Saturday, 29th January 2005, 8pm
Below are some of the highlights of the recording made of the concert. Enjoy the elegant singing of the soloists in the Purcell, the interplay between soloist Nicholas Clapton and choir in the first of the Mystical Songs, and the beautiful duet between oboe and soloist Ghislaine Morgan in the Magnificat, chased up by the dramatic outburst of the chorus Omnes Generationes.
Purcell: My Heart is Inditing
Henry Purcell (1659-1695) was born the year before the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 at the start of a strong revival of English music after the staid, even repressive, years of the Commonwealth, a revival actively encouraged by Charles II through the Chapel Royal. Purcell’s prolific output as a composer provides ample evidence of this. Having been a boy chorister of the Chapel Royal, he was appointed ‘composer for the king’s violins’ in 1677, organist of Westminster Abbey in 1679 and of the Chapel Royal in 1682, and ‘keeper of the king’s wind and keyboard instruments’ in 1683. By the time of his early death he was already acknowledged as the foremost English composer of his time, having written a wide range of music both secular and sacred: chamber music for violin and harpsichord, incidental songs, anthems for church services, vocal and choral works for royal birthdays and ceremonial occasions, and music for the theatre, both incidental music for stage plays and six dramatic operas including Dido and Aeneas.
In church music some of the main changes now introduced were to the style and structure of the anthems. ‘Full’ anthems, written for full four-part choir and organ, were joined in the repertoire by ‘verse’ anthems, in which solo voices hold a dialogue with the choir, four-part or eight-part, and overture, interlude and accompaniment are provided by a small string orchestra with organ continuo.
My Heart is Inditing is a notable example of the vigour and liveliness of a verse anthem which retains the depth and dignity of a full anthem. It was composed for the coronation of James II in 1685 and was sung during the crowning of the Queen. Written for soloists, eight-part choir, string orchestra and organ, it is in seven movements. The text is taken from Psalms 45 and 147 and the book of Isaiah.
Vaughan Williams: Five Mystical Songs
Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) has been described as the first truly national English composer since Purcell’s predecessors in the 16th century. Purcell himself was influenced by Italian music, and in the 18th century the popularity of Bach, Handel (especially) and Haydn overshadowed English composers. It was not until the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries that Elgar and Vaughan Williams restored English music to prominence in the international musical world. Vaughan Williams’ output was as varied as Purcell’s, ranging from his enthusiastic revival of English folk songs to many orchestral and choral works, symphonies, operas, ballets and incidental music for stage and film.
The Five Mystical Songs were written in 1911 and first performed at the Worcester Three Choirs Festival that year. Vaughan Williams was a Christian agnostic, but these are settings of deeply religious poems (see over) by the metaphysical poet George Herbert (1593-1633), who entered the Anglican priesthood in 1630 after an academic career at Cambridge and, briefly, as an MP. The songs were written to be performed together as one work. The first four are personal mystical meditations, particularly the third, in which the soloist takes the lead and the chorus has a supporting role. The fifth song is a triumphant hymn sung by the chorus alone.
J S Bach: Magnificat in D
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) was best known to his contemporaries as an organist, no doubt for the very good reason that nearly all the posts he held during his career were those of organist and kapellmeister. From 1723 until his death he was kantor of the Thomaskirche and the other town churches in Leipzig. His first major composition in this post was the Magnificat in E flat written for the Christmas services, when it was customary to include in the Magnificat Laudes or Songs of Praise. Some 10 years later, around 1732-1735, he revised this work by omitting the Laudes and transposing it down to D major, an easier key for trumpets and timpani. This is the version now performed most frequently.
The work has 12 movements. Five are given to the chorus with full and vigorous orchestral accompaniment, with between them gentler solo arias, a duet and a trio accompanied by one or more obligato instruments and organ continuo.
Translation of Latin Texts
(The Latin text of the Magnificat used by Bach is taken from Luke I. 46-55. The sections sung by the whole choir are in bold, those by the soloists in normal type. However, you will see that some phrases run over several movements, so the translation below is adapted to suit this!)
1 Magnificat anima mea Dominum
My soul doth magnify the Lord
2 Et exultavit spiritus meus in Deo salutari meo
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour
3 Quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae
For he hath regarded the lowlines of His handmaiden
Ecce enim ex hoc beatam me dicent
For lo, from henceforth I shall be called blessed by
4 Omnes generationes.
5 Quia fecit mihi magna qui potens est
For he who is mighty hath done great things for me
Et sanctum nomen ejus.
And holy is His name.
6 Et misericordia progenie in progenies timentibus eum.
And his mercy is on those from generation to generation who fear him.
7 Fecit potentiam in brachio suo dispersit superbos
He hath showed strength with his arm he hath scattered the proud
Mente cordis sui
In the imagination of their hearts
8 Deposuit potentes de sede et exultavit humiles
He hath put doen the mighty from their seat and hath exalted the humble
9 Esurientes implevit bonis et divites dimisit inanes.
The hungry he hath filled with good things and the rich he hath sent
10 Suscepit Israel puerum suum recordatus misericordiae suae
He hath holpen his servant Israel in remembrance of His mercy
11 Sicut locutus est ad patres nostros
As it was spoken to our forefathers
Abraham et semini ejus in secula.
Abraham and his seed for ever.
12 Gloria Patri, gloria Filio, et gloria Spiritui Sancto
Glory be to the Father glory to the Son and glory to the Holy Spirit
Sicut erat in principio et nunc et semper
As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be
In secula seculorum. Amen.
From ages to ages. Amen.
Translation by Valerie Worth, October 2004