Brahms - Requiem
- How lovely are Thy dwellings
Johannes Brahms (1833 -1897) was a German composer and pianist.
Born in Hamburg into a Lutheran family, Brahms spent much of
his professional life in Vienna, Austria. In his lifetime, Brahmss
popularity and influence were considerable. He is sometimes grouped
with Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven as one of
the Three Bs.
Brahms composed for piano, chamber ensembles, symphony orchestra,
and for voice and chorus. A virtuoso pianist, he premiered many
of his own works. He worked with some of the leading performers
of his time, including the pianist Clara Schumann and the violinist
Joseph Joachim (the three were close friends). Many of his works
have become staples of the modern concert repertoire. Brahms,
an uncompromising perfectionist, destroyed some of his works
and left others unpublished.
Brahms is often considered both a traditionalist and an innovator.
His music is firmly rooted in the structures and compositional
techniques of the Baroque and Classical masters.
more composers >>
- Five Lenten Motets
Antonin Tucapský was born in 1928 in Opatovice (part of
Vyskov), Moravia, former Czechoslovakia. In 1947 he graduated
from the Teachers Training College in Valasské Mezirící.
He studied in Brno before beginning his career as composer, teacher
and conductor. From 1950 to 1951 he studied Choral Conducting
at the Janácek Academy of Music and Performing Arts, Brno.
In 1951 he graduated from Masaryk University, Brno, in Music
Education and Musicology. Privately he studied composition with
Jan Kunc, who was a pupil of Leos Janácek. In 1951 he
took up a teaching post at the Higher Music School in Kromeríz.
In the same year he became a member of the well-known Moravian
Teachers Male Voice Choir and from 1964 to 1972 he was
a choirmaster of that choir.In 1955 Tucapský moved to
Nový Jicín, where he accepted a teaching post at
the Teachers Training College and also conducted the local
mixed choir. In 1959 he moved to Ostrava and became a lecturer
at the Pedagogical Faculty there. From 1961 he conducted the
Childrens Choir of Ostrava Radio.
In 1964 he became Musical Director of the Moravian Teachers
Choir. With this famous body of male-voices he gave many concerts
in Czechoslovakia and throughout Europe and recorded regularly
for Ceský rozhlas (Czech Radio) and the Supraphon recording
company. In 1969 he gained his PhD for his book Janaceks
Male Choruses and Their Interpretation Tradition.In 1975
he moved to England and became a Professor of Composition at
Trinity College of Music in London, where he remained until his
retirement in 1996.
In 1985 he was awarded an Honorary Fellowship of Trinity College
of Music. There he had more time to develop his compositions,
mostly choral or chorally based, having first performances in
this country. Conversant with the various compositional theories
and trends of the twentieth century, Tucapský remained
essentially a tonal composer.
During his career he received various awards and prizes for his
compositions and cultural activity. Masaryk University, Brno,
his alma mater, bestowed on him Doctor Honoris Causa in 1996.
From 1975 Tucapský devoted much of his time to composition
rather than choral conducting.
His compositions have been published mostly in England, but also
in the Czech Republic, Germany, France, Canada the USA.
Antonín Tucapský died on September 9, 2014 at the
age of 86.
- The Crucifixion
Sir John Stainer, was born June 6th, 1840, in London, England
and died on March 31st, 1901, in Verona, Italy. He was an English
organist and church composer and a leading early musicologist.
As a boy Stainer sang in the choir of St. Pauls Cathedral
(184756). At the age of 16 he was appointed organist at
the newly opened St. Michaels College, Tenbury, a school
for church musicians. Named organist at St. Pauls in 1872,
Stainer served in that prestigious position until 1888, when
he resigned because of failing eyesight.
He was a founder of the (later Royal) Musical Association in
1874 and taught at the National Training School for Music, opened
in 1876. Knighted in 1888, Stainer was professor of music at
the University of Oxford from 1889 to his death.
Stainers Romantic church music is now mainly performed
in England, although his best-known oratorio, The Crucifixion
(1887), is also performed in other English-speaking countries.
He wrote songs as well as cantatas, services, anthems, and other
music for the church service. He also published treatises on
the organ and music theory and collaborated on a dictionary of
Stainers most lasting contribution is his compilation Early
Bodleian Music, with musical examples from the 12th to the 16th
century, and Dufay and His Contemporaries (publication begun
in 1898), an edition of 15th-century music prepared with the
help of his children. Both publications helped open the way to
the study of Medieval and Renaissance music, which during Stainers
time was almost unknown.
- Sacred Motets
Anton Bruckner 1824 - 1896Josef Anton Bruckner, was born in Ansfelden,
Austria and died in Vienna. He was best known as a composer of
a number of highly original and monumental symphonies, but was
active as an organist and teacher, writing much sacred and secular
His father was a village schoolmaster and organist in Upper Austria,
and Bruckner showed early talent on the violin and spinet, and
by the age of 10 was deputising at the church organ. In 183536
he studied in Hörsching with his godfather, J.B. Weiss,
a minor composer.
After his fathers death in 1837, Bruckner entered the monastery-school
of St. Florian as a choirboy. This splendid Baroque foundation,
with its magnificent organ, was to remain Bruckners spiritual
home, a place to which he returned in 1845 after qualifying as
Bruckner had an intense Roman Catholic faith, and his deep reverence
is evident in his motets. Os justi and Ave Maria typify his style:
refined but rich and expressive chromatic harmonic language,
block harmonies, alternating with more polyphonic passages and
revealing a renaissance-like, ethereal quality. Locus iste, perhaps
the most straightforward of the settings, reflects an almost
Mozartian elegance and form, whilst Afferentur regi, also in
the simpler four parts, has the added colour of three trombones
punctuating the text. Ecce sacerdos is aptly more grand, and
requires both brass and organ to create its dramatic effect,
though contrasted with typical softer utterances by the choir
in block chords.
Mass Op 130
Joseph Jongen was born in Liege in 1873, and became the leading
Belgian composer in the first half of the 20th century. He travelled
widely in student years and beyond, and he and his family came
to England as refugees during the First World War. In 1920, he
became a professor at the Brussels Conservatoire, later becoming
Director until his retirement in 1939.
His Messe en lhonneur du Saint-Sacrement, Op 130, is a
late work, written in 1945 to celebrate the 700th anniversary
of the inception of the Festival of Corpus Christi. The result
was a striking work, with poignant and expressive harmonies,
that is very approachable by mixed voiced choirs, and with short
solos that can be taken by members of the choir. It was to a
large extent forgotten for 40 years, but now, happily restored
to its rightful place, the work has been performed widely in
recent years throughout the world.
one of the most beautiful and accessible pieces of 20th
century choral music I know John W. Ehrlich, Music
Director, Spectrum Singers, Cambridge, MA.
Jongens Mass is a deeply impressive work. Moments
of magisterial grandeur, captivating tints of impressionistic
colour, masterly handling of the instrumental resources and beautifully
paced choral writing elevate it to one of the best Mass settings
from the mid-20th century. Gramophone (January 2007)
||G.F.Handel - Messiah
The love affair that British classical music audiences have with
this oratorio is quite phenomenal. Since its Dublin premiere
in 1742, it has been performed by choirs across the land every
year since at least 1745.
Handel composed his most famous piece in 1741, and continued
to work on it after its initial performan ce, finally arriving
at the version we know today in 1754. Impressive solo arias,
like Evry valley shall be exalted and Rejoice
greatly, O daughter of Zion are interspersed with compelling
chorus numbers, telling the story of Jesus birth, life,
death, resurrection, and final victory over sin and death.
During Victorian times, there was a phase when Messiah was performed
by ever expanding musical forces there almost seemed to
be a competition to see just how big a chorus and orchestra could
be crammed onto one stage before they fell through. Earlier,
Mozart even got in on the act, with his own arrangement of Messiah,
which was not, it has to be said, to everyones taste. One
critic remarked that it resembles elegant stucco work upon
an old marble temple ... easily ... chipped off again by the
The rousing Hallelujah Chorus is one of the most
famous pieces of Baroque choral music, and by far the most widely-known
section of the work. Audiences tend to stand during performances
a tradition that allegedly began when King George II stood
up during the chorus at the oratorios debut London performance.
The forgotten man behind the success of Messiah is the librettist,
Charles Jennens, who adapted the words of the King James Bible,
which Handel set to music. Handels approach to setting
the text is, at times, amusing in the chorus All
we like sheep have gone astray, the mood changes in the
middle of the sentence, resulting in a rousing choir declaring
their fondness for the wooly animal. Joking aside, Handels
ability to capture the mood from passionate rage to serene
pastoral moments is what makes this one of the most enduring
choral works of all time.
- Requiem Mass
Baptised as Johannes Chrystostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus, Mozart
(17561791) was arguably the most gifted musician in the
history of classical music. His inspiration is often described
as divine, but he worked assiduously, not only to
become the great composer he was, but also a conductor, virtuoso
pianist, organist and violinist. Mozarts music embraces
opera, symphony, concerto, chamber, choral, instrumental and
vocal music, revealing an astonishing number of imperishable
Mozart was born in Salzburg, in 1756. Mozarts father, Leopold,
was an ambitious composer and violinist. Though he was and still
is considered a genius, he was also said to be tactless, arrogant
and apparently had a scatological sense of humour.
Mozart composed his first opera, Apollo et Hyacinthus when he
was only 11. A year later the Emperor Joseph II commissioned
him to write La finta semplice.
In August 1782 he married Constanze Weber. The Mozarts
marriage seemed to be a happy one. Constanze was easy-going,
free-spending and usually pregnant, though only two of their
six children survived. Post-marriage, some of Mozarts best
started to appear - the Haffner and Linz symphonies and five
string quartets, for example.
Between 1784 and 1786, he composed nine piano concertos and three
of these concurrently with The Marriage of Figaro. The year 1787
saw the premiere of Mozarts second opera, Don Giovanni.
Mozart had a great run of successes in his final years - Eine
Kleine Nachtmusik and the Clarinet Quintet in A, three of his
41 symphonies; Cosí fan Tutte, three piano trios, the
Coronation piano concerto, two piano sonatas and three string
However, by 1790 his health had begun to fail and his work rate
slowed. He did regain sufficient energy by the following year
to compose his most famous opera, The Magic Flute,
the Clarinet Concerto, and of course parts of his most celebrated
Choral work, the Requiem, but he died, before completing the
work, in Vienna in December 1791, before his 36th birthday.
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) was an Italian Baroque composer,
virtuoso violinist, teacher and cleric. Born in Venice, he is
recognized as one of the greatest Baroque composers, and his
influence during his lifetime was widespread across Europe.
He is known mainly for composing many instrumental concertos,
for the violin and a variety of other instruments, as well as
sacred choral works and more than forty operas. His best-known
work is a series of violin concertos known as The Four Seasons.
Many of his compositions were written for the female music ensemble
of the Ospedale della Pieta, a home for abandoned children where
Vivaldi (ordained as a Catholic priest) was employed for over
30 years.The wonderfully sunny nature of the Gloria, with its
distinctive melodies and rhythms, is characteristic of all of
Vivaldis music, giving it an immediate and universal appeal.
The opening movement is a joyous chorus, with trumpet and oboe
obligato.The Et in terra pax, in B minor, is a real contrast,
imitative and expressive chromatic texture evoking the motets
of the Renaissance era. Laudamus te, a spirited duet for soprano
and mezzo-soprano, gives us some hint of the skill of Vivaldis
young singers.After two short, contrasting choral interpolations,
the Domine Deus, Rex coelestis is in the form of dialogue between
the soprano and solo oboe.
The joyful Domine Fili unigenite chorus is in the French
style, dominated as it is by the dotted rhythms characteristic
of a French overture. Domine Deus, Agnus Dei features the alto
soloist, the chorus providing an antiphonal response, qui tollis
peccata mundi, to each intercession.The bold harmonies of the
following section, Qui tollis, provide a change of tone colour,
and complement the intercessional alto aria, Qui sedes ad dexteram
The string accompaniment contains recollections of the opening
movement, and prepares for the following movement, Quoniam tu
solus sanctus, which takes the shape of a brief reprise of the
opening movements broken octaves. The powerful older-style
double fugue on Cum Sancto Spiritu ends the work in uplifting
- Nelson Mass - The Heavens are telling...
(Franz) Joseph Haydn (1732 -1809) was a prominent and prolific
Austrian composer of the Classical period. He was instrumental
in the development of chamber music such as the piano trio and
his contributions to musical form have earned him the epithets
Father of the Symphony and Father of the String
Quartet. Haydn spent much of his career as a court musician
for the wealthy Esterhazy family at their remote estate. Until
the later part of his life, this isolated him from other composers
and trends in music so that he was, as he put it, forced
to become original.
At the time of his death, aged 77, he was one of the most celebrated
composers in Europe. Part of his duties was to write a new mass
each year for the name-day of Princess Esterhazy. In 1798, Napoleons
forces were amassing, threatening the stability of the whole
of Europe, with Vienna itself in trepidation for what seemed
a likely invasion. Haydns Mass for this year was titled
Missa in Angustiis (mass for times of distress),
This title was only superceded later after Nelsons stunning
victories in the Battle of the Nile, and, later the Battle of
Trafalgar, brought him international fame. The mass was performed
in his honour during a trip to visit Prince Esterhazy at Eisenstadt,
and the soubriquet was added some time after this date.
One might expect a Mass for such troubled times to be dark, and
there are undoubtedly moments of brooding and dramatic intensity.
However, the bold gestures of the opening Kyrie in D minor give
way to joyous movements and a jubilant finale. The orchestra
does not include woodwind, and the use of trumpets and timpani
in the accompaniment creates a military feel (which perhaps also
contributed to the works eventual name). The mass is also
notable for the fireworks demanded of the soprano
soloist, in the central part of the Kyrie, through the glittering
Gloria and beyond. But whilst most contemporary mass settings
make a clear distinction between arias and choral sections, the
solos and ensemble passages in the Nelson Mass generally remain
closely integrated with the chorus.
The Qui tollis section of the Gloria starts surprisingly in Bb
major, where the bass is accompanied by some lovely scoring for
the strings and organ. The soprano returns us to D major, leading
the chorus in Quoniam tu solus sanctus and the Gloria ends with
a choral fugue. An arresting opening to the Credo has the sopranos
and tenors competing in canon with the altos and basses to the
sound of fanfaring trumpets. Et incarnatus begins with a gorgeous
aria for the soprano soloist, before this emotional centre of
the piece is taken up by the chorus who then lead a glorious
D major Et resurrexit to finish the section.
After a penitential Sanctus and sprightly Osanna, the Benedictus
is a world apart from the calm, prayerful setting usual for this
period. Haydns setting begins with a stormy orchestral
introduction, moves through a series of exchanges between soloists
and chorus, and culminates in a strikingly dramatic passage,
almost foreboding in intensity. Then the soloists take centre
stage in the altogether calmer Agnus Dei whilst the chorus returns
triumphantly for the works joyous finale.
- Mass in Eflat Major
Franz Peter Schubert (31st January 1797 - 19th November 1828)
was an Austrian composer of the late Classical and early Romantic
eras.Despite his short lifetime, Schubert left behind a vast
oeuvre, including more than 600 secular vocal works (mainly Lieder),
seven complete symphonies, sacred music, operas, incidental music
and a large body of piano and chamber music.Amongst his best-known
works are the Symphony no. 8 in B minor (The Unfinished
Symphony), the incidental music to the play Rosamunde,
the Trout Piano Quintet, the String Quintet in C
major, the last three piano sonatas, and the Song cycles Die
schöne Müllerin and Winterreise.
Born to immigrant parents in Vienna, Schuberts uncommon
gifts for music were evident from an early age. His father gave
him his first violin lessons and his older brother gave him piano
lessons, but Schubert soon exceeded their abilities. In 1808,
at the age of eleven, he became a pupil at the Stadtkonvikt school,
where he became acquainted with the orchestral music of Haydn,
Mozart, and Beethoven.
He left the Stadtkonvikt at the end of 1813, and returned home
to live with his father, where he began studying to become a
schoolteacher; despite this, he continued his studies in composition
with Antonio Salieri and still composed prolifically. In 1821,
Schubert was granted admission to the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde
as a performing member, which helped establish his name among
the Viennese citizenry.
During the following 7 years, despite failing health and a lack
of real critical acclaim and success, perhaps in part due to
his shy and retiring personality, he continued to produce a phenomenal
amount of work, including his greatest works in all genres. It
is poignant that only in his last year did he give his first
and only concert of his own works, to much acclaim, for he died
at the young age of 31, without the widespread recognition as
an undoubted musical genius which followed soon after his death,
and which stands the test of time today.
His Mass in E flat was intended for concert, not liturgical use,
and hence Schubert had no qualms in omitting occasional passages
of text in the longer movements. It shows the composers
lyricism and a Beethovenian architecture, rather appropriate
as it was first performed in the church in Vienna where Schubert
had served as a pallbearer for the other great composers
The Kyrie, in 3/4 time, sets the calm, lyrical mood of the mass,
orchestra in dialogue with the chorus over a brooding ostinato
in the bass.The Gloria begins with a jubilant exclamation, then
explores themes of blessings, praise, and grace, finally exploding
into the triumphant fugue of Cum sancto spiritu.The Credo begins
with a quiet timpani roll, setting the tone for a reverent expression
of faith, before a more vigorous affirmation.
Solo voices give beautiful lyrical substance to the et incarnatus
est, before an intense chordal treatment of the crucifixus by
the choir. Opening ideas in this movement return for the et resurrexit,
the Credo ending with a fugue, et vitam venturi, mirroring the
structure of the Gloria, rounding things off with a joyous affirmation
of the life to come.
The Sanctus choral exclamations show expansive harmonic progression,
followed by lively Osannas, whilst the Benedictus floats forward
with uplifting prayers between choir and soloists.The Agnus Dei
demonstrates a certain dark turbulence in its use of constricted
intervals and minor keys, before the Dona nobis section brings
us back more happily to the major key and less complicated harmonies,
and, despite an unexpected return to that opening darkness, peacefulness
is finally established.
- String Symphony
Mendelssohn (1809-1847) was a childhood prodigy, and a prolific
composer from his teens onwards. As an adolescent, his works
were often performed at home with a private orchestra for associates
of his wealthy parents amongst the intellectual elite of Berlin.
Amongst these were a series of 12 String Symphonies, or Sinfonias,
buoyant and lively works written between the ages of 12 and 14.
The E flat Sinfonia has the typical 3- movement form, the Minuet
movement unusually incorporating two contrasting Trios.
Vaughan Williams -
A Sea Symphony - Five Mystical Songs
After the death of Purcell in 1695, very few English composers
made a mark on the world stage until later in the 19th century.
Eventually the tireless efforts of Charles Stanford, Hubert Parry
and others brought about the long-awaited English musical renaissance,
which reached its full flowering with the emergence of Edward
Elgar. He was followed by a whole new generation of talented
composers, the leading figure of which was Ralph Vaughan Williams,
who for half a century remained one of the most influential figures
in English music.
As the 19th century gave way to the 20th, the work of the American
poet Walt Whitman seemed to many to capture the essence of the
new age, portraying an optimistic vision of a world inspired
by human and scientific endeavour and the spirit of adventure.
The radical, humanistic philosophy of Whitmans verse held
a particular appeal for Vaughan Williams. Having set some songs
to Whitman texts he began to think about writing something on
an altogether larger scale. Two years after Toward the Unknown
Region in 1907, he completed A Sea Symphony, the great choral
and orchestral work which, more than any other, put Vaughan Williams
firmly on the musical map when it was first performed in October
1910 (only a few weeks after his Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas
A choral work was an ambitious choice for a first symphony, but
Vaughan Williams proved more than equal to the challenging task.
British choral music had enjoyed a long and distinguished tradition,
from Purcell and Handel through to Stanford, Parry and Elgar,
but the striking originality of the Sea Symphony, the masterly
handling of the orchestral and choral forces, its boldness, energy
and vivid orchestration, set it apart as a wholly new and important
addition to the choral repertoire. As well as hailing the arrival
of a new and powerful voice in English music, Vaughan Williams
had succeeded in creating a definitive musical style drawn from
genuinely English roots, rather than continuing, as his immediate
predecessors had chosen to do, in the Austro-German tradition
that had dominated European music since Beethovens time.
The composer selected verses from Whitmans Leaves of Grass
for the first three movements and from his Passage to India for
the last. Whitman uses images of brave sailors exploring the
vast oceans as a colourful metaphor for the voyage through life
of the human soul.
||Johann Sebastian Bach - St Matthew Passion
Bach - One of the greatest composers of all time, Johann Sebastian
Bach came from a family of musicians, stretching back several
generations. He was born in Eisenach, Thuringia, Germany, on
March 31, 1685, where his father, Johann Ambrosius, worked as
the town musician, and taught the young Johann to play the violin.
At the age of 7, Bach went to school where he received religious
instruction and studied Latin and other subjects.
His firm Lutheran faith would infuse all his religious musical
works. After the death of both of his parents when he was just
10, he went to live with his older brother Johann Christoph,
a church organist in Ohrdruf. Johann Christoph provided further
musical instruction for his younger brother and enrolled him
in a local school. Bach had a beautiful soprano singing voice,
which helped him secure a place at a school in Lüneburg
at the age of 15.
Sometime after his arrival, his voice broke and Bach concentrated
more on playing the violin and the harpsichord, under the influence
of the fine local organist, Georg Böhm. In 1703, he took
up his first job as a musician, playing the violin and deputising
as an organist at the court of Duke Johann Ernst in Weimar.As
Bachs reputation as a performer grew, it was his great
technical skill that earned him the position of organist at the
New Church in Arnstadt. He was responsible for providing music
for religious services and special events as well as giving musical
An independent and sometimes arrogant young man, Bach did not
always get along well with his students and church officials.
He did not help his situation when he disappeared for several
months in 1705, travelling to Lübeck on foot to hear the
famed organist Dietrich Buxtehude, extending his stay there without
informing the authorities back in Arnstadt. By 1707, Bach was
glad to leave for a position as organist at the Church of St.
Blaise in Mühlhausen. This move, however, did not turn out
as well as he had planned. Bachs musical style, with its
fondness for counterpoint and complexity, clashed with the churchs
pastor who unfortunately believed that church music needed to
After a year in Mühlhausen, Bach took up the post of organist
at the court of the Duke Wilhelm Ernst in Weimar. Here he wrote
many church cantatas and some of his best compositions for the
organ, including the famous Toccata and Fugue in D Minor,
one of his most popular pieces.
In 1717, and with his reputation burgeoning, Bach accepted a
position with Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen. The Prince,
a violinist himself, had a passion for music, and whilst in his
employ, Bach devoted much of his time to instrumental music,
composing concertos for orchestras, dance suites and sonatas
for multiple instruments. He also wrote pieces for solo instruments,
including some of his finest works for violin and cello. In tribute
to the Duke of Brandenburg, in 1721 Bach created a series of
orchestral concertos, the Brandenburg Concertos,
considered to be some of Bachs greatest works. That same
year, Prince Leopold got married, and his new bride discouraged
the princes interest in music, resulting in the dissolving
of the court orchestra in 1723. Bach naturally sought a new position,
and in 1723 became the new Cantor at St. Thomass School
and Church in Leipzig, where he would remain for the rest of
his life. With new music needed for services each week, Bach
resumed writing cantatas.
The Christmas Oratorio, for example, is a series
of six cantatas that reflect on that Festival. He also continued
to write organ and instrumental works, but it was also this stage
in his life which saw the composition of the great choral works,
the B minor Mass and the Passions, musical settings
of the bible stories dealing with Christs arrest, trial,
and crucifixion. The most monumental of these settings is the
Matthew Passion, performed then, as now, in the lead-up
This extended musical interpretation uses recitatives and choruses
to tell the story, the Evangelist linking the narrative material
in the recitative sections, with important solo sections for
Jesus, his words accompanied by a halo of strings. There are
also parts in the recitative for Judas, Pilate, Peter, the High
Priest, and two maids. Within the narrative are interpolated
accompanied recitatives and arias which comment directly or reflect
on the story and its implications for the listener.
Lutheran chorales also punctuate the drama, these serving two
functions. As they were the hymns of the day, they allowed the
audience a break from the dramatic intensity of the story, with
familiar tunes with which they could readily identify, and indeed
join in. In their increasingly expressive, even anguished harmonic
arrangements, the chorales simultaneously allowed an emotional
and spiritual response to the unfolding drama. All the musical
elements are moulded into an impressive and unified structure,
which in full lasts over 3 ½ hours, though this evenings
performance will be to some extent curtailed, as is customary.
This phenomenal work was first performed at St Thomass
Church as part of a service on Good Friday, 1729. Whilst his
work was often ignored after Bachs death in 1750, it was
a performance of this very piece, 100 years later, by Felix Mendelssohn,
that helped reinvigorate his music, and propel his reputation
to the forefront of the performing canon. It has been a mainstay
of the choral repertoire since that time.
Felix Mendelssohn - St Paul
Mendelssohn was born into a wealthy and cultured Berlin family.
His grandfather, Moses Mendelssohn, was a renowned philosopher
and his father, Abraham, was a highly successful banker. After
Felix became famous Abraham would sometimes joke, I
used to be known as the son of my father; now I am known as the
father of my son!
Felix was a precociously gifted child, so much so that
the finest musicians of the day hailed him as a second Mozart.
This comparison was by no means without foundation; by the time
he had reached his mid-teens Mendelssohn had composed a large
number of mature works, including twelve string symphonies and
his first symphony for full orchestra, written when he was only
fifteen. He was sixteen when he wrote the String Octet,
and the wonderful overture A Midsummer Nights Dreamfollowed
a year later. Mendelssohns extraordinary gifts were not
confined to composition; he went on to become a brilliant pianist
and organist, a fine string player and an inspirational conductor.
He was also a very good artist and was widely read.
Yet another dimension to Mendelssohns
glittering career was his far-reaching influence as an organiser
and administrator. As a result of his tireless efforts with the
Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and the Leipzig Conservatory, which
he founded in 1843, he raised performance standards to new heights
and created many opportunities for contemporary composers and
performers. He made a major contribution to the revival of interest
in Bachs music, which at that time was virtually unknown
to the general public. In 1829, when he was still only twenty,
he conducted the first public performance of the St. Matthew
Passion since Bachs death, an event which, probably
more than any other, provided the impetus for the 19th century
rediscovery of Bach. He was also a great admirer of the music
of Handel and Haydn, whose oratorios he conducted in Leipzig.
Mendelssohn visited England many times, where he was received
with adulation, feted by the press, and became a great favourite
of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.
In 1831 Mendelssohn was commissioned
by Johann Schelble, conductor of the Cecilia Choir and Orchestra
of Frankfurt, to compose an oratorio. Mendelssohn knew his Bible
extremely well and invariably turned to it for inspiration when
considering a new choral piece. It has been suggested that he
chose the life of St Paul as a subject for his first oratorio
because, like St Paul, the members of his own family were converted
Jews, but this idea seems far too simplistic for a man of Mendelssohns
considerable intellect. A much more likely reason is quite simply
that it offered tremendous dramatic possibilities.
Mendelssohn began work on the
oratorio in March 1834. The libretto was compiled by Pastor Julius
Schubring, a childhood friend whose help he regularly enlisted.
When the opportunity arose, Mendelssohn was in the habit of playing
his latest composition to his father Abraham, whose opinion he
held in great esteem. Following Felixs visit to the family
home in March 1835, his father had written a lengthy critique
of the new oratorio, to which Mendelssohn responded, I
am at a loss to understand how you, with no technical training
in music, can have such acute musical judgement. Evidently
Abraham had unerringly identified weaknesses in St Paul that
the composer himself had overlooked. And so, when Abraham died
suddenly in November 1835, the oratorio assumed an added significance,
becoming Mendelssohns musical tribute to his revered father. The
first performance on May 22nd 1836 took place not at Frankfurt
as intended, since Schelble was seriously ill, but at the Lower
Rhine Music Festival in Düsseldorf.
Its first performance in England
was given in Liverpool in October 1836, and the following year
Mendelssohn himself conducted it at the Birmingham Festival,
to enthusiastic acclaim. He enjoyed an even greater triumph ten
years later, when Elijah received its first performance
at the same Festival.
Given Mendelssohns high
regard for the choral masterpieces of Bach, Handel and Haydn,
it is no surprise to find that St Paulis modelled on similar
lines, with an integrated scheme of recitatives, arias and choruses.
His use of chorales to demarcate important points in the story
and to reflect on the action is clearly influenced by the Passion
music of Bach. One of Bachs favourite chorales, Wachet
auf (Sleepers, wake), is heard at the very beginning of
the overture and later on in the chorus. Handels influence
is also evident in the dramatic use of the chorus, which at times
is central to the action, as for instance when the outraged mob
calls for Paul to be killed, whilst at other times it provides
appropriate commentary on the unfolding events. Of course, the
work is full of Mendelssohns own innovations, the most
striking of which is his use of a four-part chorus of womens
voices used only once in the whole piece to represent
the voice from heaven, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou
Leopold Dvorák - Stabat Mater
Antonín Leopold Dvorák (1841-1904) was the first
Bohemian composer to achieve worldwide recognition, noted for
turning folk material into the language of 19th-century Romantic
Dvorák was born, the first of nine children, in Nelahozeves,
a Bohemian (now Czech) village on the Vltava River north of Prague.
He came to know music early, in and about his fathers inn,
and became an accomplished violinist as a youngster, contributing
to the amateur music-making that accompanied the dances of the
His obvious talent led to him to move to Zlonice at 12, there
to live with his aunt and uncle and begin studying harmony, piano,
and organ. He wrote his earliest works, polkas, during the three
years he spent in Zlonice. In 1857 a perceptive music teacher
persuaded his father to enroll him at the Institute for Church
Music in Prague. There Dvorák completed a two-year course
and played the viola in various inns and with theatre bands,
augmenting his small salary with a few private pupils.
Whilst the 1860s were trying years for Dvorák, hard-pressed
for both time and the means, even paper and a piano, to compose,
he nevertheless wrote two symphonies, an opera, chamber music,
and numerous songs. They lay unheard in his desk, but showed
a development in style, earlier echoes of Beethoven and Schubert
becoming increasingly tinged with the influence of Wagner and
Liszt. Among the students Dvorák tutored at this time
were the sisters Josefina and Anna Èermáková.
Though he fell in love with the elder sister, she did not reciprocate
his feelings, and in 1873 he actually married Anna, a pianist
and singer. The first few years of the Dvoøáks
marriage were marked by tragedy. Anna had given birth to three
children by 1876 but by 1877 had buried all of them.
In 1878, however, she gave birth to the first of the six healthy
children the couple would raise together. The Dvoráks
maintained a close relationship with Josefina and her husband,
Count Václav Kounic, buying a summer house in the small
village where they had settled, and spending every summer there,
a place where Dvorák composed some of his best-known works.
In 1875 Dvorák was awarded a state grant by the Austrian
government, and this award brought him into contact with Johannes
Brahms, with whom he formed a close and fruitful friendship.
Brahms not only gave him valuable technical advice but also found
him an influential publisher in Fritz Simrock, and it was the
publication of the Moravian Duets (1876) for soprano and contralto
and the Slavonic Dances (1878) for piano duet that Dvorák
first attracted worldwide attention to himself and his countrys
music. His spreading fame abroad led to greater success and security
He began to travel more widely, and in 1884 made the first of
10 visits to England, where the success of, especially, his choral
works, was a source of constant pride to him, the Stabat Mater
(1877) and Te Deum (1892) continuing to hold a prime position
in the repertoire. After successful trips to Russia, Dvorák
accepted the post of director of the newly established National
Conservatory of Music in New York in 1892. Though he found much
to interest and stimulate him in the New World, he soon came
to miss his own country, and he returned to Bohemia in 1895.
The final years of his life saw the composition of several string
quartets and symphonic poems and his last three operas, and he
died in 1904 in Prague, something of a national hero.
Dvoráks setting of Jacopone da Todis 13th
century poem Stabat Mater comes from a place of great personal
tragedy, yet expresses tremendous hope. In 1875 Dvoráks
oldest daughter died only days after her birth. The grieving
Dvorák turned to the ancient text of the Stabat Mater,
which describes Marys grief at the death of her son. He
completed an outline of the work but found it too painful and
could not finish any of the movements. Two years later, his second
daughter died when she drank from a bottle of phosphorus used
to make matches. Shortly after, his first-born son died of smallpox.
The 36-year old composer returned to the Stabat Mater sketches
and completed the work within a month. It is one of the towering
monuments of choral music, the longest and most serious setting
of the Stabat Mater text. Although conceived and written on a
massive scale, Dvoráks setting is very personal,
focusing almost exclusively on the act of grieving as a path
to the comfort of paradise.
A highly structural work, the most profound music in the Stabat
Mater is in the first and last movements: both are lengthy and
are the only movements to use all four soloists, choir and orchestra.
They are also the only movements in triple meter. They share
thematic material, which builds to tragedy in the opening movement
and yields to transcendence in the final movement. The second
and next-to-last movements are written for soloists and orchestra
only, with no choir. The third and seventh are for chorus and
orchestra only with no soloists. The fourth and sixth are for
soloists accompanied by half the choir (women in movement four
and men in movement six). The fifth movement, which forms the
keystone of the arch, is for choir and orchestra with no soloists,
and is the only movement in a compound meter, synthesizing the
triple meter of the outer movements and the duple meter of the
middle movements into 6/8 time.
Dvoráks great gift as a musician is his ability
to write beautiful, lyrical, melodies. And they abound in the
Stabat Mater, yet the whole has a unity of purpose illustrated
by almost every movement ending in a coda, as it were of resolution.
None is more telling than the last movement where, without orchestra,
the choir breaks out unaccompanied into an amazing hymn of praise:
When my body dies, grant that to my soul be given the glory
of paradise, before the quiet ending which tells us that
the journey is over and suggests that Dvorák believes
his children are in a better place. It is one of the most powerful
declarations of faith in the history of music.
Verdi - Requiem
Guiseppe Verdi 1813 - 1903 - Born in Parma of a poor and illiterate
family, Verdi showed early musical promise. At 18 years of age
he studied with a musician from La Scala, Milan.
On the death of his wife and two children he vowed to compose
no more, but on receiving a libretto from the director of La
Scala of Nebuchadnezzar, his genius flowered. He married a singer
from the opera house and became internationally famous. Rigoletto,
Il Travatore and La Traviata were produced in the 1850s.
On Rossinis death in 1867 Verdi suggested that he and others
would write a requiem, but the project fell through. In 1873
Manzoni died, Verdi was moved, holding Manzoni in high esteem,
and suggested to the Mayor and Council of Milan that he compose
and publish, at his own expense, a requiem. Much of the Rossini
requiem sketches was incorporated in this work; sponsored by
Milans Civic authorities the work was performed on the
first anniversary of Manzonis death. Later, three performances
at La Scala were followed by presentations in Paris, London and
Some years before his death, Manznmi had given Verdi a photograph
inscribed To Guiseppe Verdi, a glory of Italy. Verdi,
for his part, said of Manzonis poem
I Promesi Sposi - It is a consolation for humanity.
Surely the same could be said of the Requiem.
- Composer (Patron of our choir)
John Rutter was born in London in 1945 and received his first
musical education as a chorister at Highgate School. He went
on to study music at Clare College, Cambridge, where he wrote
his first published compositions and conducted his first recording
while still a student.
His compositional career has embraced both large and small-scale
choral works, orchestral and instrumental pieces, a piano concerto,
two childrens operas, music for television, and specialist
writing for such groups as the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble and
the Kings Singers.
His larger choral works, Gloria (1974), Requiem (1985), Magnificat
(1990), Psalmfest (1993) and Mass of the Children (2003) have
been performed many times in Britain, North America, and a growing
number of other countries.He co-edited four volumes in the Carols
for Choirs series with Sir David Willcocks, and, more recently,
has edited the first two volumes in the new Oxford Choral Classics
series, Opera Choruses (1995) and European Sacred Music (1996).
From 1975 to 1979 he was Director of Music at Clare College,
whose choir he directed in a number of broadcasts and recordings.
After giving up the Clare post to allow more time for composition,
he formed the Cambridge Singers as a professional chamber choir
primarily dedicated to recording, and he now divides his time
between composition and conducting.
He has guest-conducted or lectured at many concert halls, universities,
churches, music festivals, and conferences in Europe, Africa,
North and Central America and Australasia.
In 1980 he was made an honorary Fellow of Westminster Choir College,
Princeton, and in 1988 a Fellow of the Guild of Church Musicians.
In 1996 the Archbishop of Canterbury conferred a Lambeth Doctorate
of Music upon him in recognition of his contribution to church
He was honoured in the 2007 Queens New Year Honours List,
being awarded a CBE for services to music.
(WDCS - John visited Wombourne Choral Society in 2009 and
conducted the weekly rehearsal.)
Benjamin Britten - The Evening Primrose
Edward Benjamin Britten, Baron Britten OM CH (22 November 1913
4 December 1976) was an English composer, conductor and
pianist. He was a central figure of 20th-century British classical
music, with a range of works including opera, other vocal music,
orchestral and chamber pieces. His best-known works include the
opera Peter Grimes (1945), the War Requiem (1962) and the orchestral
showpiece The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra (1945).
Born in Lowestoft, Suffolk, the
son of a dentist, Britten showed talent from an early age. He
studied at the Royal College of Music in London and privately
with the composer Frank Bridge. Britten first came to public
attention with the a cappella choral work A Boy was Born in 1934.
With the premiere of Peter Grimes in 1945, he leapt to international
fame. Over the next 28 years, he wrote 14 more operas, establishing
himself as one of the leading 20th-century composers in the genre.
In addition to large-scale operas for Sadler's Wells and Covent
Garden, he wrote "chamber operas" for small forces,
suitable for performance in venues of modest size. Among the
best known of these is The Turn of the Screw (1954). Recurring
themes in his operas include the struggle of an outsider against
a hostile society and the corruption of innocence.
Britten's other works range from
orchestral to choral, solo vocal, chamber and instrumental as
well as film music. He took a great interest in writing music
for children and amateur performers, including the opera Noye's
Fludde, a Missa Brevis, and the song collection Friday Afternoons.
He often composed with particular performers in mind. His most
frequent and important muse was his personal and professional
partner, the tenor Peter Pears; others included Kathleen Ferrier,
Jennifer Vyvyan, Janet Baker, Dennis Brain, Julian Bream, Dietrich
Fischer-Dieskau and Mstislav Rostropovich. Britten was a celebrated
pianist and conductor, performing many of his own works in concert
and on record. He also performed and recorded works by others,
such as Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, Mozart symphonies, and
song cycles by Schubert and Schumann.
Together with Pears and the librettist
and producer Eric Crozier, Britten founded the annual Aldeburgh
Festival in 1948, and he was responsible for the creation of
Snape Maltings concert hall in 1967. In his last year, he was
the first composer to be given a life peerage.