Faire is the Heaven: Hymns and Anthems

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Faire is the Heaven

Hymns and Anthems

The setting is a magnificent Gothic cathedral. The organthunders and the robed choir moves slowly in procession to its place eitherside of the chancel. The picture seems to epitomize the great musicaltraditions of the Anglican church, but like so many traditions this one isneither as long nor as unbroken as we might believe. Samuel Sebastian Wesley,the composer of one of the hymns on this recording and, in the words of acontemporary, \the most to be avoided man I ever met," published a couple of pamphletsin the middle of the nineteenth century in which he made suggestions formuch-needed improvements in cathedral music. Even allowing for his acerbicnature it is obvious that there was a great deal that needed fixing.

One Victorian development that had a profound effect onAnglican music, as it did on other aspects of worship, was the Oxford Movement.It was this that encouraged the adoption by parish churches of the robed choir,the organ and the musical traditions that went with them. Some of these ideaswere spread particularly by the publication in 1861 of the hymn collectionHymns Ancient and Modern. It was through this hymn-book more than any otherthat the association of certain texts with particular tunes became common. Acase in point appears on this recording, W. H. Monk's tune Eventide as theundisputed music for Abide with Me. Monk was one of the editors of thecollection. Scholefield's tune St Clement for the evening hymn The Day ThouGavest, belongs to the same nineteenth-century tradition, while John Ireland'sLove Unknown represents early twentieth-century efforts to provide hymns morein keeping with greatly changed times.

Whether in cathedral or parish church one of the principalr??les of the choir is to lead the congregation in singing the hymns. A naturalimpulse among musicians is to elaborate these fine, but straightforward tunes,and one simple and effective way this may be done without disturbing thecongregation is with the addition of a descant. The term is an old one. It originallyindicated an improvised practice, but nowadays it nearly always means anadditional composed melody to be sung by part of the choir while the remaindersing the original tune. The hymns on this recording are enhanced with descantsby the organist Paul Halley, and by Stephen Crisp.

The increased visibility of the choir led in many cases totheir taking a more prominent r??le in the service. The Book of Common Prayerhad already recognised this possibility when it included the rubric: In Quiresand Places where they sing, here followeth the Anthem. The original intentionwas simply to allow the practice. It was now read more as an injunction, andwith the cathedral choirs leading the way, anthems flourished. They ranged fromthe simplicity of modestly decorated hymn tunes to the festal splendour ofworks like Willan's Gloria Deo or Harris's double choir Faire is the Heaven. Inaddition the cathedral and collegiate choirs extended this musical dispensationto the great congregational songs of Morning and Evening Prayer, which werepresented in elaborate settings for the choir alone. Howell's Te Deum and BryanKelly's Magnificat, both recorded here, belong in this category. They are ineffect additional anthems.

The idea of the musical customs of the cathedrals spreadingout to parish churches is demonstrated particularly well by the career of theCanadian organist and composer Healey Willan. Emigrating to Canada from Englandin 1913 he began his Toronto career at St Paul's Anglican Church, but in 1921he moved to the more modest church of St Mary Magdalene as organist and choirdirector.

Here, over the next forty years, he helped to build anintegrated musical/liturgical environment second to none. Like a latter-dayBach he understood that his compositional gifts should be directed firsttowards supplying music for his own use, and he turned out large numbers ofservice settings, anthems, introits, hymns, and organ music. The three motets IBeheld Her, Fair in Face, Rise Up My Love are often grouped together, althoughthat was not the composer's original intention. The first two are based onResponsory texts from an Office of Our Lady, and while the last was intendedfor Easter, it too, with its text from the Song of Solomon, is appropriate forcommemorations of the Virgin Mary. All three show signs of Willan's lifelonginterest in plainchant, particularly in the rhythmic freedom to be found inmuch of the melodic writing. Willan always enjoyed a challenge. According tohis biographer, F.C.C. Clarke, the magnificent motet Gloria Deo per immensasaecula was an answer to a complaint from Drummond Wolff that nobody wrotechoir music in five real parts anymore. The result is a contrapuntal tour deforce, but it is also a work in which Willan's unquestioned craftsmanship wasallied with real inspiration.

Mozart's setting of the hymn Ave verum corpus has found aplace in the repertoire of all church choirs. It dates from the last year ofMozart's short life and is therefore from the same period as the Requiem. Infact it is seen by some scholars as pointing towards that great, incompletework, and representing a new direction in the composer's work, a move towards"a transparent yet compact style". Its popularity may have blinded us,according to Alfred Einstein, to "the mastery with which it is fashioned". TheAve verum text has been a popular one with composers. The setting by theCanadian composer Imant Raminsh is particularly felicitous, with itsimaginative exploitation of choral sonorities and its repetition part waythrough of the opening cry of greeting, Ave.

A good example of the way a simple hymn tune may be turnedinto an anthem is Paul Halley's setting of Jesu, the very thought of Thee. Thetext of this well-known hymn is a translation by Edward Caswall from thetwelfth-century Latin of St Bernard of Clairvaux. It is frequently associatedwith Gordon Slater's tune St Botolph which appears here unadorned and invarious choral textures, accompanied by an elaborate and at times quietlyvirtuosic organ part. The variety of approaches allows the meaning of theindividual stanzas of text to be nicely pointed, and the chromatic harmonies,and unaccompanied choir for the fourth stanza, But what to those who find?stand out particularly. The piece is dedicated to Noel Edison and the EloraFestival Singers.

Mendelssohn's Verleih uns Frieden gnadiglich, although verydifferent in spirit, also takes a hymn tune and elaborates it verse by verse.Mendelssohn's original setting had orchestral accompaniment and there are shortinterludes between the stanzas of the hymn as well as an extensive instrumentalintroduction. The hymn melody is presented first by the choir basses, then intwo parts, alto and bass, for the second stanza, and in full four-part harmonyfor the last stanza. This concluding version is indebted to Bach, whose musicMendelssohn did much to revive in the early nineteenth century.

As can be seen from the works on this recording, composerstake their anthem texts from a variety of sources. One of the favourites is thebook of Psalms, especially those psalms which contain musical imagery. Theopening verses of Psalm 81 are a well-known example, and Sydney Campbell'ssetting makes the most of the opportunities. Listen to the choir's fanfares atmake a cheerful noise, and their imitation of the merry harp, and, of course,what composer could resist repeating the wonderfully evocative phrase Blow upthe trumpet at least three times.

Harris's double choir anthem Faire is the Heaven is regardedas his best work
Disc: 1
The day Thou gavest
1 Jesu, the very thought of Thee (arr. P. Halley)
2 Gloria Deo per immensa saecula
3 Sing we merrily unto God our strength
4 I beheld her
5 Fair in face
6 Rise up my love
7 Te Deum
8 O Thou who camest from above
9 Ave verum corpus
10 My song is love unknown
11 Ave verum corpus
12 Magnificat
13 Abide with me
14 Verleih uns Frieden
15 Faire is the heaven
16 The day Thou gavest
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