HANDWASHERS’ NEWSLETTER 13th June 2021

Firstly, a huge vote of thanks to those of you who responded promptly to the Restarting Rehearsals email, particularly those who offered help. We hope that those who haven’t responded have been on holiday. On your return please do respond before getting stuck into all that holiday washing!

As the Delta Variant spreads, it seems increasingly likely that Step 4 out of Lockdown will not happen on 21st June. Whenever we restart rehearsals, we intend that the same safety measures for your protection will apply. Meanwhile if your situation changes, including testing covid positive or needing to self-isolate, please let us know at timp470@btinternet.com

CARLETON’S COLUMN

Instead of writing a column for us this week, Carleton recommends us to read this article by Richard Morrison in  BBC Music Magazine. As Carleton suggests, ‘This says it all!’ 

Richard Morrison, Music critic for The Times and BBC Music Magazine

MORE FIERCE THAN THE EVENING WOLVES . . . . . . they frightened Andy:

Three years ago, our May concert included what was, perhaps, our most surprising offering of recent years – and one which I feel Carleton must have been saving up for the right occasion!  That occasion was a commemoration of the centenary of Hubert Parry’s death. The programme included some fine and well known Parry compositions, but I will remember it more for one of the works of Parry’s contemporary and RCM colleague, Charles Villiers Stanford.

Charles Villiers Stanford (1852 – 1924)

Knowing something of Stanford’s standing among the musicians of the day helps explain why I, and I suspect many of us, were initially taken aback, but then enthralled, by this piece.

Stanford’s music was not universally popular in his lifetime. His technical excellence was not in question, and at his death Edgar Bainton said of him, “Whatever opinions may be held upon Stanford’s music, and they are many and various, it is, I think, always recognised that he was a master of means. Everything he turned his hand to always comes off”. But to his critics, of whom fellow Irishman George Bernard Shaw was pre-eminent, he was overly conservative and old fashioned and his compositions lacked passion.  After late 19th century success, his standing diminished and was overshadowed by his former pupils – Holst, Howells and Vaughan Williams.  Along with Elgar, it was they who would be remembered as having carried forward the English musical renaissance of the 20th century.

Stanford composed over 200 works, including symphonies, operas, concertos, chamber, piano and organ works, but until very recently had retained significant recognition only for his choral works and song settings. His wider oeuvre and his pivotal contribution as a teacher and theorist are now beginning to be reassessed and orchestral rarities are finding their way on to CDs. However, it is still Anglican liturgy, and in particular his settings of the canticles, that many still associate him with. Anyone who has sung in even the most modest of church choirs will likely have sung his Evening Service in B flat. For those not versed in the Anglican tradition it may be Songs of the Sea and Songs of the Fleet that ring a bell, or maybe his popular The Blue Bird.

What a surprise, then, when we started rehearsing ‘For lo, I raise up’ for the spring 2018 concert! Was this really Stanford? Apparently so. Did it lack passion? No! Was it conservative? Far from it! The obscure biblical text from the Book of Habakkuk was thrilling – and, boy, did it pack a punch!

It perhaps took the impending horror of the Great War to inspire this miniature masterpiece – in which Habakkuk’s graphic depiction of marauding hordes is mirrored by the calm of his prophecy of deliverance. Reviewers of recent recordings have similarly expressed surprise: e.g. from The Gramophone – “The revelation for me was Stanford’s powerful response to the unfolding carnage of the Great War . . . Beneath the superficial swagger lies one of his most inspired works”, and from Musicweb International – “. . . powerful and sometimes frightening music”. So why not re-live the moment with New College here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cXhHpWgZkVs and look forward – if things go to plan – to singing it ourselves again in our November concert. Then, as a suitable antidote, marvel at Tenebrae’s recent socially distanced performance of The Blue Bird https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nThaKFfCi4w. And to finish, here’s the Magnificat in B flat: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kg4ftg1UnYk – just in case you don’t know it.

EDITOR’S FOOTNOTE: The Book of Habakkuk identifies the unneighbourly bitter and hasty nation as the Chaldeans, who were a semitic-speaking, intelligent and sometimes aggressive, warlike people who lived in the marshy area between the Tigris and Euphrates in what was southern Babylonia; now part of Iraq. (Outlined in white below.)

Today this area is the home of the Marsh Arabs to whom Saddam Hussein took a dislike, so he drained the marshes by building enormous dykes which have now been breached, allowing the inhabitants (and birdlife) to resume their wetland way of life.

VIVALDI’S GLORIA a correction by Tim:

Some months ago, I suggested that Vivaldi first performed his Gloria with girls at Ospedale della Pietà singing the bass and tenor lines.

Donald McCleod, in Composer of the Week on Tuesday corrected me. Apparently, the Gloria was originally composed for two girls’ choirs and orchestra; resources which would have been available at the Pietà (there were c. 1000 girls resident at the time.) It was later that Vivaldi, realising the commercial value of the work, set it for SATB chorus, S & A soloists and orchestra.

Unfortunately, I can’t find the recording of the original version which McCleod played but here is the familiar SATB version sung by a girls’ choir. It was recorded in the present-day Pietà Church which wasn’t built until after Vivaldi’s time. https://youtu.be/cgaOVV4JQHA and you can follow Vivaldi – Composer of the week here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m0006zh1

Let’s hope we’ll be singing the Gloria very soon!

AND FINALLY . . .