BENEDICTUS op.282 (May 1980)

Dramatic oratorio for tenor, speaker, chorus, solo viola and orchestra commissioned by Victor Farwell, Abbot of Worth, for the 1500th anniversary of St. Benedict of Nursia b.480 AD
Published by: Highbridge Music Ltd
Commissioned by: Victor Farwell, Abbot of Worth, for the 1500th anniversary of St. Benedict of Nursia b.480 AD
Instrumentation: Tenor, male speaker(St. Benedict), SATB chorus, semi-chorus(opt.), trebles (opt.), solo viola. (NB the viola part is demanding and best played by a soloist separate from the orchestra. In a cathedral performance the Prelude to part 1 should be performed from the west end, the back of the nave, the Introduction to Part 2 from the central chancel screen crossing, and the Epilogue from the ambulatory behind the altar, the idea being to convey the progress of the novice.)
Orchestra: 2(=picc) - 2220 - perc(2): timp/t.bell/xyl/2 susp.cym/cyms/glsp/SD/mar/tgl/tam-t; pno (=cel); organ (opt.); harp; strings
[Key to Abbreviations]
Note on Lyrics: Text compiled by the composer from "The Rule of St Benedict" and "The Hound of Heaven" by Francis Thompson (see Lyrics)
Duration: 65 mins
First Performance:

First performance, unrevised version: Richard Lewis (tenor), The National Philharmonic Orchestra leader Sidney Sax, solo viola Frederick Riddle, Ditchling Choral Society conducted by Janet Canetty-Clarke, Worth Abbey, May 17th, 1980

World Premiere, final revised version: Robert Tear, St. Albans Bach Choir, Cathedral Choir and Royal College of Music chamber choir, English Chamber Orchestra (solo viola Frederick Riddle), Sir David Willcocks (conductor), speaker The Dean of St. Alban's; St Albans Cathedral, January 25th 1986

Sheet Music Available
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Recordings Available
Released: 1989
Recorded: 1989
Artists: Robert Tear (tenor), Andrew Williams (viola), The Bach Choir, Boy choristers of St. Paul's Cathedral, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir David Willcocks
Available from: Amazon UK Amazon US Sony Classical

*Recorded by Robert Tear (tenor),The Bach Choir, Boy Choristers of St Paul`s Cathedral, The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Andrew Williams,solo viola, Sir David Willcocks,conductor, Abbey Road Studios, 1988. SONY CDHB2

Available from Highbridge, Amazon and dealers

The full text is available on request

*In 2015 the 12'' vinyl LP has been re-released on ESPRIT, 27 years after its original recording for Sony


  • 1: Prelude:Solo viola
  • 2: Chorus:Ausculta, O filii
  • 3: Tenor solo and chorus:Lord who shall dwell
  • 4: Chorus:We have piped unto you
  • 5: Tenor solo and chorus:Lord who shall dwell?
  • 6: Chorus and tenor solo:how lovely is thy dwelling-place?
  • 7: Chorus:Noviter veniens
  • 8: Tenor solo and chorus:I fled him down the nights
  • 9: Chorus:Domine scrutaris
  • 10: Tenor solo and chorus:Suscipe me
  • 11: Chorus:Bless the Lord
  • 12: Chorus:Processu conversationis
  • 13: Postlude:Solo viola


The composition of the work and its first performance were assisted by funds from the Vaughan Williams Trust

The viola prelude is available as a separate concert piece. (op.402)


12th April 2020 At 18.00 in Catalanya on Easter Sunday 12 April 2020 Ars Aurea Sonora Channel will be broadcasting the film of the oratorio 'The Passion of Mary'. It was originally recorded in Manresa Cathedral on 8th December 2015 in a concert conducted by the composer with principal parts taken by Patricia Rozario (soprano), Richard Edgar Wilson (tenor) and David van Asch (Bass), with the choir and orchestra of Tarragona University. The Liverpool Quartet and Jaume Comas were also featured in a performance of 'The Snowman'. See coverage below., Manresa Basilica.


Poblet aplaudeix 'The passion of Mary'

El Monestir acull l'estrena de l'oratori dramàtic de Howard Blake, que també es representa a Manresa

09 de Desembre de 2015, per Text: Marc Busquets/ Fotografies: Fabián Acidres
  • Interpretació de l'oratori 'The Passion of Mary' a Poblet

    Fabián Acidres

















El Monestir de Poblet ) i Col·legiata Basílica de Santa Maria de Manresa han acollit l’estrena a Catalunya de l’oratori dramàtic The passion of Mary, que fins ara només s’havia representat al Regne Unit i a Suècia, del compositor britànic Howard Blake. Dos concerts irrepetibles Els dos concerts, dirigits pel músic, han seguit el mateix guió i han comptat amb la intervenció del Liverpool String Quartet i la flautista Nèlia Sanxís a la primera part del concert, per interpretar un quintet de flauta.

Posteriorment, el programa de les dues actuacions ha donat pas a The snowman, obra per la qual Blake va ser nominat a l’Oscar de Hollywood i que s’ha convertit en un clàssic televisiu d’aquestes festes al Regne Unit. “És tan o més celebrat que el Conte de Nadal de Dickens”, ha assenyalat l’actor Jaume Comas, que ha interpretat el narrador de la història. Val a dir, a més, que per petició de Blake, el text de la peça s’ha traduït al català per tal de ser presentada a l’audiència del nostre país als concerts de Poblet i de Manresa. La cirereta d’aquest primer bloc l’ha posada el jove cantant Iker Utrera, que ha cantat el tema I’m walking in the air traduït també al català.

A la segona part de les representacions de l’espectacle s’ha interpretat The passion of Mary (op.577), en què s’ha comptat amb la intervenció de destacades figures de l’escena internacional com la soprano Patricia Rozario Orbe (en el paper de Maria), el tenor Richard Edgar Wilson (Jesús) i el baix David Van Asch (Satan).

Cal destacar, a més, l’aportació de les formacions que han format part de l’equip artístic dels concerts. L’Orquestra de cambra Terrassa 48 i el Liverpool String Quartet i la Coral de la URV han estat als dos concerts. Blake ha donat les gràcies a ARS Aurea Sonora “per la magnífica organització de l’espectacle” i ha explicat que The passion of Mary és una obra única perquè “la història es planteja des del punt de vista de la Mare de Déu”.

10th December 2019
- 11th December 2019
Howard Blake playing his own piano music and being interviewed by Afshin Rattansi for RT TV LONDON Recorded 10th Dec 2019 in his own studio in London, Kensington, London, UK

Showings of film on RT on Dec 11th 2019 at 11.30am, 2.30pm and 9.30pm

Channel 234,


SKY 511 

13th July 2019 Dong ill-Shin, Peter Auty, Julian Trevelyan, St.Albans Bach Choir directed by Andrew Sinclair with The Orchestra of St. Martin in the Fields, conducted by the composer,



A concert of the music of Howard Blake obe fram, firstly celebrating his 80th year, secondly celebrating the opening of the 30th St Albans organ festival directed by David Titterington and thirdly recalling that Howard’s acclaimed oratorio 'Benedictus' was given its world premiere in St Albans Cathedral when conducted by Sir David Willcocks, sung by tenor Robert Tear, played by violist Frederick Riddle, withThe St Albans Bach and Cathedral Choirs and The English Chamber Orchestra with speaker, the very rev. the Dean of Saint Albans, (January 25th 1986). The programme planned for July 13th 2019 recalls this memorable concert but substantially adds to it:

1. THE RISE OF THE HOUSE OF USHER (2003) for  solo organ (Dong ill-Shin,top prize-winning S.Korean organist) – A concert work originally commissioned by the Usher Hall Edinburgh to celebrate the restoration of their historic Father Willis organ and first performed there by Dame Gillian Weir on June 10th. 2003.

2.WALKING IN THE AIR (1982) sung by the internationally-acclaimed operatic tenor Peter Auty, who as a St. Paul’s chorister was selected by composer Howard Blake to record the definitive version of ‘Walking in the Air’ for his Oscar-nominated animation film and album  of ‘The Snowman’. This concert astonishingly brings them back together for the very first time since that very memorable recording of 1982, .

3. 'SPEECH AFTER LONG SILENCE' (2009) a virtuoso piano work commissioned by Vladimir Ashkenazy for the world piano contest in Hong Kong 2009, here played by the brilliant young St. Albans piano prizewinner, Julian Trevelyan

4. SONGS OF TRUTH AND GLORY (2005) - Five poems of George Herbert, (opus 546) for chamber choir and ensemble, originally commissioned as The Elgar Commission for the Three Choirs Festival 2005, Here performed by a section of the St. Albans Bach Choir conducted by Andrew Lucas.


5. BENEDICTUS – A DRAMATIC ORATORIO (1986), was originally commissioned by Victor Farwell, Abbot of  the Benedictine abbey of Worth in mid-Sussex, in order to celebrate the 1,500th birthday of St. Benedict in 1980, when it was performed by Richard Lewis (tenor), The Ditchling Choral Society and The National Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Janet Canetty-Clarke, with Frederick Riddle solo viola.  It was extensively revised by the composer over the following five years to be given its first complete performance  and world premiere at St Albans Cathedral on January 25th 1986 when it was conducted by Sir David Willcocks with Robert Tear (tenor) , Frederick Riddle  (solo viola), The English Chamber Orchestra and The Saint Albans Bach Choir.

In this performance, which opens the 30th St Albans Organ Festival on July 13th 2019.   The St. Albans Bach Choir (chorus-master Andrew Lucas) and The Orchestra of The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields will be conducted by the composer, with Peter Auty, solo tenor, Rosalind Ventris, solo viola and the role of Saint Benedict spoken by the Very Rev. Dr. Jeffrey John, Dean of St. Alban's.


18th November 2018 Richard Edgard Wilson, tenor, Eivind Ringstad, solo viola, Olov Risberg conductor: Stockholm Gosskor. Capella Sine Nomine. Performance of 'Benedictus' by English composer Howard Blake in celebration of his 80th birthday, St Gorans Church Stockholm, Sweden, Tickets 100kr.

A capacity house included the presence of the Swedish Catholic Cardinal Arbelius. The composer had flown over for the occasion with English tenor soloist Richard Edgar Wilson. The work was superbly performed by all concerned and the audience greeted it with great enthusiasm.

14th May 2016
- 7th February 2018
Full-evening ballet 'Eine Frau Ohne Namen' (A woman without a name) has music by Howard Blake, the score consisting entirely of excerpts from his choral and orchestral works, particularly the oratorio 'Benedictus' (opus 282) Ballet choreographed and directed by Robert North., First performance Monnchen Gladbach Opera 14th May 2016 Final performance Krefeld Opera 7th February 2018
15th December 2012 William Kendall (solo tenor), Rosalind Ventris (solo viola) Chelsea Opera Group, conductor David Halls, Salisbury Cathedral, Wiltshire

Salisbury Music Society will give performances of Bach's 'Magnificat' and Blakes's major dramatic oratorio 'Benedictus'

20th November 2012 Andras Schiff, Minterne, Dorchester, Dorset

The Lady Dione Digby has invited Howard as one of many guests attending the farewell concert of Dorset Summer Music, which she has directed with remarkable insight, vigour and dedication over an astonishing 50 years. In 1998 she decided to stage a performance of Howard's dramatic oratorio 'Benedictus' in Sherborne Abbey with the Bournemouth Sinfonietta and Winchester Cathedral Choir and it was the success of this concert which resulted in the commission of a 'Stabat Mater', later revised and expanded into 'The Passion of Mary'. Many distinguished artists have performed at The Lady Digby's festival over these amazing 50 years and among pianists are featured the names of Alfred Brendel, Tamas Vasary and Andras Schiff - invited to give the final celebratory concert.

17th March 2012 Philip O'Brien, Cantata Choir, Isle of Wight Symphony Orchestra (solo viola Roslind Ventris), conductor Jonathan Butcher, speaker Nathan Thomas, The Medina Theatre, Newport,Cowes, Isle of Wight
25th April 2009 Richard Edgar-Wilson, Lexden Choral Society and Colchester Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sarah Blake, Charter Hall, Colchester, Essex
17th November 2007 Martyn Hill (tenor), St.Alban's Bach Choir and Sinfonia Verdi conducted by Andrew Lucas, Cathedral & Abbey Church of St Alban, St.Alban's Herts

21st anniversary of the premiere of the revised version given in the cathedral in 1986. Also Vivaldi's 'Gloria'

1st April 2007 South West Florida Symphony Orchestra and Chorus,tenor soloist Bryce Westervelt, conducted by Joseph Caulkin, Fort Myers, Florida, USA
22nd April 2006 Erskine Stuart's Melville Community Choir and orchestra led by Deirdre Smith, solo tenor Steven Griffin, solo viola Michael Beeston, conductor Norman Mitchell, Greyfriars Church, Edinburgh
7th November 2004 Darren Abrahams (tenor), Arun Choral Society, Sinfonia of Arun, Dorset House School Boys Choir, solo viola Elisabeth Peskett, speaker Monsignor Jeffrey Scott, Arundel Cathedral, Arundel, Sussex.
13th December 2003 William Kendall (tenor), David Halls (conductor), The Rt.Revd Michael Mayne, former Dean of Westminster Abbey(speaker), orchestra & chorus of The Salisbury Music Society, Salisbury Cathedral, Salisbury, Wiltshire.
9th June 2001 Jeffrey Cresswell, Lexden Choral Society, Colchester Voiceworks and Felsted Children's Choir; Sarah Blake (conductor); performance specially choreographed by graduates of the Royal Academy of Dancing, Charter Hall, Colchester, Essex
18th November 2000 Andrew Phillips (tenor), Cantemus Choir, The Chantry Quire, Dorset School House Choristers, Stewart Harper (conductor), Andrew Benians, (organ), Church of the Holy Spirit, Southsea, Hampshire
4th November 2000 Harrogate Choral Society, Ripon Cathedral, Ripon, Yorkshire

Funded by the Millenium Experience Company and relating the work to that of The Venerable Bede as part of a cultural programme for 2000

22nd May 1999 Richard Jenkinson, East Grinstead Choral Society, East Grinstead, Sussex
16th May 1998 William Kendall, Winchester Cathedral Choir, Bournemouth Sinfonietta conducted by David Hill, Sherborne Abbey, Dorset
19th October 1997 Anders Andersson, Stockholm Boys Choir, St Gorans Choirs and orchestra, solo viola Lars Anders Tomte, conductor Olov Risberg, St Gorans Church, Stockholm, Sweden
23rd March 1996 James Oxley, The Chichester Singers, Bedales School Choir, Southern Pro Musica, Jonathan Willcocks (cond), Chichester Cathedral, Sussex
December 1995 Sir David Willcocks, Greenlake Festival, Wisconsin, USA
December 1995 Jonathan Willcocks, Chichester Cathedral, Sussex
December 1994 Maldwyn Davies (tenor), Scunthorpe & District Choral Society, Scunthorpe Co-operative Junor Choir, East of England Orchestra, Dr Donald Hunt (conductor), Thomas Holme (narrator), Baths Hall, Scunthorpe, Yorkshire

An all-Howard Blake concert programme, unusually but succesfully combining 'Nursery Rhyme Overture'and 'The Snowman' with 'Benedictus' to a capacity family audience

14th May 1994 Walter Dixon (tenor), Jersey Festival Choir, Royal College of Music Orchestra, Wesley Grove Methodist Church Jersey, Channel Islands
4th May 1994 Bridgewater & District Choral Society, St. Mary's Church, Bridgewater, Somerset
19th February 1994 Julian Podger, Romsey Choral Society, Chameleon Arts Orchestra, conductor David Truslove, Romsey Abbey, Hampshire
7th November 1992 Crawley Concordia, Jonathan Butcher, Hawth Arts Centre, Crawley, Sussex
7th November 1992 Portsmouth Choral Union, Jonathan Willcocks, Portsmouth Cathedral, Hampshire
22nd May 1992 Martyn Hill (tenor), Chester Bach Choir, Malcolm Bussey (conductor), Chester Cathedral, Cheshire
7th March 1992 Martyn Hill, Guildford Philharmonic Choir, Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir David Willcocks, Guildford Cathedral, Surrey
15th December 1990 William Kendall, Waynefleet Singers, Winchester Cathedral, Hampshire
20th May 1990 Robert Tear, Ditchling Choral Society, Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra, Choristers of Hurstpierpoint College, Janet Canetty-Clarke, St Bartholomews Church Brighton

An all-Howard Blake concert programme including the Clarinet Concerto played by Emma Johnson

2nd June 1989 Robert Tear (tenor), The Bach Choir & the choristers of St Paul's Cathedral, The Philharmonia led by Bradley Cresswick, solo viola John Chambers, conducted by Sir David Willcocks, speaker The Revd. Donald Reeves, Royal Festival Hall, London

An all-Howard Blake programme including 'Diversons for cello & orchestra' played by Stephen Isserlis conducted by the composer (first London performance)

18th March 1989 Richard Reaville (ten), Chester Bach Singers & orchestra cond. Martin Bussey, speaker the Dean of Chester, Chester Cathedral, Cheshire
1st March 1989 Sir David Willcocks, Abingdon choir & orchestra, Abingdon, Pennsylvania, USA
17th July 1988 Robert Tear, The Bach Choir, RPO led by Barry Griffiths, Sir David Willcocks, speaker Rev. John Drury, King's College Chapel, Cambridge, Cambs
11th July 1988 Maldwyn Davies (ten), Sir David Willcocks, John Chambers (viola), Bach Choir, Philharmonia, Cardinal Basil Hume (Archbishop of Westminster), choristers of Westminster cathedral (James O'Donnell choirmaster), Westminster Cathedral

On the Feast of St Benedict

17th May 1988 Edmund Barham, Domkirkens Mottetkor, Kristiansand Symfoniorkester, Bjarne Slogedahl, Internationale Kirkefestspill, Kristiansand, Norway
December 1987 Sir David Willcocks, choir and orchestra, Christchurch Cathedral, New Zealand
27th August 1987 Arthur Davies, The Festival Chorus and Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, conductor Dr Donald Hunt, Three Choirs Festival, Worcester Cathedral, Worcs.
22nd June 1987 Maldwyn Davies, Llandaff Cathedral Choral Society and Orchestra, conductor Dr. Michael Smith, Llandaff Cathedral, Llandaff, Cardiff, Wales
24th May 1987 Robert Tear, Scottish Philharmonic Singers (choir master Ian McCrorie), BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, solo viola Carolyn Sparey Gillies, Sir David Willcocks, speaker Ian Aldred, St John's Kirk, Perth, Scotland as part of the Perth Festival of the Arts

Broadcast on BBC Radio 3, 9 August 1987

16th May 1987 Martyn Hill, The Cathedral Choristers, Cantata Choir, Manchester Camerata, conductor Stuart Beer, speaker The Dean of Manchester, Manchester Cathedral, Manchester
25th January 1986 Robert Tear, St Albans Bach Choir (chorus masters Colin Walsh and Andrew Parnell) and Cathedral Choir, The English Chamber Orchestra, Sir David Willcocks (conductor), Frederick Riddle (solo viola), The Dean of St Alban's (speaker), St Alban's Cathedral & Abbey Church, Herts

World premiere of the final revision of the work

1st May 1985 Student choir and orchestra, Downside Abbey, Devizes, Wiltshire
22nd August 1984 Guy Woolfenden (cond) Oxford Music Camp singers and orchestra, Pigotts Farm Summer Music Camp near High Wycombe,Bucks
30th October 1983 Gregory Massingham, University Choir & Orchestra, St Cecilia Chorale, conductor Howard Blake, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

The composer visited Queensland University during September-October 1983 at the instigation of Michael Leighton-Jones, then professor of vocal studies, which gave the composer the opportunity to undertake major revision of both content and orchestration of the work

27th November 1982 Alistair Thompson, Reigate & Redhill Choral Society and orchestra, conductor Jonathan Butcher, St Matthew's Church Redhill, Surrey
22nd May 1980 Richard Lewis (tenor), National Philharmonic Orchestra (leader Sidney Sax), solo viola Frederick Riddle, Ditchling Choral Society, conductor Janet Cannetty-Clarke, speaker Christopher Geer, Worth Abbey, Sussex

The work was commissioned by the Ditchling Choral Society with assistance from The Ralph Vaughan Williams Trust, at the suggestion of the Right Reverend Victor Farwell, Abbot of the Benedictine monastery of Worth, as part of the Abbey's celebrations for the 1,500th anniversary of the birth of Saint Benedict of Nursia (480 - 543 AD)


The Benedictine Order has today spread far from its sixth-century origin on Monte Cassino; and among its present monasteries is that of Worth Abbey in Sussex. Living nearby in the 1970s Howard Blake wrote some music for the Abbey, and became fascinated by the contribution of the Abbey's acoustics to that music. Now comes further music of larger scope, using St Benedict, the Psalms, Francis Thompson and the composer's own words for collective text. And the resulting music turns out to be ideally suited to its purpose: those parents whose children's affection for The Snowman has persuaded them to swear that Blake's music must for sanity's sake never darken their doors again should consider recantation!
If they do they will find greatly different music; though equally skilled, equally suitable for its particular subject. That is, in the present case, moving, devotional, beautiful. The music is also expounded beautifully by the performers concerned: solo tenor, solo viola, chorus, and orchestra. Further, it is very well recorded.
Is the record in line, then, for the warmest possible of recommendations, for the final accolade? No, it is not, for one reason only: the type in the accompanying booklet is so absurdly small that it is well nigh impossible to read.'

Gramaphone Magazine, 2018

Conductor and choir director Jonathan Butcher took the initiative in giving the second performance of Howard Blake’s 'Benedictus' which re-kindled new interest in the work, resulting in it establishing itself as one of the twentieth century’s major oratorios.

Jonathan Butcher, website conductor and choral director Jonathan Butcher, 2015

First performances and works by twentieth century composers include Peter Maxwell-Davies – Violin Concerto, Roger Steptoe – ‘Cello Concerto with Alexander Baillie, Alan Ridout – Flute and Harp Concerto (World Premiere), Malcolm Williamson – Concerto Grosso. Jonathan took the initiative in giving the second performance of Howard Blake’s Benedictus, which re-kindled new interest in the work, resulting in it establishing itself as one of the twentieth century’s major oratorios. He also conducted the first performance of Wilfred Joseph’s Overture – ‘High Spirits.’ He gave the second performance of Barry Russell’s ‘Town and Country,’ which was first performed at the 2002 Promenade concerts and he premiered a new song cycle by Marcus Barcham Stevens ‘Lost to the Beloved.’ Jonathan also gave the first public performance of the newly discovered ‘Air on a theme of Purcell’ by Gordon Jacob.

Jonathan Butcher, Havant Orchestra, 2013

The rest of the concert was given over to Howard Blake’s Benedictus. This is a large-scale work for chorus, chamber choir, tenor soloist and narrator, as well as viola soloist to open and close the work.

The opening solo viola prelude (representing the novice monk), played with great skill and passion by Rosalind Ventris, was beautiful. The words of St Benedict were given by the narrator, before the first chorus entry starting with plainsonginspired settings before opening out into the rich palette of Blake’s more usual orchestration, which is very much in the English tradition of Vaughn Williams, Howells and Walton.

A lush and beautiful sound washing around the cathedral, with the hallmark glockenspiel ringing out on the top of the orchestral textures.

There was fantastic singing from the Chamber Choir and jewel-like sparse moments of harp and winds gently accompanying.

William Kendall (tenor) seemed to be having some problems and could have done with more power in the richer orchestrated sections. The balance and feel was better in the section for tenor and chamber choir only.

The last tenor and chorus number had a dramatic ending before we were regaled with the last ‘sermon’ and the closing chorus.

Finally, Rosalind Ventris gave the postlude on viola – this time standing on the soloists’ podium, and, as in her previous sections, the playing was fabulous.

Howard Blake was in the audience and took a deserved bow, but somehow the work seemed too disparate overall.

Perhaps with a passionate actor speaking Benedict’s words and a bravura tenor, the whole thing could work and hang together more coherently. But a brave attempt at a modern oratorio from SMS.

Sarah Collins, Salisbury Journal, 31/12/2012

A work inspired by St Benedict’s Rule

by Roderic Dunnett

TOP MARKS to the St Albans Bach Choir for programming the Benedictus by Howard Blake as part of a recent concert: quality revivals of recent but not regularly performed works are as valuable to a composer as the première itself.

Blake’s opus numbers now exceed those of Mozart, and he has a wide following, thanks to his enchanting music for The Snowman and for some other memorable film scores, notably for the Colin Firth and Kenneth Branagh film A Month in the Country. Based on a finely wrought, visceral story by the canny E. H. Carr, it focused on the restoration of a terrifying complete medieval Doom painting (not unlike that recently discovered in Holy Trinity, Coventry). The film was equally unforgettable for the twin cameos of Patrick Malahide as the impossible, violin-strumming incumbent the Revd Mr Keach, and the benign Jim Carter, who played the fire-breathing Methodist minister-cum-stationmaster. Blake, a composer of substance and of agreeably traditionalist leanings, has composed several large choral works that other choirs might consider for the future. The Passion of Mary, his op. 577, a reworking of his earlier Stabat Mater, calls on an additional boys’ choir, as well as a large complement of soloists. Songs of Truth and Glory was written for Donald Hunt and the Elgar Chorale, and first heard at the 2005 Three Choirs Festival. A Charter of Peace was written for the 50th anniversary of the United Nations. In addition, Blake’s Christchurch Mass is for choir and organ, and he has set the Jubilate, and provided music for the Series 3 communion service. Together with this goes Blake’s skill as a synthesiser — he is not afraid to be eclectic, but he assimilates his sources confidently — and as an initiator. The shape and concept of his Benedictus is bold, and almost palindromic. Blake sets not the canticle and Psalm bearing that name, but passages from the Rule of St Benedict, which are used to preface, conclude, and intersperse a series of other Psalm settings. Psalmfest might have been an apt title (compare Leonard Bernstein); or else Symphony of Psalms, à la Stravinsky. At the centre of the work, Howard Blake sets a poem from which he clearly derives strong inspiration: 70-80 lines of Francis Thompson’s harrowing, visionary work The Hound of Hell — coincidentally reminiscent of that other, visionary Blake. Three other ingredients play a part: spoken prefaces, delivered here by the Dean, the Very Revd Dr Jeffrey John; a section in which the tenor soloist (Martyn Hill) speaks certain lines; and a striking initial instrumental passage for solo viola, later yielding to bells and organ, and here performed, to searing effect, by Fiona Bonds at the west end, the crossing, and the east end of the Abbey. By turns serene, knotty, and contrapuntally challenging, this viola sequence, as besotting as Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending, has a similar intensity to the Thompson setting. Both are remarkable pieces of writing. The St Albans Bach Choir’s performance, splendidly controlled under the unflappable Andrew Lucas — crisp, undemonstrative, and capably businesslike, who graded Blake’s tempi to ideal effect — contained much to admire. From the start, the penitential character of this work, beautifully and sensitively articulated, and as piercing as similar passages in A Child of our Time, was to the fore, just as strikingly as in its Hispanic and Italianate grieving forerunners of the 16th and 17th centuries. The initial tenor outburst was superb, with some searing, angst-ridden woodwind for the unrelenting Psalm 38 (“so spent, so crushed, so beaten and bowed”). Later, Blake allows his soloist to intone, and the effect is shatteringly intense. With sensitive accompaniment — not least from some superlative woodwind — Martyn Hill’s articulation of the central section highlighted the full power of the poetry: the intensity of a pianissimo beginning: “I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears I hid from Him”, or the impassioned, pained desolation of “Yet was I sore adread Lest having Him, I must have naught beside.” Only in the second chorus from St Benedict, taken from the Prologue, did Blake seem to lower his guard and produce a movement perilously close to a triter kind of music. The power and invention of much of the rest ensured an enlightening and inspiring evening in the Abbey, whose stones still bear the stamp of Roman Verulamium.

Roderic Dunnett, CHURCH TIMES, 1/2008

A score written from the heart, effective and fresh.

Christopher Grier, Evening Standard, 5/6/1989

The Benedictine Order has today spread far from its sixth-century origin on Monte Cassino; and among its present monasteries is that of Worth Abbey in Sussex. Living nearby in the 1970s Howard Blake wrote some music for the Abbey, and became fascinated by the contribution of the Abbey's acoustics to that music. Now comes further music of larger scope, using St Benedict, the Psalms, Francis Thompson and the composer's own words for collective text. And the resulting music turns out to be ideally suited to its purpose: those parents whose children's affection for The Snowman has persuaded them to swear that Blake's music must for sanity's sake never darken their doors again should consider recantation!
If they do they will find greatly different music; though equally skilled, equally suitable for its particular subject. That is, in the present case, moving, devotional, beautiful. The music is also expounded beautifully by the performers concerned: solo tenor, solo viola, chorus, and orchestra. Further, it is very well recorded.
Is the record in line, then, for the warmest possible of recommendations, for the final accolade? No, it is not, for one reason only: the type in the accompanying booklet is so absurdly small that it is well nigh impossible to read.'

Gramaphone, 1989

Drawing inspiration from the great traditions of the past, Benedictus belongs unmistakeably to the living tradition of inspirational choral music ...

The Catholic Herald, 9/12/1988

Benedictus ... flows directly out of the English choral style as much as it enjoys the influences of the mainstream turn-of-the-century European composers ... impassioned and sincere.

Kenneth Walton, Daily Telegraph, 5/1987

Saturday 15th September 2012 Originally printed in the
20th March 1987
issue of the Catholic Herald Keywords: David Willcocks, The Bach Choir, Howard Blake, Worcester Cathedral, Three Choirs Festival, Willcocks, Entertainment / Culture Topics: Entertainment / Culture Organisations: People: Robert Tear, David Willcocks, Howard Blake, Encore Encore! more performances of Howard Blake's oratorio

FOLLOWING the successful performance of Howard Blake's dramatic oratorio "Benedictus" in St Albans Cathedral in January, five further major performances are now scheduled: Manchester Cathedral May 16 1987; Perth Festival May 24 1987 (First Broadcast Peformance, with Sir David Willcocks and Robert Tear); Llandaff Cathedral June 1987; Three Choirs Festival at Worcester Cathedral August 27 1987 and Westminster Cathedral July 11 1988 (First London Performance with Sir David Willcocks, when the Cathedral celebrates the Feast of St Benedict The Bach Choir and Maldwyn Davies).

The vocal score is available from Faber Music.

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Catholic Herald, 20/3/1987

Thompson's words [inspire] some of the most turbulent and personal music in the work. Great opportunities for the tenor as the long aria works up ... to a jubilant coda for chorus of exactly the right length and weight. A serious and impressive work.

Hugo Cole, The Guardian, 4/1/1986

Benedictus is a major work to date by a musician of wide experience ... Eschewing avant-garde methods, Howard Blake relies here upon enhanced diatonicism and devotes his impressive skills to sensitive word-setting and assured pacing of the linked sections in the development of a satisfying large-scale structure in three parts. A prelude, interlude and epilogue for unaccompanied solo viola evoke the aloneness of the central character, a Novice called to the monstic life, a masterly imaginative stroke. The scoring for choir and orchestra is unfailingly effective. The music ranges through moods of despair and anguish to a final affirmation. Its moods encompass sweetness, yet avoid sentimentality, and there is plenty of lively choral music spiced with syncopated rhythms. Benedictus deserves its considerable success with choral societies and audiences. Repetition increases respect for its solid virtues and sincerity.

Music and Musicians International, 1986

Related Works

'PRELUDE FOR SOLO VIOLA' op.402 (1989)
The Prelude from "Benedictus" as a concert piece.
'Prelude For Solo Cello' op.463 (March 1994)
An arrangement of the Prelude to 'Benedictus' (see op.402)

Related Autobiography Chapters

Grade 8 piano (1954)
'All the Way Up' with 'The Scaffold', BBC 'Music Now' and a radical change (1970)
Ridley Scott's 'The Duellists','Stronger than the sun' & 'Leda and the Swan' (1977)
'Benedictus' in Worth Abbey and 'S.O.S.Titanic' in Hollywood (1979)
Royal wedding,Benedictus, Month in the Country,Canterville Ghost, Granpa (1986)
The Astra satellite goes into orbit with Overture 'The Conquest of Space' (1988)
Sir Neville Marriner and The Academy of St. Martin record the woodwind concertos (2012)

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