Passiontide / Easter
The inspiration for this concert, was the date: I was asked to give a lunchtime recital at St Wulfram’s, Grantham on Holy Saturday: a difficult proposition! I chose Passiontide works, and an anticipation of Easter at the end in the form of Langlais’ Incantation pour un jour Saint
O Mensch, bewein’ dein’ Sünde groß –J.S. BACH
The melody (a familiar hymn tune in Bach’s time, originally composed by Matthias Greiter in 1525), was used several times by Bach, his most celebrated setting being the overpowering Finale to Part One of the St.Matthew Passion . This chorale prelude is highly ornamented and chromatic.
Oh mortal, bewail your great sin;
for this did Christ forsake
his Father’s bosom
and come to earth.
Of a virgin pure and tender
he was born here for us,
willing to become the mediator.
To the dead he gave life,
and dispelled all sickness as well,
until the time came
when he would be sacrificed for us
and bear the heavy burden of our sins
for so long upon the cross.
A Negro Once Sang of Good Friday – Harvey GAUL
Harvey Gaul (1881 - 1945) was an American organist, conductor and composer. Gaul studied first with Dudley Buck (1839-1909) in New York and then went to Paris to become a pupil of Alexandre Guilmant, Charles-Marie Widor, Abel-Marie Decaux (1869-1943) and Vincent d’Indy before finishing his studies in London.
His first important job was as organist of Emmanuel Church in Cleveland before he entered 35 years of employment at the Calvary Church in Pittsburgh. Besides his work as organist he was active as conductor and teacher at the Carnegie Institute of Technology. Naturally his major output was for the organ or choir. There is a famous composition competition in his memory.
This short piece is based on the spritual “Were you there?”.
The Seven Last Words – Alan RIDOUT
‘Father, forgive them: for they know not what they do’
‘Woman, behold thy son...Behold thy mother’
‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’
‘Verily I say unto thee: Today shalt thou be with me in paradise’
‘It is finished’
‘Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit’
The Seven Last Words (or, to be more precise, the seven last sentences) by Alan Ridout (1934-1996) depicts the crucifixion of Christ in a seven-piece cycle of finely observed, diverse moods lasting nearly 20 minutes. ‘Father, forgive them: for they know not what they do’ is an aggressive opening, followed by the understated ‘Woman , behold thy son . . . Behold thy mother’ filled with moments of quietly intense sorrow and tenderness suggested by the rise and fall of its chilling phrases. Stormy chords juxtaposed by a recurring panic-stricken motif evoke a palpable sense of anxiety and desperation on ‘My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?’, while ‘I thirst’ employs similar forces to heighten the emotional turmoil. The concluding ‘Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit’ sees a cessation of visceral tension as numinous timbres pave the way for an uplifting coda.
In his prolific career, Alan Ridout (1934-1996) composed a total of fifteen operas (including several for children), eight symphonies, twenty five concertos for various instruments, seven string quartets and numerous shorter orchestral, choral and instrumental pieces. He studied with Gordon Jacob and Herbert Howells at the Royal College of Music, and subsequently with Peter Racine Fricker, Michael Tippett and Henk Badings (with a Netherlands Government Scholarship). Although he was not an avant garde composer, his interests were wide, ranging from medieval polyphony to electronic music and serialism; his Psalm for Sine Wave Generators (1959) was one of the first pieces of electronic music by an English composer. He also wrote a number of pieces in the 31-tone temperament, using microtones. Alan Ridout was a Professor of Theory and Composition at the Royal College of Music from 1960 to 1984, and he also taught at the Universities of Birmingham, Cambridge and London. Much of his church and organ music was written for performance at Canterbury Cathedral, and he also taught at the Choir School, and then at the King’s School, for many years. Alan Ridout moved to France towards the end of his life, settling in Vitré and then moving to Caen. He was received into the Roman Catholic Church at Ampleforth Abbey in 1994.
Incantation pour un jour Saint – Jean LANGLAIS
Jean Langlais’ impressive Incantation pour un jour Saint (1949) is based on Gregorian Chant. It has words from the Easter Vigil from the Tridentine Mass for its inspiration with the words chanted by the priest and congregation - ‘Lumen Christi - Deo Gratias’ (Light of Christ - Thanks be to God). This liturgical theme is repeated twice - each time a semitone raised. Langlais uses this at the start and end of this work. The development introduces a variety of styles of music including dance rhythms.