- Introit: Laudate nomen Domini - Tye
Psalm 114: Tonus peregrinus
Psalm 115: Percy Buck
Canticles: Howells - Collegium Regale
Anthem: And I saw a new heaven - Bainton
As the nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost passes from day into night, Christendom continues on its twenty-six-week journey through this longest season, and begins to look toward Advent: the new Church year and a time of preparation for the coming of Christ into the world.
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The Anglican Singers, still savoring memories of their residency in Ely Cathedral this past July, are pleased and privileged to be “home” again at St. James. This evening’s program includes some of England’s finest music, from the Tudor period to the twentieth century.
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And, befitting the group’s recent sojourn, the service begins with a tuneful motet, Laudate nomen Domini, written by the 16th-century composer Christopher Tye (c. 1505-c. 1573), who served as both choirmaster and priest at Ely Cathedral. Tye earned a bachelor’s degree in music from Cambridge University before becoming a lay clerk at King’s College, Cambridge, and was later appointed Magister Chorustarum at Ely.
Tye left Ely to serve as musical advisor and possibly tutor to the young, radically reformist monarch, Edward VI. During this time, he set the Acts of the Apostles to music. Dedicating The Actes to Edward, he published it in 1553, the year of the frail monarch’s death.
Returning to Ely, Tye (now “Dr.” Tye, having been awarded an honorary doctorate of music) began to prepare for the ministry. He was ordained a deacon and a priest in 1559 or 1560. As he took up his ecclesiastical duties, Tye discontinued composing music.
Christopher Tye’s sacred music conforms to his staunch anti-Catholic convictions that were so precisely in line with his sovereign’s. The hymn-like Laudate nomen Domini (“O come ye servants of the Lord”) is an example of the straightforward Reformation style (“one syllable, one note”), though it is curious that Tye set it in Latin rather than in English.
Not remembered fondly by all, Christopher Tye was depicted by the 17th-century Oxonian and antiquarian, Anthony à Wood, as a “peevish and humoursome man.” On one occasion, after annoying Queen Elizabeth who complained that he was playing the organ “out of tune,” the offended musician shot back, “Tell the Queen that her ears are out of tune!” (Dr. Tye must have felt quite confident of his position to behave with such lèse-majesté.)
The Preces and Responses of the eminent 20th-century English composer and musicologist Bernard Rose (1916-1996) are a favorite on both sides of the Atlantic, and firmly fixed in the Anglican Singers’ repertoire. Rose’s ornamental style, as reflected in these versicles, is attributable in part to admiration for his musical hero, the 17th-century English-Baroque innovator, Thomas Tomkins, whose works Rose studied and edited extensively.
Rose’s musical and academic career was interrupted with the onset of World War II. Seeing action as an infantry officer in North Africa and Italy during 1942 and 1943, he was part of the great D-Day invasion of Normandy on June 6th, 1944. Captured by German troops on June 13th, he was imprisoned in Brunswick, Germany, until his release by the United States Army in April, 1945, just weeks before V.E. Day. Following the war, Rose returned to a successful teaching career. Among his pupils was Harry Christophers, who founded The Sixteen, a renowned a cappella group dedicated to the music of the English Reformation.
The two psalms appointed for this evening are Psalm 114 (In exitu Israel) and Psalm 115 (Non nobis, Domine). In exitu Israel is set to a form of plainchant called tonus peregrinus, meaning “wandering tone,” in which the second half of the chant uses a reciting tone different from that of the first. By contrast, Non nobis, Domine is set to Anglican chant by Percy Buck (1871-1947), an esteemed composer, organist, and educator, who wrote a number of musical works, as well as texts like Psychology for Musicians (which might make interesting reading).
Herbert Howells (1892-1983) was not expected to reach his 24th birthday. Stricken with Graves’ disease in 1915, only a radical experimental intervention saved him; he went on to live another sixty-eight years, passing away at the age of ninety-one.
The roster of the precocious young musician’s teachers and mentors looks like a Who’s Who of musical greats: Herbert Brewer, Ralph Vaughan Williams, C.V. Stanford, and C.H.H. Parry, among others. Howells studied organ and composition at the Royal College of Music, where he began writing primarily orchestral music. Sometime later, while working with Richard R. Terry at Westminster Cathedral, he began to explore and absorb English-Renaissance techniques that would henceforth influence his work.
But the most profound influence on Howells’ future compositional choices was the great tragedy of his life, the sudden death of his son Michael from polio at the age of nine. He never fully recovered from his grief; but at the suggestion of his daughter Ursula, he shifted his emphasis to church music, writing in a new and unique style that became his hallmark: alternately elusive and edgy, melancholy and majestic. The author of an astonishing twenty Services, Howells’ masterpiece, written in memory of Michael, was his transcendent requiem, Hymnus Paradisi, first performed at the Three Choirs Festival at Gloucester Cathedral in 1950.
Collegium Regale, performed on several occasions by the Singers, was commissioned for the choir of King’s College, Cambridge, in 1947. The Magnificat, opening with a luminous treble duet, and the Nunc dimittis, introduced by an expressive tenor solo, fashion a panorama of both otherworldly beauty and august power (as in the Gloria), whose emotional effect derives from the interplay of contrasting moods and emphases.
After her father’s death, Ursula Howells established The Herbert Howells Society, which continues to attract members from around the world.
Edgar L. Bainton (1880-1956), like Bernard Rose, was a prisoner of war – Bainton taken captive in the Great War. And, like Herbert Howells, he wrote prolifically in a number of musical genres but is best remembered for his church music. A native of London, Bainton and his family expatriated to Australia in 1934 following his appointment as director of the New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music. He resided in Sydney until his death.
Bainton’s most iconic anthem, “And I saw a new heaven,” is set to verses 1-4 of chapter 21 of the Book of Revelation. This is a tone-poem of ecstatic beauty. Borne aloft by the composer’s wonderfully wrought harmonization, it brings the story of creation to its ordained climax – that ultimate moment when “the former things are passed away” – and evokes St. John’s vision of heaven, one so sublime as to ease the pain and sorrow of even the saddest heart.
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As always, The Anglican Singers are pleased to be back at St. James, and are grateful to the parish for its faithful support as they continue the venerable tradition of sung evening prayer.
Anne Carr Bingham