When great choirs made a comeback
Posted: 02 Nov 2006 @ 00:00
by Ronald Corp
WARM WELCOME to The Restoration Anthem: Volume 1 1660-1689
(OUP for the Church Music Society, £11.95; 0-19-395379-X). I look
forward to Volume 2, which will include anthems written after the coronation of
William and Mary.
The present volume begins with "O praise the Lord, laud ye the name of the
Lord", composed by William Child "upon the Restauration of the Church And
Royall Family in 1660". Surely there was much rejoicing in church-music circles
at the restoration of the monarchy, because, just a few years earlier, the
Puritans had silenced church music, and had ejected Child from his post as
organist of St George’s Chapel, Windsor.
In their informative introduction, the editors Keri Dexter and Geoffrey
Webber explain how local composers turned out anthems for the re-formed choirs,
and set biblical texts that celebrated their good fortune. But not all of the
anthems here are celebratory. Among the mournful, we have a setting of "The
ways of Sion do mourn" by Michael Wise, a gentleman of the Chapel Royal, and
"Out of the deep have I called unto thee, O Lord" by the Dean of Christ Church,
Oxford, Henry Aldrich.
The former is a verse anthem with extended solo parts and not quite a dozen
bars (repeated later) of homophonic music for the choir; Burney described the
anthem as one of the most "beautiful and expressive" of the period. The
Aldrich, on the other hand, alternates full choir and verse sections, both
scored for normal four-part choir, and is written in a conservative style that
was informed by his interest in the music of 16th century.
Indeed, one of the strengths of the volume is the variety of the anthems
themselves and their musical styles. There are full anthems, full anthems with
verses, and verse anthems. All that is missing are the anthems with string
symphonies written for the Chapel Royal, which would not have been appropriate
for the present volume.
There is also a great range of musical styles, from the Italianate and
operatic solo writing in anthems by Locke and Wise and in Benjamin Roger’s "I
beheld and lo" to the lute-song style of that same composer’s "How long wilt
thou forget me, O Lord?" and the intricate canonic writing in Creichton’s "I
Purcell’s "O Lord God of hosts" may be the masterpiece of the set, but
Blow’s "God is our hope and strength" runs it close. Purcell himself copied an
organ part for the Blow anthem, and this is reproduced in this edition. It is
more than just a figured bass, and gives us some indication of contemporary
practice as far as accompaniments were concerned. The editors have provided a
similar organ part for the Purcell anthem, which is normally published with
just a continuo-style accompaniment.
With much music to choose from, the editors have made good choices. The
publication is easy to read, and the editorial practices are easy to fathom.
ANOTHER ANTHOLOGY from Oxford University Press includes a section of 18
anthems and motets by Charles Villiers Stanford: A Stanford Anthology
edited by Jeremy Dibble (£11.95; 0-19-386640-4).
The music has been chosen to offer the familiar and unfamiliar, to span
Stanford’s whole career, and to include works in every significant genre, to
give a cross-section of accompanied and unaccompanied music, and also to
provide music that covers the whole of the Church’s year. This is an ambitious
brief, and may have placed too much of a burden on the selection process.
A number of works by Stanford are already in the current repertory of
ecclesiastical and secular choirs, and this volume includes a fair smattering
of those: "The Lord is my shepherd", the Three Latin Motets, Op. 38 (
"Justorum animae", "Coelos ascendit hodie" and "Beati
quorum via"), and the part song "When Mary thro’ the garden went" with
words by Mary Coleridge. That so much is familiar and available may or may not
be a good thing, depending on what music you already own and what music you are
It is certainly good to have Stanford’s "In memoria aeterna" in
print for the first time. This is a very fine Latin motet scored for
unaccompanied double choir and displaying Stanford’s facility as a melodist and
contrapuntalist, and his flair for writing for double choir. There is a running
English translation here and elsewhere.
I was struck by the homophonic simplicity of the Six Hymns, which share
musical material with Stanford’s Six Bible Songs, and are set rather
like Bach chorale choruses. I was also taken with the Christmas motet "Arise,
shine" for choir and organ, with its movingly quiet ending, and "Eternal Father"
, scored for six-part choir and written at the same time as his So
ngs of Farewell.
The music is clearly set out and easy to read, but the margins on each page
are narrow, which makes it hard to see notes right in the centre near the
binding. Elsewhere, by contrast, there is a large area of whiteness at the
bottom where the score has not filled the page. This is, no doubt, all to do
with whichever system was used to input the music, and I wish this could have
been tidied up.