February 2018

Salvator mundi – music for Passiontide

st stephen’s Rochester row

Weelkes          Hosanna to the son of David
Byrd                 Ne irascaris, Domine
Tallis                Salvator mundi
Weelkes          When David heard
Cornysh          Woefully arrayed

 J.S.Bach           O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde groß BWV 622

Buxtehude      Ad latus
Bach                  Jesu, meine Freude

Gilly French, Fiona Sharp, Helen Prentice, Catharine Robertson
Kevin Walsh, Tim Dutton, Iain Butler, William Nicholson

Organ Martin Ford

Thomas Weelkes (1576-1623) was organist at Chichester Cathedral, where he gained a reputation for drunkenness and bad language, often during services. His glorious full anthem Hosanna to the Son of David details Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem at the beginning of Holy Week, whilst the six-part setting of the Absalom lament from Samuel II highlights the deeply personal nature of the king’s mourning for his dead son.

William Byrd (1539-1623), a pupil of Thomas Tallis, was the most noted and prolific English composer of his time. He became Organist and Master of the Choristers at Lincoln Cathedral in 1563 before moving to the Chapel Royal in London in 1572. There he and Tallis secured in 1575 a royal patent for printing and distribution of part-music. During the 1580s and 1590s Byrd’s Catholicism became the driving force for his music; he wrote and openly published motets and masses, almost certainly composed for small chapel gatherings. The elaborate and penitential motet Ne irascaris, Domine, along with its seconda pars Civitas sancti tui, is one of Byrd’s masterpieces and one of his most forceful acts of protest against the persecution of English catholics. The setting is of verses from Isaiah 64. The atmosphere is of quiet polyphonic contemplation, with the melody contained within the range of a fourth, before the stark homophony of ‘Sion deserta facta est’. The final phrase is a moving lament for Jerusalem – a metaphor for the catholic church in England – in which the poignant words ‘desolata est’ are heard a remarkable 54 times.

Thomas Tallis became a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal in 1543 and remained there until his death. His output encompasses early and late sixteenth-century English styles and his career reflects the religious upheaval and political change that affected church music of this period. Salvator mundi, a setting of the antiphon for Matins on the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, is the first of his two settings of the text. It begins imitatively, with soprano and alto 2 in canon at the octave, but quickly moves into a freer and more expressive style, with insistent pitch repetition at ‘auxiliare nobis’, an affecting pathos of the descending ‘te deprecamur’, and dissonant intervals creating a sense of magnificence and piquancy.

William Cornysh (1465-1523) was the son of a composer, also called William (d 1503), and was Master of the Children at the Chapel Royal. Woefully arrayed, for SATB and to a text attributed to John Skelton, is an intense, powerful and vividly-detailed meditation on Christ on the Cross.

Dieterich Buxtehude (c1637-1707) was a Danish-German organist and composer whose style influenced, amongst others, J.S. Bach. He became organist at Lübeck in 1668, marrying in the same year the daughter of his predecessor, a not-uncommon requirement of the time (Handel turned down the opportunity to succeed him in 1703 for this reason). Membra Jesu nostri is a cycle of seven cantatas on ‘the most holy limbs of our suffering Jesus’ and is known as the first Lutheran oratorio. Ad latus (sides) is for SSATB and is divided into six sections, alternating verses from the Song of Solomon with excerpts from the medieval poem Salve mundi salutare.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) was a German composer, organist, harpsichordist, violist and violinist whose sacred and secular works for choir, orchestra, and solo instruments drew together the strands of the Baroque period and brought it to its ultimate maturity. His works are revered for their intellectual depth, technical command and artistic beauty and he is now generally regarded as one of the greatest composers of all time. Jesu, meine Freude, for SSATB, is the longest and most elaborate of the composer’s funeral motets and is based on a chorale melody by Crüger with a text from the Epistle to the Romans. There are stark contrasts between images of heaven and hell, often within a single section, resulting in a motet with an unusually wide dramatic range. There are eleven movements, beginning and ending with an identical chorale setting and with balanced musical symmetry around a double fugue.