Thursday, February 17, 2011

Saint Agnes, NYC, Explores Latin Music of Anglican Composers

With much consideration these days so rightly focused on the Anglican Ordinariate, this particular announcement coming from the Church of St. Agnes, a part of the Archdiocese of New York.

Schola Cantorum of Saint Agnes explores Latin Music of Anglican Composers

Herbert Howells and Charles Stanford, two preeminent figures of the 20th century British musical firmament are remembered mostly for their contributions to the musical repertoire of the Anglican Church, especially their settings of the canticles sung in the Anglican liturgies of Matins and Evensong.

Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924) was a professor at the Royal College of Music and Cambridge University, teaching an entire generation of significant composers, including Gustav Holst, Ralph Vaughan Williams, John Ireland, Frank Bridge, Charles Wood, and Herbert Howells.

Howells, born in Glouchestershire, began to study at the Royal College of Music in 1912. Upon arrival, Stanford immediately sent Howells to the recently built Westminster Cathedral (Roman Catholic) to hear the already-acclaimed choir of men and boys under Sir R.R. Terry, a leader in the revival of Renaissance polyphony. Terry ‘was the first conductor in recent times to perform the Masses of Byrd, Tye, and Tallis liturgically’ and this ‘had the effect of transforming national perceptions of England’s musical history and heritage.’ (Herbert Howells, Paul Spicer, Pg. 36). Also encouraging of new compositions, Terry motivated Howells to write his Mass in the Dorian Mode (Missa Sine Nomine) that reflects his affinity with and admiration for his Tudor musical inheritance. First heard at Mass in Westminster Cathedral on November 24, 1912, Mass in the Dorian Mode was the first professional performance of any kind in London of Howells’ music. In the years to follow, several Latin motets also were written for Terry and the Cathedral Choir.

The Schola Cantorum of the Church of Saint Agnes in midtown Manhattan, in a concert on February 23, 2011, is presenting a sampling of Howells and Stanford’s compositions of Latin sacred music. Howells’ still rarely performed Mass in the Dorian Mode, published in 1990, nearly eighty years after its premiere, will anchor the program. It will be supplemented by several motets likewise premiered at Westminster Cathedral including Haec Dies (1918), Regina Caeli (1915), and Nunc Dimittis (1914). Stanford’s trio of Latin Motets, Op. 38: Justorum Animae, Coelos Ascendit Hodie, and Beati Quorum Via, dedicated to Alan Gray and the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge will comprise the second portion of the program.

The concert’s choice of repertoire was inspired by the new Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham promoted by Pope Benedict XVI.  The concert’s theme COR AD COR LOQVITVR (Heart speaks unto heart), the motto of Blessed John Henry Newman, explores the bonds between Anglican and Roman Catholics which is linked through a mutually well-developed musical history. Newman, an Anglican priest and influential proponent of the Oxford Movement (which promoted Catholic liturgical practices within the Anglican Church) who eventually converted to Catholicism and was made a Cardinal, perfectly illustrates the brotherhood that remains between Rome and Canterbury. Equally illuminating of this is the power of music to cross boarders and to serve as a stimulus for conversation and conversion. Even in the recent visit to Westminster Abbey by His Holiness, music was perhaps the most visible (and audible) portion of the service to which the Pope so positively responded.

The concert, on Wednesday, February 23, 2011, is at 7:30 P.M. at the Church of Saint Agnes at 143 East 43rd Street in Manhattan. A suggested donation of $15/$10 (students and seniors) will benefit the music program of the Church. Contact Organist & Choirmaster James D. Wetzel at for details.

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