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The song begins with tenors in unison against a walking cello line, as if GH is accompanying friends on a bass viol. The organ enters with a minor arpeggio figure on the word ‘death’ but sadness is immediately dispelled by the soprano entry: ‘Come my Light, my Feast, my Strength…’, the third verse pouring forth on full choir: ‘Come my Joy, my Love, my Heart…’ most heartfelt of lyrics, where in the words of the poet R.S.Thomas, the language itself ‘glides into a tune of beautiful simpicity’.
Strings and triangle present apparent insouciance, but at the end of each verse a memory-stab of mortality slows the musical impetus, only triumphing on the 4th verse in an outburst of faith in eternity on ‘lives’ (with a mighty flared organ chord). Ann Pasternak Slater says of the poem: ‘The rose is painfully personified, flushed with defiance, ‘angry and brave’ in the face of decay, stinging the watcher to tears. And yet its root is buried in earth and it too will flower again.’
Full choir and vibrant fortissimo organ support a song of unreserved praise, joy and the love that is in God, the opening of verses 1-5 being in 7 beats that perhaps unconsciously sprang from ‘seven whole days not one in seven’. Verses 6 and 7 soften into the minor as ‘Thou grewest soft and moist with tears…’ but an ecstatic 3-part soprano harmony reaching up to a top B flat on the words ‘..even eternity is too short to extol thee’ sweep us back to the ‘King of Glory, King of Peace’, at the end dying away on a solo violin figure spiralling upward as if to heaven.
This poem is treated as a slow movement of inner reflection or prayer, expressing in simple domestic images GH’s profound belief that: ‘things of ordinary use are not only to serve in the way of drudgery, but to be washed and cleansed and serve for lights even of heavenly truths. The commonplace is not merely capable of sanctity; it is what can most easily explain the transcendent to us.’ Perhaps nowhere in literature is this better conveyed than in the lines: ‘Who sweeps a room as for thy laws makes that and the action fine. This is the famous stone that turneth all to gold: that which God doth touch and own cannot for less be told’.
The organist is invited to pull all the stops out for the brilliant opening and ending of this celebration of all things wonderful. Antiphon rightly means a composition sung alternatively by two choirs, but the feeling of this is created in the one choir by the use of canon, which brings the cycle to a rumbustious conclusion.
(Programme-note by the composer, Copyright Howard Blake 2007)
Songs of Truth and Glory were commissioned for the Three Choirs Festival by The Elgar Chorale for their twenty-fifth anniversary season with funds provided by The Elgar Foundation and first performed on August 8th 2005 at The Three Choirs Festival Worcester by The Elgar Chorale and Camerata conducted by Donald Hunt.
George Herbert was educated at Westminster School and Trinity College Cambridge where he was a major fellow and Reader in Rhetoric. However, despite prestigious beginnings, he abandoned secular ambitions and took holy orders, spending the rest of his life as rector in the village of Bemerton near Salisbury, preaching and writing poetry. He was a skilled musician, often playing the lute and singing his own verses, for which purpose they seem ideally suited. They appear to be simple, yet the thoughts with which he wrestled are profound and explore and celebrate the ways of God’s love as Herbert discovered them within the fluctuations of his own experience. They are characterized by a precision of language, a metrical versatility and an ingenious use of imagery. He is sometimes compared with John Donne, who was a close friend of his, yet he is more ecclesiastical than ‘metaphysical’. Some years ago I discussed him with the former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, who considered George Herbert ‘the greatest of all hymn-writers’.
|13th July 2019||
30TH ORGAN FESTIVAL OPENING ST. ALBANS CATHEDRAL 13th JULY 2019
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.
|27th February 2018||Dr.Joseph Fort conducts the King's College Choir at the 5.30pm Evensong in the chapel,|
|12th November 2015||Canticum Choir conducted by Mark Forkgen, St. Paul's Knightsbridge
JUBILATE DEO (choir & organ - Opus 406* commissioned by Abington Presbyterian Church, Penn. USA 1990)
FESTIVAL MASS (a cappella 8-part double choir - Opus 377* commissioned by The Three Choirs Festival, Worcester 1987)
THE RISE OF THE HOUSE OF USHER (organ solo - Opus 532* (commissioned for Dame Gillan Weir by The Usher Hall, Edinburgh 2003)
WALKING IN THE AIR (a cappella choir - Opus 585* commissioned by the Stockholm Boys Choir 2007)
MOTET: GOD BE MERCIFUL UNTO US AND BLESS US (a cappella choir - Opus 494 - commissioned by St. Margaret's Westminster & 1st performed there in 1996)
STILL FALLS THE RAIN (choir & organ - Opus 495* - commissioned by Chester Bach Singers 1997)
A TOCCATA OF GALUPPI'S (solo voice & harpsichord - Opus 263 - commissioned and 1st performed by Michael Leighton Jones, baritone with Howard Blake, harpsichord, on BBC Radio 3 1978 - 1st London concert performance)
SONGS OF TRUTH AND GLORY (choir & organ - Opus 546* - The Elgar Commission for the Worcester Three Choirs Festival 2005)
* = 1st London performance
|28th June 2008||The Reigate and Redhill Society conducted by Peter Farrant, Dorking Halls Surrey
A programme of English music (Vaughan Williams, Ireland, Jenkins) in celebration of Howard Blake's 70th Birthday
|12th May 2007||Sussex Chorus conducted by Neil Jenkins, Lancing College Chapel|
|9th March 2007||Elgar Chorale, Donald Hunt, Leeds Parish Church|
|8th August 2005||The Elgar Chorale and Camerata with Adrian Partington(organ), conducted by Donald Hunt, St. Martin's, Worcester as part of The Three Choirs Festival
Following the concert the composer and Dame Janet Baker both gave speeches at the Festival Society lunch.
'The other Elgar Chorale commission (in the programme) was Howard Blake's 'Songs of Truth and Glory', five settings of well-known poems by George Herbert - all settings primarily for chorus, in contrast with Vaughan-Williams' solo-led 'Mystical Songs' - hymnic in character, but each a charmingly turned, sparkling miniature.
The tenors' opening to 'Come my way' was outstanding, and the choir's a cappella launch to 'Teach me my God and King'' sounded equally pure. Simple in essence these may be, but these five songs proved shrewdly varied and utterly delightful. For the last, 'Let all the world' the organ seemed to embark on a tongue-in-cheek Handel organ concerto: both entrancing and effective.'
Roderic Dunnettt, Church Times, 9/3/2007