Andrew Parnell is an English composer, organist and harpsichordist (b.1954). Parnell currently resides in Ely, Cambrigdeshire where he works closely with Ely Cathedral. There, he became Assistant Director of the Octagon Singers, Director of Ely Choral Society and Wymondham Symphony Orchestra. His compositions vary from both sacred to secular and have been performed worldwide, that now includes the Pro-Cathedral!
Peter Philips was an eminent English composer and organist in the late 16th century (1560 - 1628), right at what most scholars define as the period of change between the Renaissance and Baroque eras. However, in Philips’ case (and many others) it’s not as clear cut. Philips fled England as a young man because he was unable to maintain his Catholic beliefs comfortably. ‘Ave Verum Corpus’ and an accompanying motet ‘Ascendit Deus’ were published in Antwerp in 1612. The collection was defiantly dedicated to the ‘amplification of the Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman faith’. It’s this dedication to his faith which delineates the style of his compositions.
'Cantique de Jean Racine' was composed by Gabriel Fauré for a competition when he was just nineteen-years old. The text, "Verbe égal au Très-Haut" ("Word, one with the Highest"), by Jean Racine is from a hymn, which is so elegantly set by Fauré. It features a lush choral homophony layered on top of a sparse organ accompaniment. It is very much a precursor to his 'Requiem'. It is no surprise that he won the competition in which it was entered!
The second of today’s motets; the aforementioned ’Videntes Stellam’ by Francis Poulenc was one of his latter choral compositions and was composed in the midst of a religious awakening following the death of a close friend.
Poulenc’s musical language demands a lot from the choir, whether it be the use of complex harmony or fastidious note-lengths; especially with this unrelenting homophony! We look forward to singing his ‘O Magnum Mysterium’ next week.
This week’s motets consisted of Victoria’s ‘O Magnum Mysterium’ and Poulenc’s ‘Videntes Stellam’. This piece is very typical of Victoria’s highly expressive style, full of mysticism and serious devotion!
The text captures Christ’s self-abasement at the moment of his birth, insofar as that he would allow himself to lie, vulnerable, among common animals; ox and ass. A true mystery indeed.