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ClassicsOnline Home » Choral Concert: The King's Singers - SCHUTZ, H. / POULENC, F. / LASSO, O. (Pater Noster: A Choral Reflection on the Lord's Prayer)
GRAMMY®-Award winners in 2009, The King’s Singers are one of the world’s most celebrated ensembles. Their programming concept in this disc is unique: built upon the individual clauses of The Lord’s Prayer, beginning and ending in plainchant, it ranges over the centuries to explore the spiritually charged text. Chant is at the heart of the programme, and each composer’s setting illuminates the others, shedding rich interpretative light on the poetic and devotional aspects of the prayer.
With these two words, the best-known prayer of Christianity begins. This is the prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray, to which countless millions throughout the centuries respond in memorized recall.
This programme of choral interpretation is built upon the individual clauses of The Lord’s Prayer, along with additional words that complement the sectional components. Historic words for some and spiritually foundational for others, this programme provides a framework for both listening and reflection.
Commonly called “The Lord’s Prayer,” these words are found in two of the Gospels. During the discourse from Matthew (Chapter 6: 9–13) called the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructs his followers to pray in this manner, using these words. In the book of Luke (Chapter 2: 2–4), one of the disciples approaches Jesus, asking him to teach them how to pray.
Reaching back as far as possible musically, the programme begins and ends with ancient plainsong, sung in the traditional Latin language of the liturgy, highlighting the genesis of many of the compositional approaches to this text. Chant is at the stylistic heart of this programme.
Beginning with Gregorian chant, the interpretation moves through Schütz’s setting of Psalm 19 and the early seventeenth-century Polish composer Zieleński’s Communio, Benedicimus Deum coeli, to illuminate the first line of the prayer, Our Father, who art in heaven. The Pater noster by the great Renaissance composer Josquin des Prés (1455–1521), Holy is the True Light by the English choral composer Sir William Harris (1883–1973), organist of New College and Christ Church, Oxford, and St George’s Chapel, Windsor, where he conducted at the coronations of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II, and the Sanctus from the Missa Papae Marcelli of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525–1594), a work reputed to have saved liturgical polyphony from its critics at the time of the Counter Reformation, represent the words “Hallowed be Thy name.”
For insight into the words “Thy kingdom come,” The King’s Singers turn to late Renaissance composers Heinrich Schütz (1585–1672), William Byrd (1543–1623), and Hans Leo Hassler (1564–1612). Schütz is known as one of the most significant German composers before JS Bach, contributing this choral setting of Vater unser (Our Father), along with three books of Symphoniae Sacrae, the Psalms of David, and a setting of The Seven Last Words on the Cross to the sacred canon. The Catholic English composer William Byrd is represented by his setting of Vigilate. Byrd successfully navigated the political and musical details of composing for both Protestant and Catholic liturgies during his lifetime. Cantate Domino by Hans Leo Hassler, in his final years employed by the Elector of Saxony, concludes this phrase of the text. Hassler and Schütz were both influenced by their study in Venice with Giovanni Gabrielli, heard in the innovative choral techniques employed in this composition.
The words “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” are rendered through Igor Stravinsky’s Pater noster, Francis Poulenc’s Quatre Petites Prières de François d’Assise, and Orlandus Lassus’ Domine Dominus noster.
Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971) is acknowledged to be one of the most influential composers of the twentieth century. Born in Russia, he became a naturalized American citizen in 1946. The variety of his musical style during his lifetime ranged from the percussiveness and dissonance of early works, such as The Rite of Spring, through the Neo-classicism of his middle life to the Serialism of his late works. He wrote this simple setting of The Lord’s Prayer in 1926, the year before his grand opera-cantata Oedipus Rex.
The French composer Francis Poulenc (1899–1963) was loosely associated with the group of French composers known as Les Six. His setting of four prayers by St Francis of Assisi was written in 1948 at the request of his cousin, Brother Jérôme Poulenc, and reflects something of Poulenc’s return to his original Catholic faith after the loss of a friend in an accident in 1936.
Orlandus Lassus (1532–1594) was generally acknowledged as the leading composer of his day. The “divine Orlande, prince of musicians” saw more of his output published than any of his contemporaries. He was truly a man of many parts: a talented singer in his youth, a prolific, cosmopolitan composer in his twenties, an extrovert comic actor in his thirties, a keen traveller and amusing polyglot correspondent in his forties and fifties, and an introverted melancholic in his sixties. Lassus’s prodigious production, much of it published by his sons ten years after his death in a Magnum opus musicum, includes Latin motets, Masses, Magnificats and other liturgical works, French chansons, Italian madrigals and villanelles, and German Lieder. In an age when the figurative possibilities of music in illustrating words were being realized more fully than ever before, Lassus showed a marked predilection for expressive and individualized texts.
The text “Give us this day our daily bread” is set to the music of French composer Maurice Duruflé’s (1902–1986) Notre Père (Our Father). Duruflé is best known for his choral setting of the Requiem (1947) and for his position as organist from 1929 to 1986 at St Etienne-du-Mont in Paris. The Irish composer Charles Wood (1866–1926), known for his Anglican choral music as well as his career in London and Cambridge, offers a setting of Oculi omnium (The Eyes of All), complementing this portion of The Lord’s Prayer. Of further relevance to the text is Palestrina’s setting of the Corpus Christi antiphon Ego sum panis vivus.
“And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” is interpreted through a setting by John Tavener. Sir John Tavener (born 1944) is best known for his large-scale religious works such as The Whale, Celtic Requiem and The Protecting Veil. In 1977 he joined the Russian Orthodox Church, and the mysticism of orthodoxy is clearly heard in his sparse and often slow-moving music. The interpretation continues through Henry Purcell’s Remember not, Lord, our offences. Purcell (1659–1695), one of Britain’s most significant early composers, developed a uniquely English style of choral composition. Purcell’s musical promise was clear early in his life, which led to his tenure as a chorister in the Chapel Royal. Purcell studied with Pelham Humphrey and John Blow before moving to study at Westminster School. In 1676 he began a long association with Westminster Abbey, becoming organist in 1679. The Spanish composer Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548–1611), whose setting of the improperium, Popule meus, ends this section, held a position comparable to that of his older contemporary Palestrina in the music of his time.
“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” takes the ensemble to the music of Leonard Bernstein and his The Lord’s Prayer. Bernstein (1918– 1990) was an American musical icon, equally at home as composer, conductor, pianist, author, and lecturer. For many years, Bernstein was the music director of the New York Philharmonic, as well as guest-conductor of many of the world’s leading orchestras. As a composer, he is known for his musical theatre scores West Side Story, Candide, and On the Town. His religious works include Chichester Psalms. This setting of The Lord’s Prayer comes from Mass, written in 1971 for the opening of Washington’s Kennedy Center. It is followed by Lord, For Thy Tender Mercy’s Sake, set by Richard Farrant (c.1525–1580), a member of the English Chapel Royal for much of his life.
The programme closes with a return to the opening plainchant, Pater noster, this time performed in octaves. The King’s Singers have deliberately chosen to exclude the line “For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever,” as it is not included in the original text of the prayer.
The Kings Singers have refined a programmatic concept over time and many live performances of various interpretations of this universal prayer. While the sum of the textual parts is familiar, the weaving of these individual compositions offers insight of new interpretation on an ancient, but familiar, piece of significant religious poetry and devotional utterance.
Executive Director American Choral Directors Association
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