We hope that you are looking forward to our ‘Gloria’ concert on Saturday 30th March. Here are the programme notes about the feast of music awaiting you there:
Welcome to our concert. I trust that you weren’t expecting a quiet relaxing occasion: the title should give you a clue that this will be an evening of joyful celebration, and the presence of a brass band makes that even more obvious! Variety is the name of the game, with no fewer than six British (and one French) composers represented, and there are links with four coronation ceremonies and several other royal occasions. We may also note how composers often draw inspiration from the Bible, with settings of four psalms and another scripture passage on display.
By far the oldest text which we are performing is the “Old Hundredth”, an English version of Psalm 100 which first appeared in the Anglo-Genevan Psalter (1561). The words are attributed to a Scots clergyman, William Kethe, and the tune to a Frenchman, Louis Bourgeois. The arrangement which we are singing (which includes the instruction “all available trumpets” for the final verse!) was made by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.
Vaughan Williams had written a Te Deum for the coronation of George VI in 1937, and might well have hoped for a repeat performance in 1953. Instead, however, William Walton (1902-1983) was commissioned to write a new version, which is the one we are singing tonight. The words of the Te Deum, a translation of a fourth-century Latin hymn, describe how God is praised by many different groups. Here they are given a dramatic setting, full of antiphonal effects and making good use of the brass – as you would expect for the pomp of a coronation. It was first sung as the Queen left at the end of the ceremony. Although we are not singing Vaughan Williams’ setting, we are (in compensation?!) featuring his exuberant setting of Psalm 47, O clap your hands, written in 1920.
The anthem which has been sung at every coronation since 1902 is the spectacular I was glad, by Hubert Parry (1848-1918). As it happens, the tradition of singing Psalm 122 as the monarch enters Westminster Abbey dates all the way back to Charles I, the words having been set by a number of composers including Henry Purcell and William Boyce. At the 1902 coronation, Parry’s setting actually had to be sung twice, as the director of music misjudged the timing and finished it before King Edward VII had even arrived!
We are also featuring pieces by two composers with special links to BFCS. To mark the centenary of his birth, we will perform three pieces by Jean Dattas (1919-1975), former organist of Notre Dame in Paris, whose daughter is one of our sopranos. When we first sang the two movements from his Messe cum Jubilo in 2016, on our tour of Burgundy, they excited great interest: tonight we are adding a simple but effective setting of Ave Maria. And as a tribute to our patron John Joubert (1927-2019), who died two months ago, we are singing his exuberant setting of Psalm 150, O praise God in his holiness.
So to our youngest composer, Will Todd (born 1970), whose jazzy Mass in Blue we performed last July. The three pieces in this concert have a more traditional feel, albeit with several syncopated episodes. The Lord is my Shepherd, a setting of the well-known Psalm 23, is part of a Te Deum which was commissioned in 2009, and Stay with me, Lord was commissioned by the Sixteen in 2008, but then extensively rewritten for a 2012 performance by Tenebrae. The third piece, The Call of Wisdom, has a royal connection: it was composed for the Queen’s diamond jubilee, and first performed at St Paul’s Cathedral on 5 June 2012 in her presence. In the text, taken from the book of Proverbs, Wisdom calls on us to follow her, ignoring the lures of gold or silver.
The actual title of our concert derives from our final musical offering. John Rutter (born 1945) has recently composed pieces for two different royal occasions; however, his setting of the Gloria is an earlier work, dating from 1974. Rutter divides the text into three sections: the first is fast and full of verve, whereas Domine Deus is quiet and meditative, with some beautiful solos for the upper voices. The final section, Quoniam tu solus sanctus, starts at almost breakneck speed; it finishes with a repeat of the opening Gloria, a lively fugue (Cum sancto Spiritu), and a splendid Amen. It has been said that Rutter “writes music that people want to perform and to hear”. We have certainly enjoyed preparing this piece, and indeed the whole repertoire – so we hope you will enjoy listening to it all!