The Choirs of Blackburn Cathedral sing the music of Josef Rheinberger
Director: Richard Tanner
Organ: Greg Morris
Messe in A, op.126
Ladies of the Renaissance Singers
Messe in F, op. 190
Missa Puerorum, op. 62
Blackburn Cathedral Girls Choir
Missa Brevis in F, op. 117
Total playing time 69m 40s
Josef Rheinberger was born on 17 March 1839 in Vaduz. He was something of a child prodigy, starting organ lessons with a local organist, Sebastian Pöhli, at the age of 5, and making such startling progress that he took on an organist’s post in Vaduz at the age of 7. However, he quickly outgrew what the small Principality of Liechtenstein had to offer musically. Although his father, who was the treasurer to the Prince of Liechtenstein, was somewhat reluctant, in 1851 Rheinberger went to study in Munich, a city which was to be his home town until his death in 1901. He progressed quickly through the conservatoire, winning a great number of admirers for his talents, and by the age of 20 was on the staff of the conservatoire.
1867 was an important year for Rheinberger: he became a professor at the Munich Conservatoire, and married his wife Franziska. From then on his career was one of sustained success, and Rheinberger was particularly renowned throughout Europe for his teaching skills. No less a figure than Hans Bülow wrote: ‘Rheinberger is a truly ideal teacher of composition, unrivalled in the whole of Germany and beyond in skill, refinement and devotion to his subject.’
His skill in teaching arose from his own mastery of the techniques of harmony and counterpoint, and his own compositions reflect this. Although Rheinberger was writing at a time when composers such as Liszt and Wagner were striking out in new directions, the strength of his compositions lies not so much in the originality of their concept - indeed Rheinberger consciously derived much of his style from masters as diverse as Palestrina, Bach and Mozart - but rather the superb use of counterpoint, and the planned coherence and carefully judged structure of all his works.
The organ sonatas are generally considered Rheinberger’s outstanding works, but his church music shows another facet of his compositional character. During the nineteenth century there was a movement within catholic church music called the Cecilian movement, aiming to restore a Palestrina-like ‘purity’ to liturgical music. Although he was influenced by this movement, Rheinberger did not follow the movement’s requirements to the letter, and as a result his mass settings were not added to the list of works which the Cecilian Society regarded as being suitable music for the liturgy. In total, Rheinberger wrote eighteen completed mass settings. The four recorded on this disc demonstrate the elements of his compositional style discussed above, but also the variety he achieved within this style, the clearest example being the use of four different vocal groupings, three with organ and one unaccompanied.
The Mass in A major Op. 126 was written in 1881. Although originally conceived for three-part chorus and organ, its first performance was with string quartet and flute. This was on Christmas Eve 1881, and although this version later appeared under the title Missa in Nativitate Domini, the work itself has no particular pastoral or Christmas characteristics - the name derives solely from the date of the first performance.
The organ provides essential harmonic support, and at times adds a fourth voice to the polyphony. However, most of the character of the mass - appraisals in Rheinberger’s day stressed its ‘optimistic’ mood - comes from the close interaction of the three upper voices, often all singing together, but with a fair degree of imitation to propel the music forward. A fine example of this, and of Rheinberger’s ability to use a very simple idea to telling effect, is the first phrase of the Sanctus. Here the same phrase is heard six times in succession, but the close imitation, the resulting dissonance and the constantly rising tessitura build the phrase up towards its conclusion. Another example is the Agnus Dei, where the words ‘miserere nobis’ (‘have mercy on us’) are set to music which is both contrapuntal and chromatic, in contrast to the setting of ‘dona nobis pacem’ (‘grant us peace’) which is generally much more homophonic and diatonic.
In the last ten years of his life, Rheinberger wrote two mass settings scored for 4-part men’s chorus and organ. Rheinberger arranged the first of these, the Mass in B-flat written in 1892, for chorus and wind orchestra, but it was the second, the Mass in F, which was to achieve greater popularity, and which is recorded here. It was written between 23 February and 5 March 1898, just three years before Rheinberger’s death, and is an excellent example of the composer’s mature style: predominantly homophonic, it also makes use of freely imitative counterpoint; the use of chromatic harmony is masterful and confident, and the piece is lyrical throughout; the organ generally plays a supporting role, but at times also contributes to the counterpoint. Above all it is a very lyrical and melodious setting, and the chorus of lower voices complements this by giving the work a very rich and lush texture.
The Kleiner und leichter Meßgesang op. 62 is one of a group of masses Rheinberger described as leicht ausfürhbane (easy to perform), and the story of its composition amply illustrates the ease with which Rheinberger wrote music ideally suited to complement the liturgy. His wife, Franziska, started to sketch the Kyrie one Saturday in 1871. In her memoirs she recalled that Josef took over: ‘he picked up the pen at a quarter to eight – at eight I was already singing it with the little organ’. In composing the Benedictus, Rheinberger set himself the following restrictions:
It must be composed within the space of half an hour
There must be no errors in the manuscript
It must stay within the range of an octave, and have an easy organ part
Rheinberger wrote the mass for the ‘Society for Eternal Worship and support of poor churches in Munich’, and it was published by Christian Werner the year after its composition. The title Missa puerorum comes from a revised edition brought out by Marcello Capra of Turin in 1903.
The setting betrays no signs of the rapid pace of its composition. Rather the work has an assured feeling born of its melodic fluency and excellent sense of structure. The work is centred on F minor, with both the tonic (F) and relative (Ab) major keys helping to define both the structure of the mass as a whole and the expressive qualities of each movement. Thus the Kyrie uses the expressive tonic minor, while the Gloria is in the brighter key of Ab major, but with more chromatic music for the central, more meditative part of the text. The start of the Credo returns to F minor, which is contrasted with the more restful F major at the parts of the text referring to Christ’s incarnation and to ‘the life of the world to come’. In between these two passages Rheinberger uses F minor for the drama of both crucifixion and resurrection. The final movement has clear melodic and rhythmic echoes of the Kyrie, moving restlessly around the key centres which have been important for the rest of the work before finally coming to rest at the words ‘dona nobis pacem’ (grant us peace) in F major.
The Missa Brevis in F op. 117 is another work written by Rheinberger in a very short space of time - in this instance a mere 5 hours on 24th and 25th April 1880. It was published in Leipzig later that year. However, the sheer quality of the counterpoint and the basic upbeat and optimistic mood of the work once again betray no signs of haste in its composition.
The work is subtitled ‘Missa in honorem Sactissimae Trinitatis’ (Mass in honour of the most Holy Trinity), and it is perhaps symbolic that each movement opens with a rising triad. (The one exception is the Benedictus where the triad is a descending one). This motif is set out with great clarity in the Kyrie at the very opening of the work, and comes originally from Gregorian chant, specifically the Missa in Dominicis Adventus.
In many ways, the work shows Rheinberger’s classical leanings, with its substantial use of imitative counterpoint. The unison openings of Gloria and Credo also reflect the tradition of classical masses in which these phrases are chanted. However, the charm of the work stems from the skillful mix of these ‘classical’ traits with more ‘romantic’ features - homophonic writing, chromatic harmony and dramatic use of dynamics. An excellent example is the Sanctus. The close writing for tenor and bass, quickly followed by treble and alto, creates the ‘mystical’ atmosphere which the words can suggest. The wonderful imitation at ‘pleni sunt coeli’, rising through the voices, leads to a climax at ‘gloria tua’. The music is immediately taken back to a quiet dynamic before building to another climax at ‘in excelsis’. But the movement ends quietly, with the unexpected harmonies in the last phrase supplying a final and expressive twist.
Blackburn Cathedral Music
There is a long tradition of music in worship at Blackburn. In 1514 Thomas Stanley, second Earl of Derby, founded a school, and its twelve boys formed part of the choir to sing Masses and Sunday services in the Parish Church. It is clear that the music was held in great esteem then, and a long succession of distinguished musicians have maintained and enhanced the high standard of choral singing. Famous organists of Blackburn include Henry Smart, Henry Coleman and Charles Hylton Stewart. Samuel Sebastian Wesley was almost appointed organist aged 17, however the Vicar of Blackburn rejected him on the grounds that he was too young and inexperienced to rid the gentlemen of the choir of their bad habits!
Since the Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin became Blackburn Cathedral in 1926, Lancashire's only Anglican Cathedral, the choir has grown in stature. The discipline and vast experience of Thomas Duerden (1939-64) laid the foundations of a Cathedral choral establishment. John Bertalot (1964-1983) brought to it his unique blend of excitement and inspiration. David Cooper (1983-1994) created a choral sound, which was characterised by its blend and attention to detail. From 1994 until Easter 1998 Gordon Stewart was Director of Music. Gordon was himself a pupil of John Bertalot and is well-known as both choir trainer and concert organist. At the start of June 1998, Richard Tanner became Cathedral Organist and Director of Music.
The Cathedral Choir is, and always has been, entirely voluntary. It sings a large repertoire to a very high standard. The choir sings at the Cathedral Eucharist and Choral Evensong on Sundays as well as on major feast days and for specified Diocesan Services. The trebles sing Evensong on Wednesdays.
In addition, under the direction of Richard Tanner, the Cathedral Choir has made broadcasts on both Radio and television. They have taken part in many special services and events and have sung with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, The Northern Chamber Orchestra and Manchester Camerata. LAMMAS records have released a number of recordings and the choir has undertaken highly successful tours to Germany and USA.
The Young People's Choir was formed in the 1960s to provide an opportunity for boys to continue singing at the Cathedral after their voices had changed. In the 1970s a soprano line was added to the choir. There are about 20 singers, between the ages of 14 and 21 in the YPC. They sing the Parish Eucharist on Sundays each week and take part in a variety of special services and concerts, both at the Cathedral and around the Diocese, and are directed by the Assistant Director of Music. In 2002 the YPC undertook their first foreign tour, to Rome, as well as a live broadcast of Choral Matins on BBC Radio 4.
The Cathedral Girls' Choir was founded in 1997, and since September 1998 has greatly expanded in number and its musical output and repertoire has grown considerably. They have appeared on BBC TV's Songs of Praise. In April 2001 they went on their first foreign tour, to Germany and on May 7th 2001 they gave their first Radio broadcast on BBC Radio 4's Daily Service.
The Renaissance Singers, an adult chamber choir of about 40 voices, gives concerts and occasionally sings services in the Cathedral, around the Diocese and further afield. It was formed in the 1960's by John Bertalot and each successive Cathedral Organist has directed the choir.
The Children’s Choir was formed in May 2003 as a training choir for boy and girl choristers. The Cathedral now offers opportunities for boys and girls to sing from the age of five, right through to late adulthood.
Richard Tanner has been Organist and Director of Music at Blackburn Cathedral since June 1998 and Conductor of the Blackburn-based chamber choir, The Renaissance Singers, since September 1998. During his time in Blackburn, the choirs of the Cathedral have released four CDs, toured to Germany, Italy, and USA and given broadcasts on BBC Radio 3 & 4, as well as on BBC television. They have also sung with the choirs of St Paul’s, Lichfield, Liverpool and Chester Cathedrals as well as with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Manchester Camerata and the Northern Chamber Orchestra. Richard has developed a music policy at the Cathedral, which enables singing opportunities for everybody from the age of five; he has formed an important partnership with Westholme Boys’ School and The Cathedral Organ has also been restored and enlarged.
Richard Tanner began his musical career as a chorister at St Paul’s Cathedral. He went on to study the organ with Robert Gower at Radley College and with David Sanger at the Royal Academy of Music and Oxford University. As organ scholar of Exeter College Oxford, he not only read for a degree in music, but also was responsible for organizing and directing the choir of men and boys. After Oxford he spent a year as organ scholar of St Alban's Cathedral where he worked with Dr Barry Rose. In September 1993 he moved to All Saints' Northampton as Director of Music where, for five years, he developed an exciting, full-time, music programme. He was also conductor of the Northampton Bach choir during his final few months in the town.
Richard holds the Fellowship Diploma of the Royal College of Organists and enjoys giving organ recitals, mostly in the UK, but has also performed in Italy (1995), India (1997) and USA (1998). He frequently gives recitals with his wife, the soprano Philippa Hyde.
Since 1996, Richard has also enjoyed working in the recording industry as Choir Director, Organist and Music Producer, most extensively with LAMMAS records. In his capacity as record producer he has worked on more than twenty CDs and has been privileged to work with many of the UK's leading organists, Cathedral Choirs and choral directors. He regularly conducts the Northern Chamber Orchestra and Manchester Chamber Choir. He has worked on BBC 1's Songs of Praise as conductor, arranger, organist and music adviser and is also a regular organist and musical director for BBC Radio 4's Daily Service. On June 29th 2003 he guest presented a programme for BBC Radio Lancashire.
Richard is a member of the Cathedrals' Liturgy and Music Group, Council member of the Guild of Church Musicians and Trustee of The Percy Whitlock Trust.
Born in Manchester in 1976, Greg Morris began to study the organ with Andrew Dean at the Manchester Grammar School. He subsequently held organ scholarships at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, Jesus College, Cambridge and St Martin-in-the-Fields. While at Cambridge, he held a music exhibition as well as directing and accompanying the two chapel choirs. In September 2000 Greg took up the post of Assistant Director of Music at Blackburn Cathedral. He conducts the Young People’s Choir, which under his direction has visited Rome on its first foreign tour and broadcast Choral Matins on BBC Radio 4’s Sunday Worship. Greg also accompanies the Cathedral Choir and Cathedral Girls’ Choir, and with them has visited Germany and USA, and broadcast on BBC Radios 3 & 4, as well as BBC TV’s Songs of Praise.
Greg has studied the organ with Paul Stubbings, Dr John Kitchen and Thomas Trotter. He gained his FRCO diploma in 2000, winning the Limpus, Frederick Shinn and Durrant Prizes for organ playing and the Samuel Baker Prize for overall performance. As a soloist, Greg has performed at a number of prestigious venues in this country and abroad, including St Paul’s Cathedral, London, Huddersfield Town Hall and Braunschweig Cathedral in Germany.
Produced by Lyndon Hills
Recorded and edited by Lance Andrews
Cover photograph by Brian Newton