Music to End Sunday, 27 June 2021
Good evening, friends.
Last week I shared with you Thomas Tallis’s wonderful setting of words from St John’s Gospel, appropriate to this season of the Holy Spirit. Tonight we hear a more recent setting of the same text by Philip Wilby. Yorkshire-born Wilby was for many years a lecturer of music at the University of Leeds. He is best known for his compositions for brass bands, but his strong faith has led him to write memorably for the church. In ‘If ye love me’, the simplicity of unison upper voices at the outset leads to a wonderful moment when the texture blossoms to five parts with overlapping suspensions at the words ‘even the Spirit of Truth’.
If ye love me, keep my commandments,
and I will pray the Father,
and he shall give you another comforter,
that he may abide with you for ever:
even the Spirit of Truth.
And ye know him, for he dwells with you
and shall be in you.
I will leave you not comfortless.
I will come to you.
John 14: 15–18
Several movements from Parts 2 and 3 of Handel’s Messiah reflect this wonderful season of Ascensiontide, Pentecost and Holy Trinity. We hear now the visionary aria ‘Thou art gone up on high’ for alto and strings followed by the chorus ‘The Lord gave the word’. Both aria and chorus set words from Psalm 68, and demonstrate Handel’s consummate skill in ‘word painting’. Note how the soloist (Kate Symonds Joy) soars aloft every time the words ’Thou art gone up on high’ appear. And in the chorus, after the proclamation ‘The Lord gave the word’ in unison by tenors and basses, the entire chorus responds in vigorous counterpoint to represent ‘great was the company of the preachers’.
Thou hast led captivity captive
and received gifts for men,
yea even for thine enemies,
that the Lord might dwell among them.
The Lord gave the word:
Great was the company of the preachers.
Psalm 68: 12, 18
We end our musical sequence with the Andante in E flat, Rachmaninoff’s Prelude Op. 23 No. 6, played by our great friend of Cornerstone, John Fisher. In 1900, Rachamninoff experienced a crisis of confidence following unsuccessful performances of his First Symphony and First Piano Concerto. For several months he stopped composing completely. During this time he placed himself in the care of friend and neurologist Nicolai Dahl (Dahl was an amateur viola player), who instituted a daily programme of hypnotherapy and supportive treatments to cure him of his creative block. The Op. 23 preludes, completed in 1903, represent one of the outstanding achievements of the rejuvenated Russian composer.
Now in peace, I shall lie down and sleep;
for it is you alone, Lord, who makes me to dwell in safety.
Psalm 4: 8