HANDWASHERS’ NEWSLETTER 4th April 2021
We hope you are having a happy and peaceful Easter and that life (and CCS) will soon return to something like normal.
As today is Easter Sunday, I have chosen to share with you the Five Mystical Songs by the great Gloucestershire composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams. The first of these songs, subtitled Easter begins with the words
Rise heart, thy Lord is risen. We sometimes sing this movement as an anthem at Evensong in the Abbey on Easter Day – not this year, sadly!
These songs were written between 1906 and 1911 and set words by the seventeenth century priest and poet, George Herbert. They were premiered at the 1911 Three Choirs’ Festival at Worcester, directed by the composer. The final movement Antiphon is an energetic finale to the set for choir alone. (The words Let all the world in every corner sing are often sung as a hymn to the tune Luckington by another son of Gloucestershire, Basil Harwood.) This movement is also sometimes sung as an anthem – I well remember singing it on numerous occasions as a chorister in my church choir. It was definitely a favourite amongst my contemporaries, no doubt due, at least in part, to two important factors – it is fast and loud!
Richard Hickox 1948 – 2008
Enjoy this fine performance with the great Stephen Roberts as the baritone soloist and directed by the equally great, and much missed, Richard Hickox: https://youtu.be/6Wtus11fFJw
EASTER MEMORIES Here are some favourite Easter hymns to sing along to:
From Good Friday: https://youtu.be/_DEHBfv5N8M
and for today: https://youtu.be/F9zIGc2bWvc
Next Friday is the anniversary of the Good Friday Belfast Agreement so we thought it appropriate to publish this pre-agreement memory:
GREGORIO ALLEGRI’S ‘Miserere Mei Deus’ has special memories for Andrea Hamilton:
I grew up in Belfast, Northern Ireland, a teenager in the 1970’s at the height of the inaptly named ‘Troubles’.
Although we lived on the outskirts of the City and were thus relatively protected from the worst excesses of the times, we frequently ran the gauntlet of City Centre journeys to get to music lessons at Belfast School of Music. These lessons were sacrosanct and non-negotiable, even given the high chance of peril!
One of these weekly runs involved waiting for my brother at choir practice in St Anne’s Cathedral where he was a young chorister: not a particularly attractive option for a teenage sibling.
Today St Anne’s sits at the heart of The Cathedral Quarter surrounded by chic cafes, pedestrianised cobbles and smart shops, most memorable for the funeral of murdered journalist Lyra McKee shot dead in 2019. In the ‘70s it was a dangerous area at the heart of a dangerous City.
St Anne’s was a mausoleum of a building, quite cold and lacking in splendour but the acoustics were terrific and it being the run up to Holy Week they were practicing Gregorio Allegri’s ‘’Miserere Mei Deus ‘’.
Allegri (1582 -1652) had been a contralto in the Vatican choir, this piece becoming one of his best regarded compositions. A setting of the Vulgate Psalm 50 it is written for 2 choirs straddling both Renaissance and Baroque styles. One choir sings a simple ‘plainsong’ chant the other a familiar ‘fauxbourdon’ with elaborations and cadenzas, historically sung during Holy Week in the Sistine Chapel.
As we hear it today there are changes from the version then, most notably the High C that the treble solo line sails to which did not originally exist. What is clear is that the sentiment, the poignant request to God for forgiveness and mercy were not empty pleas in Belfast at the time.
On this occasion my brother had been gifted the honour of the treble line which runs high above the others, sounding ethereal and other worldly. I’d listened to it endlessly so knew every entry and note.
On the night of the ‘performance’ as we arrived it was clear something was going down. Danger hung in the air and, as the music began, gunshots, explosions and army activity could be heard outside. Then the plainsong rang out in steadfast surety followed by the second choir with the pure line of a clear young voice rising in perfection to its height above and everything dissipated outside of the music.
Nothing to this day has remained so clearly in my musical memory, countless recordings have never come close although they must be ‘better’. Suffice to say that wrapped up in all of it was the awareness then and now that there are choices to be made and music brings us to a better place.
EDITOR’S FOOTNOTE Andrea’s little brother, Roger with the high C’s, stayed with music, read music at Clare College, Cambridge and is now Teaching Fellow in Historical Performance at the Royal Northern College of Music.
As she says, nothing can match Andrea’s memory of Roger’s singing that troubled evening but here is the choir of King’s College, Cambridge doing its best to: https://youtu.be/IX1zicNRLmY
Margaret invites us to MESSIAH REIMAGINED at 7pm tomorrow here: https://r1.dmtrk.net/4N6L-11LD8-D387D7475E0D427A6CBYUD670B939A5DAEB761/cr.aspx
AND FINALLY . . .
At last Chris has solved his problem: