Saints & Souls
The Choirs of All Saints' Church, Northampton
Director: Simon Johnson
Organists: Neil Taylor, Roger Palmer and Ron Gates
Saints & Souls
The feast of All Saints is kept on 1st November to celebrate all the Christian saints, known and unknown. It is thought that it originated in 609, when Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Pantheon in Rome to the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was at first celebrated on May 13th of that year; Pope Gregory III (Pope from 731-41) changed the date to November 1st when he dedicated a chapel in honour of All Saints in the Vatican Basilica. Gregory IV later extended the feast to the whole Church and ever since Egbert of York brought the feast to England it has ranked as a principal feast. 1,255 ancient English churches bear this dedication, a number surpassed only by those dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
All Souls' Day marks the commemoration of the souls of the faithful departed and takes place on the day following All Saints' Day (except when 2nd November is a Sunday in which case All Souls' Day is moved to 3rd November). It is a feast begun by Abbott Odo of Cluny in his monasteries in 998 and gradually adopted by the whole Church.
Both commemorations have inspired composers and writers around the world to write texts and choral music of the highest quality. The sequence of music represented here barely touches upon the huge available repertoire. Its selection was guided by the plainsong office hymn for All Saints 'Father, in whom thy saints are one', written by George Timms (b. 1910). He has made use of several Latin hymns to create an extended hymn of praise and prayer. Whilst the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist are the only individuals to be singled out, the hymn also focuses on themes of sacrifice, praise, eternal rest, steadfastness, patriarchs and prophets, the twelve Apostles, and also of the love that underlies spirituality. These themes are all brought together in the ancient hymn of the church, the Te Deum Laudamus ('We praise Thee, O God'), two settings of which frame this programme, and which also served as the inspiration for the stained glass window by Christopher Webb that adorns the cover. The origins of this text are unclear, although it appears to have been used in a recognisable form by the fourth, or certainly the fifth century. In Britain, the Te Deum is familiar from its central role at Mattins as part of the Book of Common Prayer (1662).
The Te Deum in B flat of Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924) was used at the Coronation Service of 1902. It is a grand setting, making use of Gregorian intonations amongst the moments of fanfare-like choral writing ('Thou art the King of Glory, O Christ') and more reflective sections ('We therefore pray Thee, help Thy servants'). The sparse opening of the Te Deum in C by Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) introduces a setting that is much less ceremonial. Written in 1935 for St Mark's Church, North Audley Street, London, when the composer was twenty-one years old, a feature is the great urgency in mood created by a syncopated motif heard on the organ pedals. This pedal figure provides a link with the middle section that gives prominence to a treble solo memorable for its descending arpeggios. Following the recapitulation of the opening, it is this music that provides the codetta.
John Ireland (1879-1962) composed his Remembrance-tide anthem, Greater Love, in 1912, at which point he was eight years into his twenty-two year incumbency as Director of Music at St Luke's Church, Chelsea. Ireland is better known today for his piano and chamber music rather than for his small output of music for the church. Greater Love is, however, perhaps his best known work for the church (in 1986 it was sung at more cathedrals and collegiate churches in the British Isles than any other anthem) and the combination of treble and baritone solos followed by climactic moments for full choir gives it a rather Victorian feel.
The second of the two settings of Give us the wings of faith, part of a hymn for All Saints' Day by Isaac Watts, is by Sir Ernest Bullock (1890-1979) who was appointed Organist of Westminster Abbey in 1928 and in 1952 became Director of The Royal College of Music. It is a short work written in an arch form rising to a central climax and ending much as it began. Mark Blatchly (b.1960) began his musical education as a chorister at Guildford Cathedral and it was for his Master of the Choir of that time, Barry Rose, that he wrote his setting of Give us the wings of faith. Rose was organist at St Alban's Cathedral from 1988 until 1997 where the majority of weekday services were sung by the choristers alone and it was for these forces that Blatchly was asked to compose an All Saintstide anthem.
Geraint Lewis (b. 1958) was educated at St. John's College, Cambridge and was on the music staff of the University of Wales at Bangor during the time that William Mathias was Professor. It was for William Mathias' memorial service on 20th November 1992 that Geraint Lewis completed The Souls of the Righteous, when the Cathedral Choir conducted by John Scott first performed it in St. Paul's Cathedral. In this setting of a collect for All Saints' Day, Lewis allows for the famous acoustic of St Paul's; it is a composition of great stillness that leaves time for each line of the text to evaporate before starting the next.
Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) composed his setting of the Requiem in response to the death of his father in 1885 and his mother some two and a half years later. A "severe expression of grief", it was performed at Fauré's own funeral in 1924. The last movement, In Paradisum, sets a mood of serene tranquillity as the soul arrives in heaven and is greeted by the chorus of angels, the martyrs and Lazarus the beggar.
Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625) was a member of the Chapel Royal from 1603. During the reign of James I he was one of the organists of the Chapel Royal and responsible for the music at James' funeral. For the last two years of his life he was organist at Westminster Abbey. Apart from his extensive output of church music, he was a composer of madrigals, music for solo keyboard and for ensembles. This is the record of John was written at the request of William Laud (later Archbishop) while he was President of St. John's College, Oxford. It is one of the most frequently performed of Gibbons' twenty-five verse anthems; in these a portion of text is initially sung by a solo voice (in this case a countertenor) and is then repeated by full choir.
The Marian hymn Ave Maria has been set by many composers from medieval times to the present day. Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) set the text to music in 1861 during which time he was Organist at Linz Cathedral, Austria. The opening passage contrasts three-part writing for sopranos and altos with rich four-part writing for the tenors and basses. 'Jesus' is chanted three times and the Holy Mother's name is heard some three times as well, each time at a higher pitch and greater dynamic.
Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548-1611) began his musical education as a chorister at Avila Cathedral, Spain. Once his voice had broken he was sent to college in Rome and following work as a singer and an organist he became a Priest. His career in Rome brought him into contact with Palestrina and the innumerable singers and composers from all over Europe who were active in the chapels and churches there. Victoria's output is smaller than some of his contemporaries (Palestrina published five times as much music), and he did not publish any secular music; his work does, however, embody the best of the Spanish character in music. Although Victoria is perhaps best known for his poignant and intense setting of the Officium defunctorum and the motets O vos omnes and Versa est in luctum, the masses and the motets on which they are based do reveal his generally cheerful disposition. His motet O quam gloriosum ('O how glorious is the Kingdom') is one such example.
Sir Edward C. Bairstow (1874-1946) was Organist at York Minster for thirty-three years and Professor of Music at Durham University for seventeen years. Blessed City dates from 1913/1914 and is one of his twenty-nine anthems. Bairstow's treatment of the plainsong 'Urbs beata' (founded on Mode II melody) has proved to be very influential. Francis Jackson, Bairstow's successor at York, has suggested that Blessed City is founded upon a set of variations which are "contrasted and characterised to suit each situation as it comes along". Once the theme has been announced, the work continues with a treble section whose first note is not of the tune, but a far more arresting one a third higher. The men's verse also starts on a higher note. Another feature of this work is the detailed and colourful organ accompaniment.
The Choirs of All Saints' Church, Northampton
The Church of All Saints, Northampton, is built on the site of a great Norman Collegiate Church which was almost completely destroyed by the fire of Northampton in 1675. All that remained was the mediaeval tower. By 1680 the church had been rebuilt with the help of donations from all over the country, including 1,000 tons of timber from King Charles II. A statue of that king adorns the portico. All Saints' Church is built in the Renaissance style and its design is attributed to Henry Bell of King's Lynn. Although the body of the church was completed in 1680, the Portico was not finished until 1701, and the cupola was added to the Tower in 1704.
All Saints is the Civic Church of Northampton and has considerable connections with the Town and County. The courts are opened, the Mayor hallowed and many organisations seek to give thanks for their foundation within the Church. The life of the Town and County is celebrated here. A regular pattern of worship has always been at the heart of the life of the Church. Records state that in 1388 there were four daily services, two of these with music. Today the Eucharist is celebrated daily (twice on Sunday) and Choral Evensong can be heard on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday.
All Saints' Church is located at the heart of a busy town centre and consequently this recording was made at St Mary's Church, Woburn.
Music is an important part of the life of the church, not only through the regular and special services but also through concerts by a variety of artists. It also plays an important part in the mission and outreach of the parish, especially through the recruitment of children and adults to sing in the choirs.
A choir of boys and men has made music in the Church for as long as it has been built. As there is no choir school, boys are drawn from a wide range of local schools. Parental involvement and commitment is great and so is the reward to the child, musically and personally. An important aspect of this choir is the nurturing of broken voices and a choral scholarship scheme is now established to train choirmen for the future. In recent years the choir has broadcast on local radio and appeared on Anglia and GMTV. Recent tours have taken the choirs to the USA twice and France twice, as well as to many of the Cathedrals of Great Britain.
The Girls' Choir was formed in 1994 to give girls similar choral opportunities to those that boys have been receiving in the church for centuries. It has been an exciting development in the church's long history and one that has enriched both the music and life of the church. They have undertaken residential visits to Portsmouth and St David's Cathedrals and also to Bournemouth. In 1998 the choir toured Charleston, South Carolina, USA, and in summer 2000 they will tour France and Germany.
Simon was born in Peterborough in 1975, where he was a chorister and subsequently Head Chorister of the Cathedral from 1986-89. Raised in Northamptonshire, Simon attended Danetre School, Daventry and was also a member of the County Youth Orchestra. He has since held organ scholarships at Rochester, Norwich, and St Paul's Cathedrals, and is now the Director of Music at All Saints, Northampton.
At Norwich Simon enjoyed three periods as Acting Assistant Organist at the Cathedral, during which time he took part of the premieres of works by John Tavener, Philip Wilby and Diana Burrell. His work accompanying both the Girls' Choir, and the Cathedral Choir is reflected in two CD recordings, and he has played for both choirs on BBC Radio 2, 3, and 4. In addition to his responsibilities at the Cathedral, Simon also gained a first class degree from the University of East Anglia, and founded the University Chamber Choir - a twenty strong ensemble specialising in the performance of contemporary music.
Following a year working with John Scott at St. Paul's Cathedral, Simon moved to All Saints, Northampton. His work there involves running the choir of men and boys, and the girls' choir; he has been conductor of the Northampton Bach Choir since September
Neil is a former chorister of Bradford Cathedral, from where he gained a scholarship to the Royal College of Music. He was organ scholar at St Albans Cathedral, and in 1990 was appointed Assistant Organist at Norwich Cathedral. As well as premiering many new works at Norwich, he made numerous broadcasts and recordings which received high critical acclaim, and toured on the continent and in the USA.
As well as directing the Norwich Cathedral Consort, he formed the Cathedral Girls' choir in 1995 which completed its first CD recording and made a highly successful tour of Germany in 1997. He has directed choral courses as far afield as Aldeburgh and Mexico City, and is a regular member of staff on the Eton Choral Courses.
In September 1997 he took up the post of Organist and Master of the Music at Sheffield Cathedral, where he is responsible for the choirs of boys, girls and men and the Cathedral Chamber Choir. Since his appointment the Cathedral Choir has toured both at home and abroad (including Germany and Holland) and future tours are planned for East Anglia and the USA.
Roger's career in Corporate Banking brought him to Northampton in 1989. He has been an Assistant at All Saints since 1992.
He began playing the organ at the age of 17, and later became Assistant at Luton Parish Church in 1969, a post he held for some 20 years. On a number of occasions he had the honour of playing in the presence of the Queen and the Royal Family when attending the church whilst staying at Luton Hoo Country House for their Wedding Anniversary celebrations.
He holds the Fellowship Diploma of Trinity College of Music, London, and is widely travelled as an accompanist, having visited Denmark, France, Germany, Sweden and on two occasions the United States of America with All Saints' Choir.
Ron was born in Northampton and received his earliest musical training as a chorister at All Saints under Ralph Richardson-Jones. He furthered his studies with Robert Joyce and Dr Ben Burrows. He is a graduate of Dublin University (Trinity College) and holds the Fellowship Diploma of the Royal College of Organists. He was for 21 years sub-organist of St Matthew's Church, Northampton where he worked with a number of important church musicians, such as Michael Nicholas and Stephen Cleobury. Since 1992 he has been Organist and Choirmaster of Christ Church, Northampton and an Assistant Organist of All Saints.
Produced by Ben Nicholas
Recorded and edited by Lance Andrews