Music Week by week

Music at St Michaels (24-25/12/2021)

There are three sung services over Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Firstly, a big shout-out for the junior choristers who will be leading the carols and singing the anthem at the Crib Service at 5pm. Congratulations to all of them, as for several it will be their first opportunity to sing with the choir. At 11.30pm, Midnight Mass, the motet is The Infant King (Sing lullaby), a Basque carol arranged by David Willcocks (1919 – 2015), a composer and choirmaster who was particularly well known for his association with the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge. On Christmas morning the choir sings “A maiden most gentle”, a carol with words by Andrew Carter (b. 1939) set to a traditional French tune which he arranged. The words paraphrase a text by The Venerable Bede (672 – 735).

Music at St Michaels (19/12/2021)

The fourth Sunday of Advent brings an abundance of Christmas music, especially at the Lessons and Carols at 6.30pm tonight. Among the highlights is this morning’s motet, “A tender shoot” by Otto Goldschmidt (1829-1907), which speaks of Christ, brought by the Virgin in the depths of winter, to “turn our darkness into light”. A favourite for many people at Christmas is John Tavener’s, “The Lamb”, which he wrote in 1979 using the text of William Blake’s well-known poem (published in 1789). The poem is a conversation between a child and a lamb, as they realise the one who made them was also called a Lamb. Tavener weaves a simple plainsong melody with its refection in a gentle piece of extreme tenderness. Another undoubted highlight is “Hodie” by the genius Dutch composer Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562 – 1621) whose works straddle the end of the Renaissance and beginning of the Baroque periods. The words capture the joy of Christmas (they mean “Today Christ was born, glory to God in the highest”) and this is echoed in the interconnecting lines and responses of the different parts of the choir.

Music at St Michaels (12/12/2021)

The motet at Eucharist today is “There is no rose of such virtue” by the British composer, John Joubert. Born in South Africa, he lived most of his life in Birmingham and composed over 160 works in many different genres. Today’s motet is one of his most well-known and much-loved pieces. In 2019, the year that Joubert died, aged 91, and the last time there was a live carol service in St Michael’s, we chose to sing this piece twice, and we do so again this year for its beauty and simplicity. The words, in Middle English and Latin – sung to many different tunes over the centuries – refer to the Virgin Mary, and how she contained “heaven and earth in little space” and helped us to see “God in persons three”. Res miranda… it’s a wonderful thing. Pares forma… equal in form. Transeamus… let us follow!

Music at St Michaels (05/12/2021)

Today’s motet “Canite tuba” is by the Spanish Catholic priest, Francisco Guerrero (1528-1599) who was appointed music director at Jaén Cathedral at the age of eighteen, before moving to Seville Cathedral just three years later. The words of the anthem are taken from an Advent antiphon. They mean:

Blow the trumpet in Zion,
for the day of the Lord is nigh.
Lo, He comes to our salvation.
The crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways plain.
Come, Lord, and do not delay.

Music at St Michaels (28/11/2021)

It’s not yet the season to be jolly, but certainly is the season to sing carols! In all, the choir will be singing three carol services over the next 8 Sundays, with songs that evoke the longing of Advent (today), the joy and wonder of a unique birth, on the 19th December, and the revelation of that baby’s true nature, at Epiphany on the 16th January. Composers of today’s music include Adrian Batten (1591-1637), Otto Goldschmidt (1829-1907), Francisco Guerrero (1528-1599), John Joubert (1927-2019), Elizabeth Poston (1905-1987), Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) – whose anthem “This is the truth” also features in this morning’s Eucharist – and Peter Warlock (1894-1930). Perhaps you’ll find your favourite carol among them.

Music at St Michaels (21/11/2021)

The Feast of Christ the King is a relatively new festival in the Western church, becoming part of the calendar in 1925, when instituted by Pope Pius XI. The anthem sung today in celebration was written by Welsh composer, William Mathias (1934-1992) in 1969. “Lift up your heads O ye gates” is scored for organ and choir and is (as one reviewer put it) “perky, confident, wickedly militaristic, and full of Welsh dragons!” The words are from Psalm 24:7-9.

Music at St Michaels (14/11/2021)

The communion motet at our Remembrance Eucharist this Sunday is “They are at rest” by Edward Elgar, an elegy for unaccompanied chorus with words by Cardinal Newman. It was written to be sung on the anniversary of Queen Victoria’s death, and was first performed at the Royal Mausoleum in 1910.

At Evensong (6.30pm), the choir sings two pieces by the great English composer Henry Purcell (1659-1695), and also the Canticles in E minor, by his brother, (the lesser, but still great!) Daniel Purcell (1664-1717). The introit, “Hear my prayer, O Lord”, in 8 parts, sets words from the beginning of Psalm 102 in an exquisite complex of harmonies that evoke the heart-felt cry of the psalmist. “Remember not, Lord, our offences”, sung towards the end of the service, uses words from Thomas Cranmer’s Litany, found in the Book of Common Prayer. The Preces and Responses are sung to a setting by Thomas Tomkins (1572-1656).

Music at St Michaels (07/11/2021)

Peter Nardone is a contemporary conductor, singer and composer, born in Elderslie, Scotland. As well as the choir and congregation singing his Kilcreggan Mass today – Nardone wrote this during lockdown this year –  the choir will also sing his motet, “I give to you a new commandment”. This song combines the words of Jesus, from the gospel of St John, with “Ubi Caritas”, a hymn written in 10th century France, the words of which mean, “Where charity and love are, there is God.”

Music at St Michaels (23/10/2021)

The motet for All Saints Day is by Tomás Luis de Victoria, the most famous composer in 16th-century Spain. “O quam gloriosum”, first published in 1572, is an antiphon for four voices. The words mean, “O how glorious is the kingdom in which all the saints rejoice with Christ.”

At the All Souls Service at 4pm, the anthem sung as the candles are lit is “Thou knowest Lord” by Henry Purcell, which was written for the funeral of Queen Mary in 1695. The choir also sing the Kontakion of the departed, to its ancient Kiev chant. This was sung by singers from the Chapel Royal at the funeral of Prince Phillip earlier this year.