In ‘Towards the Light’ we explore music for Passiontide, setting works of the late Renaissance alongside music by 20th century and contemporary composers.
In the Catholic liturgy, the offices of Tenebrae (Darkness) were specially celebrated in the three days leading up to Easter and were a combination of Matins and Lauds. The Responsories were sung before some of the Psalms chanted during the services. In the 16th Century the great Spanish composer Tomás Luis da Victoria wrote passionate and intense settings for these services, comprising 18 motets, of which we will be performing six drawn from the Matins of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday.
Fast-forward some 350 years and we shall perform the Quatre motets pour un temps de penitence, written just before WW2 by Francis Poulenc, much of whose choral music was inspired by his Catholicism. Three of the motets are taken from the Tenebrae responsories, including Tenebrae factae sunt, which was the first he wrote and dedicated to the influential teacher and composer Nadia Boulanger.
The two living composers represented in the programme are also Catholic, and a significant part of each’s output is religious music. Roxanna Panufnik came to the wider musical public’s attention with her Westminster Mass, commissioned to celebrate the 75th Birthday of Cardinal Hume in 1998 (and which the JCS performed with the City of London Sinfonia in Wroclaw, Poland in 2001). The motet Deus, Deus meus was included at the Cardinal’s request, and we shall perform this imaginative and sensitive setting which combines both Latin and English texts, sung by a Soprano soloist and eight-part choir.
Sir James MacMillan is one of the UK’s most performed and respected contemporary composers. He has an active involvement in church music, and his Miserere setting (Psalm 51) written in 2009 includes typically decorative melodic ideas redolent of Scottish folk music, and a central section of free chant in harmony. It is a powerful and atmospheric work of that combines complexity with great sincerity.
Do join us on 2nd April in St Gabriel’s Pimlico to hear these choral works – plus works for flute and piano by Malcolm Arnold and Jehan Ariste Alain, played by Kate Risdon (flute) and Fergus Black (piano).