing interest in the work and mission of the chorus. With eager anticipation, Director Kevin Jones and the Singers look forward to the 2011-2012 season.
Anne Carr Bingham