How desolate lies the city, that was full of people…
When we met for the last time before the Coronavirus lockdown, it was already clear that we would not be able to give our traditional presentation of Music for Good Friday. Disappointingly, this meant postponing our keenly and widely anticipated second performance of Matthew Oglesby’s superb Requiem, Penthos. The mood was sombre, with a significant number of our members already choosing to stay at home. So for an hour we just sang music for fun.
However, the Good Friday programme was also due to include a fine motet which we had sung at the first performance of Penthos, and which had special resonances for Good Friday this year: Rudolf Mauersberger’s Wie liegt die Stadt so wüst (‘How desolate lies the city’).
75 years ago, in February 1945, the Allies attacked and destroyed Dresden in a ferocious firebomb raid, timed for the end of Shrove Tuesday, and the traditional Carnival. The children, temporarily relieved of the firewatch duty they now habitually undertook in the absence of the menfolk, were out and about. Mauersberger, then Kantor at the Kreuzkirche, lost eleven of his choristers that evening, as the church, school and archives, together with most of the city were incinerated and reduced to rubble.
Six weeks later, over the Easter weekend that followed, he composed the motet Wie liegt die Stadt so wüst, setting an astringent selection of verses from The Lamentation of Jeremiah so terse and disjointed that it at once conveys the mute speechlessness of trauma while allowing the music to delve deep into that darkness which speech cannot reach. It was first performed the following August, at the first service conducted in the ruins of the Kreuzkirche, but only achieved popularity in Germany in the 1960s, as the next generation of Germans reached adulthood.
With all this in mind, as our last act of singing together before entering this modern period of darkness, we went into Leeds Minster and despite our diminished numbers, sang this wonderful work to an empty church. This is a recording of that occasion, which we offer, ‘warts and all’, in place of the live performance. We hope that it resonates for you as it did for us, while also lending some perspective on our current troubles, whether you are listening this Good Friday or on another day, and we look forward to the day when we can sing it to you live.
If you have an hour free in the middle of the day next Monday 17 February you could drop in to Leeds Town Hall and catch St Peter’s Singers recital. A wonderfully varied programme of English Cathedral Music by Elgar, Britten and Moore awaits to delight your senses! Admission is free.
The concert opens with music by Philip Moore, formerly Organist and Master of the Music at York Minster. His lively and robust setting of Tu es Petrus (‘You are Peter’), commissioned and first sung by St Peter’s Singers in 2018, sets a dynamic tone. ‘All wisdom cometh from the Lord ‘, which follows, provides a profound contrast and culminates in a moment of the most intense and spiritual tranquility.
Sir Edward Elgar
Classic Elgar follows on both the grand and the miniature scale, revealing how the composer was as equally at home writing simple works for Catholic liturgy as he was writing grand anthems for the Edwardian Anglican establishment. Ecce sacerdos magnus (‘Behold the great priest‘) and Ave verum corpus (‘Hail true body‘) provide the sorbets between two large-scale settings of Psalms 48 (‘Great is the Lord‘) and 29 (‘Give unto the Lord‘), works which require committed singing and virtuoso organ playing. We are delighted to welcome David Houlder once again to join us, and provide his expert accompaniment.
The programme concludes with Benjamin Britten’s wonderfully whimsical cantata Rejoice in the Lamb. This fine work, composed in 1943, sets the words of that somewhat troubled and eccentric (or should that be ‘mystic’ ?) poet Christopher Smart. He does so with great insight and warmth, not least the unforgettable section beginning ‘For I will consider my cat Geoffrey…’ The final, restrained Hallelujah recaptures something of the serenity heard earlier in Philip Moore’s work.
Everyone is welcome at this concert, where we hope to see old friends and make new ones!
Deliberately timed to coincide with calm of the winter dusk, and to fit in between either a country walk or a city dash and the evening’s social buzz, this will be offering an oasis of calm, and a chance to catch up with the things that matter most.
Alongside many well-known carols from all over the world that have come to characterise the best of Christmas, there will also be a strong Yorkshire twist, with a number of carols written by composers with Yorkshire connections, and a special Yorkshire surprise to finish with!
Not least among these are Jan Holdstock’s popular ‘Tell out the news’ – remembered fondly by countless grown-up children. We will also be singing her ‘Donkey Carol’ – a carol with a kick, if ever there was one!
We remember Jan with great fondness both for her contribution to our musical family and for the joy she brought to so many through her charming, humorous and sophisticated music for children, who will be welcome to join us. Please bring them with you!
There will be opportunities for everyone to fill their lungs and join in.
Admission is free and there will be a retiring collection in aid of Bolton Priory. Please come and bring your friends !
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
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)
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.
For so very long a major, often a principal, player in the musical and cultural fabric of Britain, it is virtually impossible to imagine life without Stephen’s presence amongst us.
For those of us deeply fortunate to have known him all his life and ours, the loss is particularly acute. We met as young teenagers, his brother Nicholas, Stephen, myself and others , with us youngsters attending a number of memorable Three Choirs’ Festivals of the mid to late 1960s prior to setting off for college and university and going our various ways in life. We heard Elgar directed by the legendary Dr Herbert Sumsion, Britten’s then new War Requiem in the skilfull and elegant hands of Dr Melville Cook and modern excitement in Christopher Robinson’s spectacular account of Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast followed by applause, no less, then previously notably absent from Three Choirs events – or, actually, until then for it has continued ever since!
Stephen was truly fortunate in his early musical mentors who contributed very much to his rounding as a musician and a person – Douglas Guest, Christopher Robinson and Harry Bramma at Worcester of course, and – equally significantly – George Guest during his university years as Organ Scholar of St John’s College, Cambridge. Yet it was clear to his friends and surely, too, to those who guided his career that here was a consummate musician of the very highest distinction in terms of meticulous, yet not inflexible, preparation and so many other virtues that marked him out very early on for the dizzy heights of the most distinguished musical career. His stylistic awareness was remarkable and in middle life he set off for a whole new endeavour with the direction of full time adult choirs of the highest distinction including a memorable twelve-year period in charge of the BBC Singers. One recent review of (yet another) fine recording credits him thus:
If for nothing else, Stephen Cleobury should go down as the man who really recharged the writing of contemporary choral music – not just the Christmas carol, but the fact that his commissioning has affected how people write choral music. In all four corners of the globe people switch on the radio on Christmas Eve and hear a new piece of music.
Many of our finest British present-day
composers would echo those sentiments and, along with generations of choristers
and students, will experience a sense of bereavement not easily assuaged.
Modest demeanour, measured and deftly articulated speech which his charges found facility in imitating, immense personal kindness and personal support to others in time of difficulty in their lives were a ‘given’. Many wondered if he ever took a day off. I doubt it! As a player, he remained keen to keep in trim as affirmed by many superb solo recordings over four decades while his recitals as accompanist as well as soloist linger long in the memory as profoundly musical experiences.
His career began at the prestigious Anglican parish of St Matthew, Northampton, moving on to posts as Sub Organist of Westminster Abbey and Master of Music at Westminster Cathedral; in the latter position, he did much to stabilise the rocky boat in respect of the sustaining of the finest, and most historic, aspects of Catholic liturgy and the traditional music of the church. Having moved to King’s College Cambridge in 1982 he found himself utilising the magical Gregorian Chants most notably in the “propers” of the Mass and thus providing a living link with music of the pre-Reformation era.
All this is well known and ‘on the record’, as we say. What is less widely publicised is his willingness to further projects for friends, colleagues and musical organisations, conducting Come Sing Messiah performances and further charitable endeavours – it was my immeasurable privilege to do my best as accompanist on a number of such occasions, one of the most tricky being at the keys of the historic instrument in Great St Mary’s, the Cambridge University Church, whilst the maestro conducted the assembly from a distant venue far to the East. The same experience at St Andrew’s Holborn, in support of the Royal College of Organists, seemed an altogether less strenuous option, as indeed it did prove to be. Stephen came twice to Leeds to attend our annual Parish Church choristers’ prize-giving at the heart of the city centre. We never forgot his generosity of spirit in giving up much valuable time at the beginning of a week to support these events.
Towards the end of his long tenure at King’s came the 2016 organ restoration project for which he worked indefatigably in so many ways. Well-deserved honours came his way, including an Honorary Doctorate from Anglia Ruskin University, a CBE in 2009 with the final accolade of knighthood in the Queen’s Birthday Honours this year. Nor should we forget his own contributions and composer and arranger of so much traditional music and very particularly at this time of year – much of it tinged with reminiscences of beautiful utterance from the pages of the Oxford Book of Carols and the Cowley Carol Books of yesteryear.
Our love and gratitude go out to his
family and close friends, along with our sorrow that his last years were so
challenging in terms of the challenges of health and the subsequently
all-too-brief retirement that he had so very richly deserved.
Rest in peace, Stephen, and thank you,
from the bottom of our hearts for all that you brought to our lives.
Maurice Duruflé followed his teacher, Paul Dukas, in exercising a profound degree of self-criticism resulting in only a very small number of works surviving.
Of these, the glorious setting of the Requiem – founded entirely upon traditional ancient Plainchant melodies – is by far the most substantial. Its luminosity of expression and profound strength of purpose combine to make it one of the most powerful 20th century sacred choral utterances.
Duruflé follows Fauré in omitting all but the very brief final stanza of the lengthy Dies irae placed between Kyrie and the Offertory of the traditional mass for the dead. He also, like Fauré , includes the final In Paradisum antiphon originally sung at the graveside. Pie Jesu is all that remains from Dies irae – but what a very powerful setting it is, enhanced by a glorious solo part for cello.
The melodic plainchant lines are wonderfully accompanied by vivid and even exotic harmonies. The composer’s original score, as heard at St Chad’s, was for organ alone. Later versions followed for full orchestra and, finally – we believe the composer’s favourite – for strings, trumpets and organ as well as timpani. The work requires a choir capable of the profoundest expression and possessed of an outstanding technique, for much is demanded from the score.
The piece unfolds from a fluent Introit with the chant mainly allotted to lower voices, topped by vocalised soprano and alto parts. Kyrie that follows is polyphonic and builds to a vast plea for mercy. The Offertory, Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei continue the relentless, even ecstatic, progress of the piece. Lux aeterna provides exquisite relief, the chant intoned by sopranos with rich harmony vocalised below. The very final movement, again led by sopranos, is slow and sustained, based in the favourite tonality of Olivier Messiaen, the brightest key of all – F sharp major.
St Peter’s Singers are off on their travels! Nothing grand, just a weekend tour of the lovely East Riding… We’ll be singing short recitals in York and Hull, and services in Hull and Beverley Minster. And of course, we’ll also be enjoying the opportunity to socialise a bit…
There will be music by Bach, Bairstow, Britten, Elgar, Harris, Howells, Hylton Stewart, Moore, Oglesby, Oldroyd, Vaughan Williams, Wesley, and Wood.
As usual, we are very fortunate to be accompanied on the organ by David Houlder, and directed by Dr Simon Lindley.
If you’re in the area and would like to hear some glorious English Cathedral Music in the most stunning settings, you can catch us as follows:
Thank you to all who came to our Open Rehearsal last week. It was fantastic to be reminded how many talented and dedicated singers there are around. The future looks bright, indeed.
For anyone who couldn’t make it last week, but would be interested in joining St Peter’s Singers or finding out more, you don’t need to come to an open rehearsal to get started or find out more. Just email our secretary to make arrangements.
We’re delighted to announce our Open Rehearsal on Sunday 13 October 7.30pm at Leeds Minster LS2 7DJ, when we look to welcome enthusiastic singers along who might be interested in joining.
If you enjoy singing in choirs or are looking to join a good choir where your skills can flourish and develop, St Peter’s Singers could be just the choir for you and our open rehearsal on 13 October would be a great opportunity to find out!
Registration is from 7.15pm, and the rehearsal starts at 7.30pm, lasting till 9.15 pm. Just come to the choir vestry door (the one nearest to the Palace Hotel on the Kirkgate side of the Minster).
We will be rehearsing some of the music for our upcoming Remembrance Day concert. Copies will be provided for you on arrival, and if you feel afterwards that this is your thing, there will be the opportunity to take part in that concert.
Our normal process if you want to join is for you to attend for a number of weeks, singing at rehearsals and concerts, and then there is a simple audition to confirm your membership. So if you can’t be with us on 13 October, just email our choir secretary and make arrangements to start another week.
We were hugely privileged to take part in the most moving performance of Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius on 1 June. Huge thanks to Simon Wright for the invitation, and for directing the performance with such assurance, finesse and feel for the music. Thanks also to the Leeds Festival Chorus, the Leeds Philharmonic Chorus , the Hallé Orchestra and the stellar soloists Barry Banks, Dame Sarah Connolly and David Soar for making it an evening to remember. We had a ball ! Wonderful that this amazing work can still fill Leeds Town Hall in 2019!