CROSSING THE POND:
Sacred music from Britain and America
Ever since the Atlantic became navigable, musicians have crossed “the Pond” to swap music, ideas and techniques. Quire’s concert on 23 October explores just one element of this exchange – the composition of sacred choral music. It spans six centuries, from the luminous music of the 16th century’s John Sheppard to a piece written, in the year 2000, about Light.
The first half concentrates on early English composers including Tallis, Byrd, Tomkins, Gibbons and Purcell, and takes a brief look at William Billings, generally acknowledged to be the father of American choral music.
The second half contrasts the mystical and sensuous music of the Americans Morten Lauridsen and Eric Whitacre with some 20th century British music including pieces by James MacMillan and Sir Michael Tippett.
The concert’s centrepiece is the moving motet which Herbert Howells wrote in 1964 and dedicated to President John F. Kennedy. Howells is one of the quintessential voices of Anglican church music, partly because of the many settings which he wrote for the UK’s choral foundations including King's College and St John's College, Cambridge, New College, Oxford, Westminster Abbey, and Worcester, St Paul's, and Gloucester cathedrals. Take Him, Earth, for Cherishing was written shortly after the President’s assassination and is considered by many to be Howells’ finest unaccompanied piece. The underlying elegiac sense of transience and loss noted by many commentators in Howells’ music generally is taken in this piece to a new level. The motet sets a poem by the first-century Roman Christian poet, Prudentius, translated by Helen Waddell.
Quire (the name comes from the ancient English spelling of the word “choir”) came together 18 years ago with a common interest in early English choral music, although their current musical repertoire is considerably broader. Now busy doctors, lawyers, teachers, mothers, consultants and researchers in “real” life, Quire still sings for fun, but to very high standards. They typically number some 14 to 18 singers with experience of a wide range of other first-class groups including the Tallis Scholars, the Corydon Singers, the Holst Singers, and the New London Chamber Choir. Quire has performed in many UK venues including Westminster Abbey and the royal church in Edinburgh. It is also increasingly in demand for festivals throughout Europe, and has already sung in Berlin, Frankfurt, St Petersburg, Rome and Leuven in Belgium. October will be Quire’s first visit to Prague.
Marie Power is a former organ scholar of St Hugh’s College Oxford (where she also read music) and member of many London choirs. She is now a Magistrate in London, a school governor, a beekeeper, and runs an allotment association in Oxford.