TREASURY OF ENGLISH CHURCH MUSIC (1100-1965)
Sancte Dei pretiose
Salve sancta parens
Sanctus and Benedictus
Ave miles caelestis curiae
Conditor alme siderum - Hymn for Advent Vespers
Let all mortal flesh keep silence
O Lord, look down from heaven
God is our hope and strength
The Heavens Declare
A Hymn to the Virgin
Ave verum Corpus
O God, wherefore art thou absent from us?
Cornysh the elder:
Ave Maria Mater Dei
Lo! Star-Led Chiefs
Beata Dei genetrix Maria
Davies, Peter Maxwell:
Ave Maria - Hail blessed flower
Blessed are the pure in heart
Jubilate in G major
Factum est silentium
Veni Sancte Spiritus
O hearken Thou, Op. 64
Give unto the Lord (Psalm XXIX), Op. 74
Sanctus & Benedictus
Hide not thou thy face
Salve virgo mater pya
Nunc dimittis (Short Service)
O clap your hands
This is the Record of John
If we believe that Jesus died
O Clap Your Hands Together
Turn back, O man
Magnificat (Collegium Regale, 1945)
A Spotless Rose
Here is the Little Door
O Lord my God
Greater Love Hath No Man
There Is No Rose
Give me the wings of faith
Nolo mortem peccatoris
Out of the Deep
(version for countertenor soloist)
Out of the Deep
(version for tenor soloist)
Ah, helpless wretch
The souls of the righteous
Nunc Dimittis in B minor
O Saviour of the world
Nunc dimittis from the First Great Service
Thou know'st, Lord, Z 58c
I will give thanks unto the Lord, Z21
Remember not, O Lord, our offences, Z50
O Lord God of hosts, Z37
Hear my prayer, O Lord, Z15
Evening Service in E minor
Anglican Folk Mass: Creed
Te deum in B flat
Beati quorum via, Op. 38 No. 3
God is a Spirit
Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?
Evening Service in C major
My beloved spake
Ascribe unto the Lord
O Taste and See
Te Deum in G
Evening Service in D minor
Set me as a seal upon thine heart
I saw a fair maiden
Gloria in excelsis Deo
All people clap your hands
O how amiable are thy dwellings
Lord, to Thee I make my moan, anthem for 5 voices
Alleluia, I heard a voice
Wesley, S S:
Cast me not away
Wash me throughly from my wickedness
Christe qui lux es et dies
Short Communion Service in the Phrygian Mode: Sanctus & Benedictus
Ambrosian Singers, Westminster Abbey Choir, Chichester Cathedral Choir, Guildford Cathedral Choir, St Pauls Cathedral Choir, Temple Church Choir, Denis Stevens, Douglas Guest, John Birch, Barry Rose, John Dykes Bower, George Thalben-Ball
Here for the first time on CD are the celebrated five LPs of the HMV Treasury of English Church Music. Prefaced by the introductory speech Herbert Howells gave at the launch, and boasting more than 30 bonus tracks, this set offers a uniquely authoritative and comprehensive conspectus of the broad repertory of cathedral, collegiate and parish church choirs in the 1960s.
The principal contents of this set were originally issued in 1966 as five long-playing records on the HMV label, in performances given by the Ambrosian Singers and by the choirs of Westminster Abbey and of Guildford, St Paul's and Chichester cathedrals. The recordings were intended to complement, and were issued uniform with, an innovative and ambitious five-volume printed anthology - The Treasury of English Church Music - which had been published the previous year under the general editorship of Dr Gerald Knight and Dr William Reed. Those volumes comprised some 1100 pages of music, much of it newly edited, and constituted a comprehensive survey of English church music over a period of more than eight centuries, from the earliest English liturgical polyphony to the latest compositions of Kenneth Leighton and Peter Maxwell Davies.
Encouraged by this resurgence of interest in church music, the publisher Herbert Jenkins introduced its Studies in Church Music series of scholarly monographs, some of which were closely related to volumes of the Treasury. Two of these studies - Peter le Huray's Music and the Reformation in England, 1549-1660 and Christopher Dearnley's English Church Music, 1650-1750 - were by authors who themselves played a pivotal role in the compilation of the Treasury. A further important development was the recent inauguration by the British Academy of Early English Church Music. This major series of scholarly editions aimed to complete the publication of all church music by English composers from the Norman Conquest to the Commonwealth. Alongside renewed activity in other scholarly series such as Musica Britannica and the Purcell Society, it coincided with the expansion of music as an academic and practical study in universities and conservatoires. These developments combined to ensure that cathedrals and the more aspirational parish churches could be assured of an unbroken succession of well-trained choral and organ scholars with experience of recording and broadcasting. The result was a refreshing convergence in the world of English church music of correspondingly high standards of scholarship and performance.
The HMV discs were not the first such recorded survey of English church music. In the early 1950s, under the auspices of the British Council, Columbia Records issued a four-box set of 78rpm records entitled An Anthology of English Church Music. This project was overseen by Dr Edmund Fellowes, a minor canon of St George's Chapel, Windsor, and a noted editor of Elizabethan and Jacobean music. Many commentators at the time described the enterprise in such glowing terms as `truly magnificent' and `invaluable and unique'. Alec Robertson, the principal choral-music reviewer for the Gramophone, found some of the singing `exquisitely beautiful'; he commented that `In general the venture must be accounted a great success' and hoped that it would receive `the welcome it deserves'. He and other reviewers, however, were not uncritical of some aspects of the anthology: there were concerns over the selection of music (notably the excessive duplication of repertory already recorded), the unreliability of some of the performing editions, the handling of acoustical difficulties (especially the balance between choir and organ), and, in some cases, the quality of the performances.
The five choirs selected for the 1966 recordings brought a diversity of performing styles and acoustical settings. The choice of the Ambrosian Singers - a professional choir with female sopranos on the top line - for the medieval music was unsurprising, since none of the music was in the regular repertory of any cathedral or collegiate choir. The inclusion of the two principal London choirs - Westminster Abbey and St Paul's Cathedral - provided a measure of continuity with the Columbia recordings, since the St Paul's choir, under Dr (later Sir) John Dykes Bower, was the only choir to be invited to participate in both anthologies. At the time of the 1966 recording, the Choir of Chichester Cathedral had been under the direction of John Birch for only eight years, but had already forged an enviable reputation as one of the country's leading cathedral choirs, particularly in music of the 20th century. Barry Rose had achieved an equally remarkable success during his short time at the newly consecrated Guildford Cathedral, whose first organist he had been appointed in 1961, at the age of only 25.
For the present reissue some contemporary recordings by these and other choirs have been added as bonus tracks, in part so that the overall selection of music should more accurately reflect the broad repertory of cathedral, collegiate and parish church choirs of the 1960s.
Compact Disc 1 opens with the personal and perceptive speech given at the series' launch by Herbert Howells, a composer as eloquent and articulate with the written and spoken word as he was with the printed note. The disc continues by surveying the rich tapestry of English church music from c1100 to c1540, with its broad and complex range of liturgical forms and musical styles. Much of this early motet and Mass repertory is anonymous, a fact that reflects the purely local purpose for which music of this period was composed.
Sancte Dei pretiose, from the early 12th century, is probably the earliest surviving example of English liturgical polyphony. In notational terms it is extremely primitive: there are no rhythm-signs and pitch is indicated by letter-notation. Perspice Christicola, which dates from about 160 years later, is rather better known in its secular manifestation as the round Sumer is icumen in (the so-called `Reading Rota'). Salve sancta parens is a Mass Introit for Marian feasts, and, like the Sanctus & Benedictus pair which follows, dates from the turn of the 14th century. Alleluia psallat is the first part of a longer setting of the text of the Alleluia Mass Proper from ferial Masses of the BVM, while Ave miles caelestis curiae, like Perspice Christicola, combines features of various medieval forms. In the setting of Conditor alme siderum, the plainsong hymn migrates between the voices. Only the even-numbered verses are treated polyphonically; the odd-numbered would have been performed either as plainsong (as here) or on the organ.
Queldryk's Gloria, Excetre's Sanctus & Benedictus and Damett's Beata Dei genetrix Maria are all preserved in the Old Hall Manuscript (British Library, MS Add. 57950). This early 15th-century choirbook is the largest and most important collection of English medieval polyphony, and one of the earliest sources to identify composers by name. Queldryk may have been associated with Fountains Abbey, the Cistercian abbey in Yorkshire, while Excetre (who may indeed have come from Exeter) was a member of the Chapel Royal at the close of the 14th century. Damett, too, held a Chapel Royal appointment and (later) prebendaryships at St Paul's and at St George's Chapel, Windsor.
Dunstable and Frye illustrate the contenance angloise (or `English manner'). Two of the earliest English composers to achieve fame abroad, they quite possibly enjoyed even greater repute on the Continent than in their native land. Dunstable's setting of the Whitsunday sequence Veni Sancte Spiritus is based on a complex repeated rhythmic scheme known as isorhythm. Cornysh's Salve virgo mater pia is preserved in the Eton Choirbook (Eton College Library, MS 178), a large, richly illuminated manuscript, copied about 1500, that is the unique source for the music of several composers.
John Merbecke's Booke of Common Praier Noted (1550) contains some of the earliest music for the reformed rite. It was undoubtedly intended for parish churches (it is wholly monodic), but its popularity proved to be short-lived, since the promulgation in 1552 of a revised prayer book rendered much of its contents redundant. Within a decade of the introduction of the first prayer book, in 1549, composers had begun to exploit spatial effects through the allocation of passages of music to alternate sides of the choir, a practice which a contemporary critic described as `like tenisse plaie'. This `antiphony' is first seen in Tallis's setting of the festal psalm Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?, where it provides some relief from the functional repetitiousness of much early Elizabethan psalmody. The opening Latin words of Morley's Nolo mortem peccatoris are deceptive, for this is not a Latin motet but a macaronic composition, and thus to be placed firmly in the category of music for the chamber rather than the church. Byrd's Ave verum corpus, on the other hand, is a bona fide motet for Corpus Christi: its unparalleled perfection is all the more striking for the economy of means. The Nunc dimittis from the fine (but little-known) First Service by the earlier of two composers named Robert Parsons is one of the most elaborate service settings of the early Elizabethan period. The opening words of Weelkes's Gloria in excelsis Deo again mislead: this, too, is a macaronic work for performance in the home. The Italianate motet Factum est silentium by the Catholic recusant Richard Dering may have enjoyed popularity on the Continent, where the composer spent some time early in his career. William Child's long creative life spanned the Civil War years (roughly, 1642-51), although relatively few of his compositions are to be found in pre-Restoration sources. O God, wherefore art thou absent from us? is an exception: dating probably from the late 1630s, it nonetheless boasts a harmonic language that foreshadows that of Restoration composers.
Compact Disc 2 spans the fertile period of almost a century between the introduction of the 1549 prayer book and the suspension of church services in the 1640s. Peter Philips's Ascensiontide motet Ascendit Deus was probably intended for use in the Chapel Royal at Antwerp, where the composer was appointed organist in 1611. Morley's Out of the deep, one of the earliest verse anthems to have survived, is scored in the surviving sources for a single solo voice alternating with five-part chorus. It is performed here in two versions. The first (2) is transposed upwards for a countertenor soloist, whereas the second (11) is at the written source pitch with a tenor soloist (in the 1960s, not a common manner of performance). It is likely that the choruses were originally composed in four (rather than five) parts, and that the accompaniment was intended to be played by viols. Mundy's Ah, helpless wretch, too, is a prototype verse anthem, its metrical text set for a solo countertenor and five-part chorus.
The settings of the Nunc dimittis by Tomkins and Gibbons illustrate the two categories of service composition favoured by composers of the day. The Tomkins is from his Fourth Service, an extended verse setting that deploys no fewer than eight solo voices (four from each side of the choir) and five-part choir. Gibbons's setting, from his `Short' (First) Service, is a masterpiece of economy: it shuns solo voices, verbal repetition, melisma and antiphony in favour of simplicity of expression, although the composer does indulge in the luxury of canon at the doxology. Farrant's Hide not thou thy face and Byrd's Sing joyfully are contrasting full anthems. Farrant's penitential four-part anthem was regularly sung at this period at the Maundy services; Byrd's exhilarating six-part Sing joyfully was one of the most popular works of the day, and is found in almost every major source. Robert White's Christe qui lux es et dies is one of four settings he made of this Compline hymn; the plainsong alternates with sections of five-part polyphony (SSATB) in which the cantus firmus is presented unadorned in the tenor voice. It presumably dates from the Marian period (1553-58), during which the Roman Catholic liturgy was briefly restored.
Gibbons excelled in both full- and verse-anthem genres. His eight-part full anthem O clap your hands was performed at Oxford on 17 May 1622, when he and his friend William Heyther received the degree of doctor of music; it was probably especially composed for the occasion. The verse anthem This is the record of John is found in both domestic and liturgical manuscripts, and it is unclear whether the solos were intended to be sung by a countertenor with organ or (as here) by a tenor with a consort of viols. Two of the four Weelkes anthems recorded here - Lord, to thee I make my moan and Alleluia: I heard a voice - were not intended for liturgical use: distinctly madrigalian in style, they are found only in manuscripts intended for domestic use (although Alleluia: I heard a voice, which re-uses material from the composer's Evening Service `for Trebles', was subsequently re-arranged as a verse anthem). Byrd's Eastertide motet Victimae paschali was intended for performance at clandestine celebrations of the Tridentine Mass, which continued to be held long after the Elizabethan Act of Uniformity (1559) had come into force.
The Restoration of the monarchy in 1660 after 15 years of Puritan rule marked the dawn of a new age in church music. Most links with the past had been irreparably broken: organs and music manuscripts had been destroyed, and, apart from William Child, few important pre-war musicians had survived the Commonwealth to resuscitate their careers. Fortunately the structure of the Anglican liturgy remained largely unchanged, and a new generation of composers emerged to channel their energies into the traditional forms, i.e. Services (for Morning and Evening prayer), anthems for full choir with organ accompaniment, and verse (or `symphony') anthems for soloists, choir and strings, perhaps with other instruments. The principal features of the Restoration style were angular melodies and chromatic inflections, often in conjunction with an adventurous approach to the treatment of dissonance. Compact Disc 3 explores the music of this period and of the first half of the 18th century.
Henry Purcell was remarkably prolific in the fields of both sacred and secular music. His poignant yet unpretentious anthem Thou knowest, Lord was written for the funeral of Queen Mary in 1695. Together with the penitential anthem Remember not, Lord, our offences, it stands in marked contrast to I will give thanks unto the Lord, a festive symphony anthem with accompaniment for strings band after the celebrated `vingt-quatre violons du Roi' at the French court of Louis XIV. Purcell's O Lord God of hosts, which opens and closes with sections for eight-part choir, makes imaginative use of imitation (both direct and in inversion), and achieves extra effect through the exploitation of a wide range of choral textures. Hear my prayer, O Lord is also for double choir, though here the composer deploys his full forces throughout, weaving a web of polyphony that derives entirely from two succinct motives: a six-note figure based on an ascending and descending minor 3rd, answered by a longer and more lyrical contrapuntal figure depicting the penitent's plea for mercy.
Pelham Humfrey and John Blow, successively Master of the Children at the Chapel Royal, were the other two principal composers of church music at the Restoration. Humfrey's early death at the age of 27 deprived the court of one of its most promising musicians, while Blow's importance was such that at the coronation of James II in 1685 he provided three of the anthems, more than any other composer. His impressive motet Salvator mundi makes highly effective use of dissonance and harmonic contrast. John Travers was a pupil of Maurice Greene, though only slightly his junior in years. On the basis of Ascribe unto the Lord, however, he must be seen as a transitional composer, one who bridged the stylistic divide between the Restoration and the group of 18th-century composers - particularly Greene, Boyce and Nares - whose style, like that of most 18th-century English composers, was heavily influenced by Handel.
Compact Disc 4 encompasses the music of almost two centuries. The fame of both Battishill and Crotch rests today upon a mere handful of compositions. Battishill's O Lord, look down from heaven, sung here in the resonant acoustic for which it was conceived, demonstrates a sure mastery of the Handelian style, while Crotch's Lo, star-led chiefs, which recounts the story of the Three Magi, is the only movement to survive in present-day use from his oratorio Palestine (1812). Together with Ouseley and Stainer, John Goss (who came from a family of church musicians) was one of the older members of a group of English composers whose sacred music was competent and tasteful; avoiding cliché and sentimentality, they showed an individuality that was generally lacking in the work of many of their contemporaries. Even so, they were overshadowed by the towering figure of S. S. Wesley, whose finest anthems demonstrate a quality and sense of refinement that is reminiscent of Mendelssohn. This small group paved the way for two Irish-born composers who, ironically, were to provoke a renaissance in English church music: Charles Wood and Charles Stanford (Hubert Parry, who in other respects played an important part in that renaissance, showed little interest in music for the church). Vaughan Williams's anthem O taste and see is a work of profound simplicity, a quality which contributed significantly to the impression it made at the 1953 coronation, for which it was composed.
Compact Disc 5 includes music by four of the leading figures of late 20th-century English music: Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Britten and Walton. In setting Psalm 29 and the ceremonial Te Deum (the latter composed for the enthronement of Dr Cosmo Lang as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1928), Elgar and Vaughan Williams respectively evoke the mood of the Edwardian age. The teenage Britten's Hymn to the Virgin, too, hints at the past. Neither Britten nor Walton were particularly enamoured of writing for the church: Britten much preferred the more robust Continental style of voice production, which was virtually unknown in this country outside Westminster Cathedral; while Walton, though he had similarly penned, at just 15, the highly effective and well-crafted Litany, rarely succumbed in later life to the temptation to compose sacred music. Perhaps the most striking composition in this group is the macaronic Ave Maria - Hail, blessed flower by Peter Maxwell Davies, an anthem whose quasi-mediaeval textural and harmonic starkness partly explains the composer's reputation as an enfant terrible within church-music circles.
The Evening Service by Cyril Rootham, most of whose professional life was spent in Cambridge, is typical of many such workmanlike settings by cathedral and collegiate chapel organists of the period. By contrast, Herbert Howells's Collegium Regale was one of the earliest of his many canticle settings that designedly exploit the intrinsic characteristics of specific choirs and buildings. Those settings, no less than his four carol-anthems (Long, long ago is not included here), fully justify his reputation as one of the most individual voices in English church music. For the texts of I saw a fair maiden and There is no rose, Peter Warlock and John Joubert looked to the mediaeval carol. We end with three representative compositions by two Temple Church organists: Sir Henry Walford Davies (who, like his namesake today, was Master of the Queen's Musick), and his successor Sir George Thalben-Ball. The tonal richness of the Temple Church trebles is a very late vestige of a vocal timbre that is now redolent of a bygone age.