Music for Christmas – Simon Lindley writes

St Peter’s Singers perform a programme of festive music for Christmas and Advent at Fulneck on 7 December. Simon Lindley, our director of music, shares some characteristic insights:

JS Bach: Cantata 30 ‘Freue dich, erloste Schar

Johann Sebastian Bach 750x495 - Music for Christmas - Simon Lindley writes

In common with the component six cantatas of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, the music of his Cantata 30 began life as with a secular, rather than a sacred, verbal text. Like the third element of the Christmas Oratorio its opening chorus is reprised at the end, a characteristic shared with the so-called Ascension Oratorio [Praise our God who reigns in heaven] sung at the very first concert given by St Peter’s Singers way back in the Summer of 1977.

The work begins with a magnificent, energised chorus with full orchestra. This is succeeded by a brief bass recitative leading into the first of two finely festal arias for bass. At the heart of the work is an exquisite aria for solo alto underpinned by glorious sonorities for strings, topped by a solo flute. This is one of its creator’s splendid concepts with a gently dance-like momentum that seems to carry the listener to the gate of heaven itself. A hymn verse of the chorale Freu dich Sehr closes the first half of the work. A second bass recitative and aria follows in what has become known as the gallant style of the 1730s. The big rolling arpeggios that accompany the soprano aria not only illustrate the running of the sinner but also the smoke rising from the altars in the tents of Kedar . There is no final chorale. The piece concludes with a triumphant reprise of the opening.

Devised for the midsummer day feast of the Nativity of St John Baptist, the text and style of Cantata 30 make it particularly apt for the season of Advent in which the Baptist is so very intimately concerned.

R Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on Christmas Carols

ralphvaughanwilliams - Music for Christmas - Simon Lindley writes

First heard at the 1912 Hereford Three Choirs’ Festival, the evergreen Fantasia on Christmas Carols is one of Vaughan Williams’ most characteristic works. Strongly featured are the traditional carols Come, all you worthy gentlemen and the famous “Sussex Carol” – On Christmas night all Christians sing. In just over ten minutes, the composer devises a magical and rapturous sound world of triumphant expectation of raptured utterance. There are memorable solos for ‘cello as well as a baritone soloist that linger long in the memory!

GF Handel: Messiah (Pt I and Hallelujah chorus)

handel - Music for Christmas - Simon Lindley writes

Messiah, a work produced by Handel in 1742 for performance in Dublin at a major charitable endeavour for the relief of the prisoners in the jails of the Irish capital city, is by far the best known of that great composer’s works. The anticipation of the birth of the Saviour, its prophecy and fulfilment, takes up most of Part I and St Peter’s Singers Fulneck performances of that noble musical torso traditionally end with the singing of the final chorus of the work’s second part – the Hallelujah Chorus. Each of the four vocal soloists is closely involved during the course of the 21 numbers from part one given at Fulneck at this time of year as is the choir.

During the course of the last decade of his long professional life, Handel arranged annual performances of Messiah for the support of Thomas Coram’s Foundling Hospital at the heart of London. These presentations within the, now long-gone, chapel of the Foundling Hospital, give us much written evidence of the Handel’s performing practice gleaned from the details of the account books that survive to posterity.