The St. Paul's Cathedral Choir, London
at the Cathedral of Saint Paul, MN
Recorded October 26, 2003
Spanning nine centuries of history, the St. Paul's Cathedral Choir, London, has established itself as one of the major forces in British church music today. The group visited the Twin Cities' own Cathedral of Saint Paul in October 2003, and we'll hear a broadcast of that performance. The program includes outstanding British repertoire, plus the world premiere of a new work by VocalEssence composer-in-residence Cary John Franklin, based on Psalm 8.
VocalEssence music director Philip Brunelle notes, "Whenever VocalEssence has invited a choir from abroad we have always requested that the concert include one work by an American. As Cary John Franklin is our Meet The Composer composer-in-residence it seemed like the perfect match for a St. Paul's Cathedral Choir world premiere. Cary has selected verses from Psalm 8, 'How Excellent Is Thy Name,' words equally appropriate here or in London, England."
About St. Paul's Cathedral and Choir of London
The first St. Paul's was built in 604, and in these early days the services were sung by 30 canons, who lived in a dormitory, performed both priestly and musical duties and were paid a stipend. The beginnings of a choir of men and boys is recorded in 1127, when a choir school was founded which made provision for "almonry" boys (literally poor children in need of alms) to serve the Cathedral. By the 13 th century, singers had begun elaborating the traditional plainsong chants with simple, improvised counter-melodies, which were finally composed rather than improvised. During the late 14 th century, trained lay singers called Vicars Choral were employed to cope with this more advanced musical style.
Between the building of the second St. Paul's by the Normans in 1087,an extensive restoration by Inigo Jones in 1621 and the complete destruction of the Old St. Paul's in 1666 by the Great Fire, the music of the cathedral was greatly affected – by the Reformation, the establishment of the Church of England, the productive reign of Elizabeth I, and the negative effects of the Civil War and Oliver Cromwell. After being disbanded during the Cromwell years, the St. Paul's Cathedral Choir was re-established when the monarchy was restored, in 1660.
The current St. Paul's Cathedral was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, and when it was opened in 1697, Henry Purcell's Te Deum and Jubilate were sung, together with a new anthem by John Blow, Master of the Choristers, who directed the music; Jeremiah Clarke played the new Smith organ. (It is interesting to note that famous organists such as Handel and Mendelssohn enjoyed playing the St. Paul's organ.) From this time, superb musicians were to head the music at St. Paul's, among them Maurice Greene, Thomas Attwood, John Goss, John Stainer, and John Dykes Bower. Christopher Dearnley, who was appointed Organist in 1968, extended the daily repertoire of the choir and introduced many musical and liturgical innovations.
St. Paul's has always been an important venue for the performance of new works. In recent years many composers, among them Jonathan Harvey, John Tavener and Hugh Wood, have been invited to write for the cathedral. The Millennium Service for England, broadcast live by the BBC on January 2, 2000, featured commissions by two major British composers: Sir Peter Maxwell Davies and Sir Harrison Birtwistle. In mid November each year, the choirs of Westminster Abbey and Westminster and St. Paul's Cathedrals join together to celebrate the patron saint of music, Cecilia. The annual Festival of St. Cecilia usually features a newly-commissioned anthem, a tradition that dates back to the first festival in 1683 when Purcell was the composer.
At the center of the choir's purpose is the singing of Evensong each day, with Mattins and the Eucharist additionally on Sunday. Partly due to the immense size of St. Paul's Cathedral, the choir is quite large - thirty choristers, eight probationers (who begin at age 7 or 8) and eighteen men. Tour logistics call for a slightly smaller choir – eighteen choristers and twelve men.
C. HYLTON STEWART: Psalm 23