Membership Secretary: Joy Black
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Secretary: Barbara Moss

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Programme Notes

Eternal Light A Requiem - Howard Goodall (b 1958)
Saturday 16 March 2019, Great Malvern Priory

Eternal Light was originally composed to mark the 20th birthday of the orchestra London Musici whose artistic director requested a work that would also be a new dance piece for the Rambert Dance Company.

One of the challenges for composer Howard Goodall was how to address what a requiem is for in the 21st century; who it is for and what it means. Like Brahms, Goodall sought to provide comfort for the living rather than the need to pray for the salvation of the dead. He chose to focus on death as a passage towards light. Rather than use the structure and language of the Catholic Mass for the Dead, Goodall retained key phrases of the Latin text but turned to poetry to express the fundamental concepts of the requiem; peace, everlasting light, grief, comfort and faith in an afterlife. Time and again the concept of light provides the central image.

Although composed in 2008 in response to a specific request, the music for Eternal Light: A Requiem had probably been triggered by a commission completed in 2005 for the choir of King’s School, Canterbury, in memory of a student who died with members of her family in the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004. Goodall’s aim was to recognise the tragic loss of a precious life and the grief that follows as well as to honour it with dignity, compassion and beauty.

Otcenas (The Lord's Prayer) - Leos Janacek (1854 - 1928)
Saturday 16 March 2019, Great Malvern Priory

The religious music of the Czech Republic (formerly Czechoslovakia and, before that, Bohemia) has always been unique, sandwiched as the country is between Catholic southern Germany and the Orthodox countries of the East. The Hapsburg dominance of the country in the 18th century combined with 19th-century nationalism to produce an anti-German and anti-Catholic feeling; in short, 19th-century Czech culture was based on a kind of modern reformation myth. The best-known Czech composer is Antonín Dvorák, whose output of religious music was prodigious.

His disciple and countryman, Leos Janácek is more famous for his operas and orchestral works, although he wrote two religious pieces of note: the barbarically stirring Glagolitic Mass and the more sensitive setting of the Lord's Prayer, Otcenás, composed for piano or harmonium accompaniment in 1901 and reworked with organ and harp accompaniment in 1906. The work is in six short but contrasting movements and is scored for organ, harp, chorus and tenor solo. In three of the movements, the cantabile solo voice alternates with chorus against a background of continuous harmonic modulation; in the three other movements ('Our Father', 'give us this day our daily bread' and 'lead us not into temptation'), the whole choir presents the dominant messages; in the second, seemingly demanding not the consecrated bread of the altar, but the daily bread of true humanity.

Barry Creasy
Collegium Musicum of London

Five Mystical Songs - Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872 - 1958)
Saturday 16 March 2019, Great Malvern Priory

Following the death of Purcell in 1695, English music went into a long period of decline that was not reversed until the late 19th century with the emergence of Elgar, followed by a whole new generation of talented composers. The leading figure of this younger group of musicians was Ralph Vaughan Williams who, for nearly sixty years, remained one of the most influential figures in English music.

Like Elgar, Vaughan Williams was a late developer, reaching his mid-thirties before attracting serious attention as a composer. He eventually developed his own unique musical style, which was profoundly influenced by his love of Tudor music and his immensely important work in collecting English folksongs.

In 1908 Vaughan Williams studied with Ravel for a brief three months, and shortly afterwards produced a series of major works, including the song-cycle On Wenlock Edge, the Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis followed, in 1911, by the Sea Symphony and the Five Mystical Songs. The latter is a setting of poems by George Herbert (1593 – 1633). Despite his declared atheism, which in later years mellowed into what his wife Ursula described as ‘a cheerful agnosticism’, Vaughan Williams was inspired throughout his life by much of the liturgy and music of the Anglican church, the language of the King James Bible, and the visionary qualities of religious verse such as Herbert’s.

The baritone soloist is prominent in the first four of the Mystical Songs, with the chorus taking a subsidiary role. An accompaniment suggestive of pealing bells introduces the triumphant final song of praise, in which the chorus is heard to full effect.

John Bawden

Magnificat in D major - Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750)
Sunday 25 November 2018, Malvern Theatres

In May 1723 Bach was appointed Kantor of St Thomas, Leipzig, where he remained until his death in 1750. It was a hugely demanding post, but despite this enormous workload and recurrent disputes with the city authorities, Bach composed some of his greatest music during this period. His choral compositions alone include such towering masterpieces as the St John and St Matthew Passions, the Magnificat and the Mass in B minor, as well as the Christmas Oratorio and some 250 church cantatas.

The Magnificat - the canticle of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Luke I: 46-55) - traditionally formed part of the Roman Catholic service of Vespers. After the Reformation it was incorporated into the evening services of the Lutheran and Anglican churches, in which it was linked with the Nunc Dimittis. The Magnificat has been set to music more often than any liturgical text other than the Mass itself, in settings that vary enormously in style, from the purity of Palestrina’s exquisite four-part unaccompanied compositions to Monteverdi’s grand, dramatic settings written for St Mark’s, Venice, and the almost symphonic conception of Mozart’s Vesperae Solennes de Confessore with the Magnificat forming the final movement.

Bach’s Magnificat was written in Leipzig for the 1723 Christmas Vespers. The original version was in E-flat and included several additional Christmas texts. Some years later he revised it, removing the Christmas insertions to make the work suitable for use throughout the year and transposing it into D, a much brighter and more satisfactory key for the trumpets in particular. The extraordinary impact of Bach’s great choral works derives essentially from his remarkable ability to balance, yet at the same time to exploit to the full, the spiritual and dramatic elements of each text, whether it be one as concise as the Magnificat or as monumental as the St Matthew Passion. In its splendour and jubilation the work anticipates the great choruses of the later Mass in B minor.

John Bawden

Coronation Mass, Mass in C Major (K317) - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Sunday 25 November 2018, Malvern Theatres

Of the sacred works that Mozart composed in Salzburg, none is as well known or as popular as the Mass in C K317. In 1779 Mozart returned from his disastrous trip to Paris and, partly out of material necessity and also to please his father, he took up a position in the Archbishop's service in Salzburg. His duties included “to provide the court and church with new compositions of his own creation". At the first opportunity Mozart fulfilled this demand, composing the mass for the Easter Day service on 4th April 1779. The composition’s use of wind instruments suggests a "Solemn Mass", and its length suggests a "Short Mass" as demanded by the requirement that, even for the most solemn occasions, a mass had to last no more than 45 minutes. The mass therefore had to have a grand ceremonial setting but a compact structure so Mozart omits formal closing fugues for the Gloria and Credo, the Credo with its problematic, vast text is in a tight rondo form, and the Dona nobis pacem recalls the music of the Kyrie.

Even as early as the 19th Century the mass was already popularly referred to as the "Coronation Mass". The nickname grew out of the misguided belief that Mozart had written the mass for Salzburg's annual celebration of the anniversary of the crowning of the Shrine of the Virgin. The more likely explanation is that it was one of the works that was performed during the coronation festivities in Prague, either as early as August 1791 for Leopold II, or certainly for Leopold's successor Francis I in August 1792. It seems that Mozart must have seen the chance to be represented at the coronation festivities in 1791, not only with La clemenza di Tito, but also with a mass composition. He was held in very high regard in Prague so it seems likely that the city would have taken on the mass as its own and the nickname would have grown from there.

Certainly the music itself is celebratory in nature, and would have fitted a coronation or Easter Day service perfectly. The soloists are continually employed either as a quartet, in pairs or in solo lines that contrast with the larger forces of the choir. Perhaps the most obvious reason for the mass's popularity in Prague in 1791/2 was the uncanny similarity between the soprano solo Agnus Dei and the Countess's aria Dove sono from Figaro which had been so successful there in the 1780s.

Aylesbury Choral Society

Ave Verum Corpus - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Sunday 25 November 2018, Malvern Theatres

Mozart composed Ave Verum Corpus in 1791 in the middle of writing his opera Die Zauberflöte. He wrote it while visiting his wife, Constanze, who was pregnant with their sixth child and was staying in the spa, Baden bei Wien. Mozart set the 14th century Eucharistic hymn "Ave verum corpus" for Anton Stoll, the musical director of the parish of St. Stephan, Baden, who was a friend of his and of Joseph Haydn. The motet was composed to celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi, the autograph being dated 17 June 1791, less than six months before Mozart's death. It is only 46 bars long and is scored for SATB choir, string instruments, and organ. Mozart's manuscript contains minimal directions, with only a single sotto voce marking at the beginning. In contrast to the dramatic composition of his Requiem, aspects of which it foreshadows, the motet expresses the essence of the Eucharist with simple means suited for the church choir in a small town.

Exsultate Jubilate - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Sunday 25 November 2018, Malvern Theatres

This glorious solo motet was composed in January 1773, when Mozart was staying in Milan during the production of his opera ‘Lucio Silla’, and he wrote it for the castrato soloist in that opera. It will be performed by our soprano soloist. Although nominally for liturgical use, the motet has many features in common with Mozart's concert arias. The first three movements call on the souls of the blessed to celebrate the dawn and the defeat of darkness, and implore the Crown of Virgins (Mary) to grant us peace. The final virtuoso Alleluias show Mozart at his most brilliant.

A German Requiem (Ein Deutsches Requiem) - Johannes Brahms (1833 - 1897)
Saturday 23 June 2018, Malvern Theatres

For many years Brahms had been preoccupied with the idea of composing a Requiem, but he only began serious work on it in 1866 at the age of 33. It was completed the following year with the exception of the fifth movement. In its incomplete form Ein Deutsches Requiem was first heard in Bremen Cathedral on Good Friday 1868. The final version was performed the following year at Leipzig’s famous concert-hall, the Gewandhaus.

Brahms may have written the Requiem in memory of his mother who died in 1865; alternatively, it may have been a memorial to his great friend and mentor, Robert Schumann, whose madness and tragic death had profoundly affected him; or indeed to no single person. The composer himself gave no indication but, as with all great music, the universal message of its vision transcends the circumstances of its conception.

The work's title reflects Brahms's use of the Lutheran Bible rather than the customary Latin one. He compiled the text himself from both the Old and New Testaments and from the Apocrypha. It has little in common with the conventional Requiem Mass, omitting as it does the Last Judgement and any final plea for mercy or prayers for the dead. It also makes only a passing reference, in the last movement, to Christian redemption through the death of Jesus. Brahms's stated intention was to write a Requiem to comfort the living not one for the souls of the dead. Consequently the work focuses on faith in the Resurrection rather than fear of the Day of Judgement. Despite its unorthodox text, the German Requiem was immediately recognised as a masterpiece of exceptional vision and it finally confirmed Brahms's reputation as a composer of international stature.

John Bawden