Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Even Song

Where exactly does time go?

I set out with this blog to post regularly about the music I discover, re-discover, or simply wish more people loved as I do, and then 2 months drift on by....anyway, let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time I was training to be a minister of religion, a fact that some people I know these days find very hard to believe. Graduating with a 2:1 in Theology I promptly upped and wandered off to Central Europe having convinced myself that at 23 I was too young and green to be standing in a pulpit telling people how to live their lives, and the thought of 'youth ministry' filled me with an inexpressible horror.

Fast forward nearly 16 years and I have gone from being an evangelical to being confirmed as a Scottish Episcopalian to drifting away from the church entirely to the modern day where I openly consider myself agnostic, that is one who is 'without knowledge' to properly translate the Greek.

Even though I haven't darkened the door of a  church in many a year, barely a couple of days goes by without me listening to sacred music, usually dating back centuries. This playlist is a selection of choral music that I come back to time after time.

Thomas Tallis is a name that until a couple of years ago I had only the faintest knowledge of, much to my shame now, especially when you consider the sublime beauty of Spem in Alium. Originally written for Elizabeth I, the harmony of 40 voices floored me the first time I heard it, and still does something inside me that I can't describe beyond instilling a sense of calm. The third track in the playlist is another Tallis composition and relates to the Lamentations of Jeremiah, dripping as it does with the pathos of impending doom.

Beginning with the Greek imprecation for mercy, 'kyrie eleison', the Litany after Lauds for Maundy Thursday commemorates one of the central moments in the lead up to the Passion, the Last Supper in all it's solemnity, and Tenebrae do a spine tingling job of it to boot.

As I mentioned above, soon after finishing college I headed to Central Europe, specifically to Prague, the capital of Bohemia. For a few years in my decade there I dated a rarity in the Czech lands, a church going Catholic girl, and one Easter we went to a concert of Schola Gregoriana Pragensis, who as the name suggests specialise in medieval Gregorian Chant, particularly the rich tradition of Bohemian plainchant. Kyrie - Fons bonatatis is a hymn to the glory of God that perfectly cpatures for me the pure reverence of spiritual worship as opposed to the flippant 'joy' of modern praise.

The final piece on this playlist is a longstanding favourite of mine, The Sixteen's version of Allegri's setting of Psalm 51, Miserere Mei, which translates from the Latin as 'Lord have mercy on me' and relates to the core theme of the Psalm in question. The prophet Nathan has confronted King David for his sin in sleeping with another man's wife, and David is begging for his God to be merciful, begging that he not be flung from God's presence. Allegri's interpretation catches that self-loathing perfectly, and in the high notes the hope of redemption.

No comments:

Post a Comment