blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Old fashioned service

This afternoon I went to Choral Evensong at Christ Church Cathedral, with Matthew Larkin playing the organ and directing the choir (he also composed today's setting of the traditional, 16th century Versicles and Responses).

It was thrilling. A bell began to ring in the tower, summoning the congregation to come in and sit down, and as the blasts from the organ pipes began to make the pews vibrate, I thought: this is good, I feel at home with this. The ostensibly religious element of the service, however—the prayers and the Bible readings, especially when translated into "modern" (inferior) English—did not have that same effect on me.

Mr Larkin was playing Oliver Messiaen's Apparition de l'Église Éternelle. It was neither comfortable nor soothing, but harsh, jaggèd, disturbing, composed by a man in mental torment, it seemed, and the organist emphasised this in his powerful interpretation, jabbing at the keyboard. Likewise when the choir's turn came to perform, that music was discordant too, and he got them to sing the clashes fortissimo. The Introit was Sir Edward Bairstow's Let all mortal flesh keep silence. The Magnificat and Nunc Dimitis, during which the congregation remained standing, were in Herbert Howells' setting; the anthem too (Behold, O God our defender) was by Howells.

The boys, who had learned their parts very thoroughly (except perhaps for the very young novices who sometimes lost their places in the sheet music ...and I saw one of these very small boys give a big yawn) were revelling in it. The lead chorister was particularly confident and had a fine, flawless voice, effortlessly produced. He turned his head toward the nave whereas most of the others either faced forwards, ten boys on one side of the choir, ten on the other, or kept their eyes fixed on the director. They wore the full regalia, red, floor-length cassocks, white surplices. The men of the choir sounded like professional singers. I was impressed.

After the prayers, including the Prayer of St Chrysostom, we all sang Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven, which once upon a time was my School Hymn, the trebles singing a descant to the last verse, and they processed out to the postlude, Jean Langlais' loud and triumphant Acclamations: Christus vincit on the organ.

Chris met me outside when it was over and we went to the Green Papaya for a Thai curry.


faith said...

Thanks for the links (as usual). I know that Bairstow piece extremely well, but didn't know anything at all about the man.

Alison Hobbs said...

I mentioned this to Mum and she told me that our Dad met Bairstow once (took an exam administered by him and liked him).

See for someone else's recollections of this man.

This site ( gives more information about his music –– Bairstow "disapproved of the ‘slithering’ downward semitones beloved of Victorian composers and preferred the healthy strength of the diatonic discord"–– and says about the piece in question: "The imaginative treatment of the words — the low beginning suggesting the mortal plane followed immediately by the upper voices rising above all earthly thought, the stately entry of the angel choir, the terror cast by the cherubim with many eyes, the ecstatic Hallelujahs, and the hushed ending — all this is quite exceptional for the period in which it was written, and bears witness to the extent to which his feelings were stirred as he wrote the music."