Two men who must have been retired choral conductors sat behind me and one of them remarked that this was his 45th Three Choirs Festival and that one of his former students, Ian King, had composed the responses.
I was very distressed, however, when they continued talking all through the organ prelude. Why is it that the start of the organ music is a signal for people to start talking?! Grrrr!
The choral music performed were some of my favorite pieces for Evensong: St. Paul’s Service by Herbert Howells and Faire is the heaven by William Harris. Both were sung ably by the Worcester Cathedral Chamber Choir. The Harris anthem is very chromatic and likely to drop in pitch—this choir wavered only a tiny bit but got right back on pitch. These are not easy works!The pieces were some of the works my husband Carl directed and I still remember playing and learning the music under his tutelage. I couldn’t help but think of him at Evensong tonight.
Tonight’s concert was called A Child in our Time, and the featured work by Michael Tippett was a grand, 72-minute piece of the same name. You see this year’s Festival is a centenary of sorts of World War One; there was a talk this afternoon by Keith Robbins who said “In 1917, victory for either side was elusive; the alliance of ‘throne and altar’ was wobbling and Europe’s Christendom was in deep trouble. Would Bolshevik revolution spread and what influence would America’s entry into the war have on Europe’s future?”
Having just spent two weeks in Eastern Europe and learned about the hardships that people faced during the war, this major work was “right on” with the theme of persecution.
The composer was imprisoned in 1943 for objecting to war service. His inspiration for writing this peace manifesto was the 17-year old Herschel Grynszpan, “a troubled Polish refugee in Paris, who assassinated the Nazi diplomat Ernst vom Rath, an act seized upon by senior Nazis as a pretext for the Reich-wide pogrom of Kristallnacht.”
The genius of Tippett’s composition was the use of African-American spirituals as a relief for angry dissonance, as a modern substitute for Lutheran chorales. We heard Steal away to Jesus, Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen, Go down Moses, O by and by, and ended with Deep river.
With powerful lyrics such as “I have no money for my love. I have no gift for my love. How shall I feed my children on so small a wage? How can I comfort them when I am dead?” the interpolations of spirituals was a welcome relief.
It was a powerful and stunning beginning to what I know will be a wonderful week of music.