Music for beautiful buildings

 

A church-going Christian would be used to the practice of ensemble singing alongside prayer and contemplation, but exactly how and when the idea of religious practice blended into artistic appreciation?

Possibly from my earliest TV Christmas carol concerts, and certainly enhanced by discovering Radio 3’s Choral Evensong on midweek afternoons some time in the 1990s. Although that programme broadcasts all year round, it seems particularly suited to the dusky and dark afternoons of autumn and winter, possibly because of the format’s similarity to the Christmas Eve broadcast of lessons and carols at King’s College Cambridge.

 

KingsCollegeChapelCambridge

The chapel of King’s College Cambridge.

 

I would agree with Tom Service that the musical pleasures of choral evensong are inevitably associated with the medieval churches and cathedrals which still retain professionally-led choirs able to perform it.  If you love to visit a historic Christian church it’s surely easy to listen to some of the music which has been designed to be sung within it.

 

Chesterchoir

The medieval choir stalls at Chester Cathedral.

 

ChapelleRoyaleParis

Sainte Chapelle in Paris.

 

My most memorable personal experience of attending a religious service involving such a choir was at Mass in the Gothic style (but Victorian built) St Mary’s Catholic cathedral in Sydney, Australia. The music included William Byrd, as I remember.

 

SydneyCathedralfromabove

St Mary’s Cathedral, photographed from a conveniently high vantage in 2000, probably from the AMP Centrepoint complex. The adjoining 19th building century building, contrasting with other larger and newer ones, is the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

 

Yes, perhaps such music is an old-fashioned taste even for a church-goer, the sort mocked by Philip Larkin in Church Going After all, it is now more often specially planned and performed for secular audiences,  for example at the Three Choirs Festival , rather than as natural parts of the religious life of a community.

I confess to preferring plainchant and polyphony and contemporary composition (which usually requires the skills of professional singers)  rather than hymns from the 19th and early 20th centuries where a choir sings in hearty unison to organ accompaniment just as they might do in your local parish. Probably a bit of snobbery, that. Whichever, you have the strong sense that this is a form of cultural expression which, as the 21st century progresses, will become more rare and select.

 

Iona

The medieval chapel in Iona Abbey.

 

 

Venice

Somewhere bright and Baroque in Venice, probably the Church of Santa Maria della Salute.

 

StAnnesJerusalem

One of the older churches in Jerusalem, St Anne’s near the Pool of Bethesda, built by the Crusaders in the 12th century.

 

MountTabor

The startling interior of the Church of the Transfiguration, designed in the 1920s by Antonio Barluzzi, on Mount Tabor in Israel.

 

The website Saturday Chorale  contains a huge treasure trove from all periods and there are extracts of the excellent BBC series Sacred Music with performances by The Sixteen on You Tube.

 

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