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Lennox Berkeley

Publisher: Chester Music

A Festival Anthem (1945), 21 no.2a
commissioned by St Matthew's Church, Northampton
Text Writer
George Herbert taken from Henry Vaughan
Chester Music Ltd
Chorus a cappella / + 1 instrument
Year Composed
15 Minutes
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Programme Note
Lennox Berkeley A Festival Anthem (1945), 21 no.2a
Britten's REJOICE IN THE LAMB, Finzi's LO, THE FULL FINAL SACRIFICE and Bernstein's CHICHESTER PSALMS are just three of the many works which owe their creation to the commissions from the Rev. Walter Hussey. This remarkably far-sighted and cultured man suported and encouraged all branches of the Arts while rector of St. Matthew's Church, Northampton, from the early 1940s and then while Dean of Chichester Cathedral during the 50s and 60s. He had an uncanny ability to point composers towards imaginative and wide-ranging texts that inspired works of the highest calibre. Amongst these is the udeservedly neglected work by Berkeley.

Apart from a handful of works the output of this fastidious composer remains largely unknown to the general musical public, yet his music has an expressive honesty and power which invariably repays closer study. His friendship with Benjamin Britten and a lifelong devotion to all things French (he was a pupil of Nadia Boulanger and a close friend of Poulenc) helped to mould a style which is marked by clarity of thought and structure, precisely imagined (and very personal) harmony and chording, and an often meltingly beautiful (though sometimes rather elusive) sense of melody. All these characteristics are present in the FESTIVAL ANTHEM. The text has an Easter theme, concerned with Death, Paradise and Resurrection, and the composer matches the colourful verbal imaginary with vivid choral and solo vocal lines.

At the center of the worl's arch structure are gentle solos for soprano and tenor in the composer's most accessibly lyrical style, separated by a brief choral outburst describing the triumph of eternal life over death. The soprano solo (the first part of the piece to be composed) was clearly held in particular affection by Berkeley for he later transcribed it for cello and piano. In contrast the outer choral sections are more vigorous, marked by strong rhythms and idiosyncratically defined counterpoint and harmony. This is all underpinned by muscular organ writing that ranges from simple supportive harmony to elaborately patterned textures.

The first performance took place in the St. Matthew's Church, Northampton, in 1945 and was broadcast later the same year in a programme that, like tonigh, placed it alongside Britten's acclaimed masterpiece.

  • Ensemble
    Choir of St John's College, Cambridge
    Jonathan Vaughn, organ
    Christopher Robinson
  • Ensemble
    Choir of Clare College Cambridge
    Tim Brown
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