HANDWASHERS’ NEWSLETTER 6th June 2021
You will shortly receive an email asking for your intentions and setting out the safety measures for the initial rehearsals, whenever we are permitted to hold them. Please, please respond promptly.
This week, something of a rarity. I wonder how many of you have heard of Armstrong Gibbs? Until quite recently, I must confess that I associated his name with a handful of songs and small-scale choral pieces, but was fascinated to discover that he was also the composer of three symphonies. The second of these, written in 1938, is known as the choral symphony and tells the well known story of Odysseus legendary wandering around the eastern Mediterranean after the fall of Troy, and his return to Ithaca. The musical language belongs to the same school as Parry and Vaughan Williams – if you like RVW’s Sea Symphony, you’ll love this!
Cecil Armstrong Gibbs (1889-1960) was born in Essex into a wealthy family. His father owned a well-known soap company which then became even more famous as Gibbs SR toothpaste! It was discovered by the age of three that he had perfect pitch, and he wrote his first song at the age of five. Much of his professional life was spent in education, teaching music, history and classics. He was also much involved in the world of amateur choral music and festivals. Apparently, he hated the name Cecil, which is why he was always known by his middle name!
Interestingly, this much neglected work was due to be performed at the Worcester Three Choirs Festival this summer but, due to the present singing restrictions, this is now in some doubt. Perhaps Three Choirs were a bit optimistic?
MUSIC IN ALL ITS FORMS Tim writes:
You recall that last week Carleton wrote, ‘Music – in all its forms – is one of the greatest gifts known to humankind’. Somehow, this reminded me of a guest on Desert Island Discs, a musician, who asked for recordings of the works of J S Bach as his luxury, ‘so that the birds on the island would know that humans could also make beautiful music’.
You would expect me, a birder, to appreciate birdsong as a ‘great gift’. At this time of year, even the common Blackbird song is a joy: https://youtu.be/WmpEWlmgRxQ and we still have a few Nightingales locally: https://youtu.be/XdlIbNrki5o though the neighbours say I sound more like this Raven: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/raven/
I hadn’t thought of other creatures that sing until Catherine sent this amazing clip:
Keep working on the John Cage everyone!
ROS RESEARCHES JUDITH (Not her mother!)
On Tuesday 4th May, we had our final Zoom rehearsal attended by 16 members and led by Carleton. During the course of the evening, Carleton was talking about Parry and Stanford, as we have been singing such works as My Soul, there is a country and Crossing the Bar by Parry and Oh! For a closer walk with God by Stanford. He talked about their music and their differences and then mentioned Parry’s Oratorio Judith. He said that he did not know a lot about Judith and this sparked my interest, so I decided to do a little research and below is a taste of what I found.
Mendelssohn wrote Elijah, which premiered at the Birmingham Festival in 1846. The structure of Mendelssohn’s work became the model for a whole series of oratorios, so Parry was asked to write a work for the 1888 festival. The resulting work, Judith was a success with numerous performances in the 19th Century, however this tailed off in the 20th Century.
The Book of Judith is found in the Apocrypha and in most Anglican bibles, can be found in the middle, in between the Old Testament and the New Testament. As both the Catholic and Orthodox traditions fully embraced them, so their Bibles include the writings where they would belong, as opposed to being set apart in a separate section.
Judith was a beautiful Jewish widow who saved the Israelites by seducing the King of Syria’s general Holofernes and then hacking off his head. The melody from the hymn Dear Lord and Father of Mankind was taken from Parry’s score, where its original words are a potted version of Exodus, told to a group of angelic children who have no idea they have just been selected for human sacrifice.
Despite the attractions of its storyline, Judith has never gained a permanent place in choral society repertoire. This is probably due to the fact that Parry’s music seemed to have fallen out of fashion in general shortly after his death, as well as the substantial demands on soloists. The first full performance of the work was in London in 1889, with another 16 UK performances and it is sometimes seen as a steppingstone between the choral works of Mendelssohn and Elgar. It contains relishable melodies, dynamic choral writing and full-blown climactic passages. With all this, perhaps Judith might begin to get the occasional performances it deserves.
Mention of Biblical oratorios by Parry reminded me that in 1905 CCS performed the oratorio Job under the baton of the composer himself.
This had been facilitated by Parry’s half-sister, Hilda, by this time Mrs E T Cripps, a member and eventually President of CCS who had been selected to sing the alto solos. Hilda’s daughter later married a Captain Fenton and one of their sons was our good friend, the late Raymond Fenton.
Unfortunately, Hilda succumbed to laryngitis and was unable to sing in what the Standard described ‘as the most notable concert in the annals of the Society’.
Hilda Cripps née Parry (aka Raymond’s Granny)
(The above comes from Bright Faces, The Story of Cirencester Choral Society and Its Conductors. To order a copy, price £5, email firstname.lastname@example.org . All proceeds go to CCS.
A LIVE CHORAL CONCERT IN CIRENCESTER!! Hugo has arranged this for Saturday July 3rd:
MUSIC FROM MINCH Warwick Cole, James Gilchrist and friends bring us a beautiful aria from Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel’s Passion: https://youtu.be/F2KlHU54zqU
AND FINALLY . . .
Another from Catherine:
We know the feeling! Ed.