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August 04, 2005

Music of the spheres?

These are my notes written very late Wednesday evening about a day filled with glorious worship and music, but published today

Wednesday's services were a real treat. The problem is: where do I start?

Our first offering this morning was the Solemn Eucharist of the Holy Cross sung to a setting by Frank Martin for Double Choir. The Introductory Organ Voluntary was "O Mensch, bewein dein' Sunde gross" by J S Bach, followed by the Introit, "Miserere mei, Deus" by William Byrd. Now for a Bach fan that was a treat, for someone who likes Bach and Byrd - a feast - and to have that followed by a David Peebles (1510 - 1579) Gradual, "Si quis diliget me" and one is almost transported into Heaven. Then add Henry Purcell (1659 - 1695) and the Offertory "Remember not, Lord, our offences" and the "Crucifixus etiam pro nobis" by Antonio Lotti (1667 - 1740) and you have something which is almost a sensory overload! Then crown it with the Recessional Voluntary "Praeludium in E Minor" by Nikolaus Bruhns (1665 - 1697) and there is little left to say!

The sermon, by Canon David Hoyle of Gloucester, was very thought-provoking, drawing on the imagery that we are so familiar with in terms of the cross and the meaning thereof - but then challenging us to consider what it may really have been like and why such hideous ugliness is so important an image to us. A powerful sermon, delivered in a quiet and thoughtful manner, yet hitting all the buttons to provoke thought. As he demonstrated so ably, the subject of our veneration is key to our faith. The resurrection is important, but so is the brutality of the death that the cross represents.

The evening's offering has been twofold. First there has been yet another stunning performance of a varied programme by our resident organist, Carleton Etherington. Carleton is an amazingly able and talented organist, something he demonstrated very clearly with his selection of Guilmant's "March on a Theme by Handel", J S Bach's "Prelude and Fugue in C", Bairstow's "Evening Song", Ritter's "Sonata No.3 in A Minor", Jean Langlais' "Theme et variations" and Naji Hakim's "Memor". Yet again he demonstrated his mastery of the instrument and, at the same time, the versatility of the Milton Organ. Each of his selected pieces was different, each demanded a different range of sounds, and combinations - and each was well served on this instrument. One can only hope the composers all applauded!

And the finale. Compline. A simple service also known as "Night Prayer". What an understatement that is.

This is a monastic service, intended to be sung unaccompanied and largely to "plain" chant. Except that it isn't "plain". The harmonies are quite complex, and the sound is stunning, every word audible and clear, every note reverberating through the building. It follows a set form, Introit "O nata lux", Introductory Preces, and Responses, Psalms for the evening, a short passage from Scripture and a second short Preces and response, then the Office Hymn, "Christe, qui lux es et dies". The Introit set to music by Thomas Tallis (1505 - 1585) and the Hymn set by Robert Whyte (1530 - 1574). These are followed by the Antiphon and then the "Nunc Dimitis" (The song of Simeon - Luke's Gospel), the Creed, and the Lord's Prayer, a Preces "Benedicite" and Confession lead to the final Preces and the singing of "In pace", this time to a setting from William Blythe (d 1591). After a short Blessing from the Priest, the choir left the Presbytery and moved to the East end of the Ambulatory to stand before the statue of "Our Lady Queen of Peace" and sing the Robert Parsons (1530 - 1570) setting of the "Ave Maria".

That no one moved to leave their seats for a full five minutes after the choir stopped singing speaks for itself.

"The Lord almighty, grant to us a quiet night and a perfect end. Amen"

Posted by The Gray Monk at August 4, 2005 09:06 AM