Friday, 20 December 2013

Christmas 2013

Hi there
This is Classical Break
And I'm Rupert kirkham.

This weekend, we've decided to do a choral show. The second half is Christmas music but the first half is going to be choral music not specifically written for Christmas, but very beautiful anyway and I think lovely to listen to at any time of the year.

This programme will actually go out for two weekends, so Mike, Jayne and I can have a bit of a Christmas break. But wether you're listening to the original programme on Saturday morning, the repeat on Sunday or you have decided, as you can here at Somer Valley fm, to revisit the programme through the listen again facility on the station website, we hope you enjoy the music and wish you all a very happy Christmas.

 This year it's the 100th anniversary of the birth of Benjamin Britten and if you're a regular listener  to Classical Break you'll know I'm a bit partial to Britten's works. That comes, really from my early days as a chorister at New College in Oxford, which I'll probably bore you about later. The second half of today's programme features the choir we used to think in those days and I'm talking 50 years ago here, we're our rivals, Kings College Cambridge,  singing Brittens  classic Christmas piece, 'a Ceremony of Carols'.

First though, a contemporary of Benjamin Britten was Herbert Howells.

Let's here our first piece of music, then I'll tell you a bit about Howells and the rest of the music we're going to hear today.

Composed in 1961 for the 450th anniversary of St. John's college in Cambridge, here's his motet, 'a sequence for st Michael' and it's sung by the choir of New College, Oxford in a 1989 recording directed by the choirmaster, Edward Higginbottom.


Just after I left new college, I guess it was around 1966, the college finally coughed up the cash to build a new organ. If I remember correctly, it cost about 60 thousand pounds, which was the cost in those days of a very smart yacht. When I went back a few years later - I think it took them a year or
so to build it, I was absolutely stunned. On the front, it has a glass Swell Box, consisting of panels of glass which open and close to control the sound. As they do so, they catch the colours and reflections of the fantastic stained glass windows that run down the sides of the chapel. The organ itself, the arrangement of pipes and the sound of it, matches that startling look. It must truly be one of the finest organs in the world. Do go and have a look if you're ever in Oxford.

Next, from the same cd, which incidentally is one of two released in 1989, volumes one and two - of choral and organ music by Howells, are two organ pieces, Walton's Toye and Jacobs Brawl. Walton's Toye is based on a motif in one of William Walton's famous works, Crown Imperial, see if you can spot it.


Walton's Toye and Jacobs Brawl.  more organ music later on.

The next choral piece was written specially for the choir of New College,  in 1953 by Herbert Howells. It's his setting of the canticles -  as choirmaster Edward Higginbottom puts it, 'a predominance of diatonic harmonies with a sprinkling of characteristic surprises and delights'.

Howells used to write choral music as much to suit the venue as anything else. The next piece was designed to be performed in New College chapel, which still, to this day, whenever I go into it, gives me a chill down the spine.

The New College Service, by Herbert Howells in its first ever recording in New College chapel, by the choir.


Two more pieces by Howells performed on the organ at New college, Oxford, by choirmaster, Edward Higginbottom.

Flourish for a Bidding was written to raise money at a charity auction for the Royal College of Organists and De la Mares Pavane was transcribed for organ from his clavichord works.


Now the Christmassy bit!
We now present, In its entirety, Benjamin Britten's Ceremony of Carols, performed by the choir of Kings College Cambridge, in a cd of Britten's choral music made in the early 1970's with Sir David Willcox  conducting and Ossian Ellis on the harp.

Goodbye and Happy Christmas to you both.

Benjamin Britten