Magnificat – John Rutter

The UK premiere of John Rutter’s Magnificat was given in Coventry Cathedral, but this was a year after the world premiere, which was in the Carnegie Hall, New York. Indeed, most of Rutter’s larger choral works were written for American choirs.

It is an immediate, tuneful, sunny work, which has the added bonus of being performable by amateurs. Its directness is explained by Rutter himself: he says, ‘In countries such as Spain, Mexico and Puerto Rico, feast days of the Virgin are joyous opportunities for people to take to the streets and celebrate with singing, dancing and processions. These images of outdoor celebration were, I think, somewhere in my mind as I wrote, though I was not fully conscious of the fact till afterwards.’* It should be added, that it is highly singable because Rutter happens to write very well for the voice.

His conscious model, however, was J.S.Bach’s Magnificat, specifically the earlier E flat version which has a set of so-called Lauds, or Songs of Praise, which were traditionally inserted amongst the Latin text (these included the popular German hymn, Martin Luther’s Vom Himmel hoch, and the plainsong Virga Jesse floruit). So similarly Rutter has interpolated a setting of the anonymous 15th century English text Of a rose, and he uses the plainsong tune for the Sanctus, which, again, would not normally be part of the Magnificat. (There are other bits of plainsong lurking amongst the orchestra.) Rutter has also dipped into other ‘traditional’ formal ideas, such as in the Doxology, as it was in the beginning. Here he has employed the common practice of making this a repeat of the opening music (as did Bach (Magnificat), Handel (Dixit Dominus), Vivaldi (Gloria) – and many more).

Rutter has made this piece available in a version for full orchestra and also for a smaller ensemble. Stour Singers will be using the latter version, for the simple reason, the smaller orchestra will fit in the church.

*© Collegium Records

If you would like to listen to John Rutter talking about the Magnificat on YouTube, please click on the following:

back to May Concert 2018

Requiem – Gabriel Fauré (1845-1925)

Fauré’s Requiem does not follow the traditional pattern of a mass for the dead. It was not triggered by the death of someone he knew, nor was it a commission. He said it was ‘composed for the pleasure of it’.

Gabriel Fauré

It was started when Fauré was 32, and it took him 16 years to finish. It is a wonderfully serene work, despite being composed during what might now be called a protracted ‘mid-life crisis’.

He had been appointed choirmaster at the famous Madeleine church in Paris and had become engaged to Marianne Viardot – he had been in love with her for 5 years. In October Marianne broke off the engagement because she felt, not love for him, ‘only affection mixed with fear’. It appears that behind his outwardly charming manner Fauré hid a darker side.

Fauré was devastated and immediately went away on long travels in Germany, England and Switzerland. He met Liszt twice, but it was Wagner and his operas which particularly fascinated him. Despite this obsession, strangely there is no trace of Wagner in his style of composition.

Eventually returning to Paris aged 38, he married and settled down to the tedium of organising services at the Madeleine, and teaching piano and harmony – what he called his ‘mercenary work’. But his ambition was to flourish as a composer. Sadly the daily grind ensured he only had time to compose during the summer holidays, and he despaired of ever reaching the public. Being so grossly thwarted in his real calling, perhaps it was not surprising that privately he suffered from what he called ‘spleen’, which took the form of depression and anger, perhaps violence. Things did not improve until he was 45, when he did start at last to gain some recognition. He finished work on the Requiem 3 years later, in 1893 (although he would go on to reorchestrate it in 1900).

Considering the turbulence of his spirit during its composition, the serenity of the Requiem is quite extraordinary.

Back to Concert May 2018