19th May 2007 ~ St. Barnabus Church
Saturday, 19th May 2007, 8pm
Mozart Ave Verum Corpus
Helen Ashby (soprano)
With Summertown Players
Our programme this evening covers three centuries of church music from the late 17th to the late 20th centuries, drawing on earlier traditions of polyphonic choral writing and the sacred music of the Orthodox church. In the first part, works by Stravinsky and Tavener evoke the Orthodox tradition, in the appropriate setting of a mid-Victorian church echoing the apse and decorative murals of a Byzantine basilica. In the second part of the programme the main work by the Victorian English composer Pearsall looks back to renaissance polyphony. Short works by Mozart, Pearsall and the Italian 17th/18th century composer Pitoni open and close the programme.
Mozart: Ave verum corpus, Laudate Dominum
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) is not considered primarily as a composer of sacred music, but these two pieces, both sacred, are among his best known minor works, and both reveal a reverence which is perhaps unexpected in Mozart.
Stravinsky: Mass, Pater Noster
Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky was born near St Petersburg in 1882 and died in New York in 1971. Though he took a law degree at St Petersburg in 1907, his enthusiasm was for music and in 1902 he had begun studying musical composition under Rimsky-Korsakov. In 1910, following a visit to Paris for the first performance of his ballet The Firebird, he moved to Switzerland. The First World War and the Russian Revolution precluded his return to Russia, and in 1920 he moved to France taking citizenship in 1934. At the start of the Second World War he was in the United States, and there he remained taking citizenship in 1945 and making it his home for the rest of his life.
Stravinsky's work covers the whole range of musical form: opera and ballet, orchestral and instrumental works, songs and chamber music, and choral and religious works. His musical style, as characterised by the scholars, developed from his Russian period, up to the early 1920s when he moved to France, to the Neo-Classical period, and finally in the early 1950s to his Serial period, which built on Schoenberg's twelve-note chromatic system. Pervading characteristics of his writing are dissonance and irregular rhythm, and these feature strongly in his Mass.
Stravinsky was a deeply religious man, brought up in the Russian Orthodox Church, but strongly influenced by the Roman Catholic faith of his father. His Mass, written during the years 1944 to 1948 and first performed in Milan in 1948 and then in New York in 1949, was (in his own words) "partly provoked by some Masses of Mozart ….. As I played through these rococo-operatic sweets-of-sin, I knew I had to write a Mass of my own, but a real one", and "I wanted my Mass to be used liturgically, an outright impossibility as far as the Russian Church was concerned, as Orthodox tradition proscribes musical instruments in its services".
The Mass is scored for chorus and double wind quintet, with short passages for soloists in the Gloria and the Sanctus. Stravinsky notes that "children's voices should be employed" for the treble/soprano and alto parts, but in concert performances these are generally given to adult singers. Each movement stands on its own allowing it to fit easily into the structure of the church service, and the text runs through without elaboration. There is little thematic material in the music. The colourful solo passages in the Gloria and the Sanctus contrast withthe choral sections of the Gloria and the firm statements of the Credo, which echo the recitation of Orthodox liturgical chant in a succession of marching chords (Stravinsky's words again: "one composes a march to facilitate marching men, so with my Credo I hope to provide an aid to the text. …. There is much to believe.").
Between the Gloria and the Credo the soloists will sing Stravinsky's setting of the Pater Noster (the Lord's Prayer), written in 1926, which again reflects the chanting of Orthodox liturgy.