Choir of St. John's College, Cambridge - Christopher Robinson, director.
Robert Wooley at the Dallam organ, Ploujean, Brittany
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Orlando Gibbons was one of the most notable musicians of his generation. Born in Oxford into a musical family, he became a chorister at King's College, Cambridge, and later a sizar (undergraduate scholar) there before moving to London and becoming a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal. Much of his church music was composed for the chapel, but his particular fame in his day was as a keyboard player: he was appointed one of the two Chapel Royal organists and in 1621 became senior organist when Thomas Tomkins, who was over ten years older, succeeded Edmund Hooper. He was MusB of Cambridge (1606), and in 1622 took the DMus at Oxford with William Heather, founder of the chair of Music there. The anthem O clap your hands was apparently written by Gibbons as Heather's doctoral exercise, although it is more likely that it was made to serve for both his and Heather's in a joint ceremony. Apart from church music and keyboard music he wrote some valuable consort music and partsongs.
Gibbons became organist of Westminster Abbey, in addition to his Chapel Royal post, in 1623, and is also listed as 'privy organ' in the Lord Chamberlain's accounts in 1625. He participated in the funeral of James I in March 1625, but on Whitsunday, 5 June, he died at Canterbury while waiting with the Chapel to receive Charles I's queen Henrietta Maria.
Gibbons's output of anthems is not large: there are about 25 verse anthems and no more than 8 or 9 full anthems, the former being for one or more solo voices with an independent organ accompaniment and with sections for full choir. The texts vary: some are psalms or are selected from other biblical passages, some are collects from the Book of Common Prayer or are specially written prose texts, while yet others are in verse. Almighty God, who by Thy son is a straightforward setting of the prayerbook collect for St Peter's day: it begins as a countertenor solo with a continuation for four solo voices, after which the chorus repeats the words they have just sung. The second part ('Make, we beseech Thee') has a rather more complex pattern of solo scoring, and the chorus takes up the whole of the second part of the text together with the final 'Amen'.
O God the King of glory is a somewhat similar setting of the collect for Ascension Day, while We praise Thee, O Father is an adaptation of the Preface for Easter; this is in four sections, the third of which, beginning 'Who by His death hath destroyed death', is in triple time. 'If ye be risen again with Christ' is from Colossians 3:1-4, part of the epistle for Easter Day, but in the version of the prayerbook of the time, not the King James version used from 1662 onwards. So God loved the world is a poem for Whitsunday, possibly by George Wither; its three strophes are each repeated, in whole or in part, by the chorus.
Of the full anthems O clap your hands, a brilliantly written showpiece for eight-part choir, survives only in a post-Restoration set of partbooks in York Minster, where it is described as 'Dr Hethers commencement song sett by Mr Orlando Gibbons', a reference to the DMus ceremony of 1622 (see above). The work is a setting of Psalm 47 with Gloria and makes effective use of antiphony between the two sides of the choir. O Lord, in Thy wrath rebuke me not is much more sombre, a setting of a version of Psalm 6:1-4 for six voices in a strictly contrapuntal idiom. Even so, it deploys the vocal forces ingeniously: the lightening of texture at 'for I am weak' is particularly striking.
Manuscripts of keyboard music in the 16th and 17th centuries very rarely indicate a preference for a particular instrument, and a great deal of English music of the period can be played on either the organ or on some form of harpsichord, known in England as virginals. Printed music is sometimes more informative, and the title page of Parthenia (a 1612) does indeed continue with the words: or the Maydenhead of the first musicke that ever was printed for the Virginalls. One of the fantasias recorded on this CD (no. 8) was included in this important edition, but that does not mean that it cannot be played on the organ, or even that it was conceived primarily with the virginals in mind, since it also exists in three manuscripts which do not indicate the medium. We must also bear in mind that the organ was not regarded solely as a church instrument in Gibbons's day: the description of him as 'privy organ' must mean that he played the organ in the Privy Chamber. On 16 July 1607 the Merchant Taylors Company gave a banquet for James I and Prince Henry; John Bull, who had been admitted to the freedom of the company in the previous December, played the organ throughout the banquet. It is quite likely that he played music by Byrd and Gibbons as well as his own, but in any case this is a good instance of secular use.
Even in the Chapel Royal, the organ was not always used in a strictly liturgical fashion. When the Spanish ambassadors came in 1604 to sign a treaty to maintain their league with England, the organ played at their arrival in the chapel in Whitehall; after an anthem, the signing of the treaty, and another anthem, a further voluntary was played. A rather similar event at Westminster Abbey was the reception there of French ambassadors in 1624, when 'at their entrance, the organ was touched by the best finger of that age, Mr Orlando Gibbons'.
The secular use of the organ maintained a tradition that can be inferred from the account of the numerous small organs that belonged to Henry VIII at the time of his death, and from a small number of surviving instruments that were clearly not intended for church use: a 'claviorgan' (organ and virginals combined) now in the Victoria and Albert Museum and dated 1579; the small organ at Carisbrook Castle, I.o.W., made in Antwerp in 1602 for the Earl of Montrose; and the small positive organ at Blair Atholl Castle, made in 1650 by John Loosemore. As for the liturgical use of the organ, the best attested functions are for the offertory at the Communion service (whether or not the communion actually followed), between the psalms and the first lesson at Mattins and Evensong, and before the anthem at those services.
Whatever the function, the repertory of the organ will have consisted primarily of contrapuntal works and freely composed music rather than dances and variations on secular themes: that is to say, preludes, fantasias, plainsong settings, and the like. Gibbons wrote no plainsong settings as far as is known, and this recording gives the four preludes and ten fantasias that have been preserved under his name. The preludes make good introductions to the fantasias, and the listener can experiment with the order, noting that the first and fourth preludes are in the same key as the sixth, seventh, and eighth fantasias, that the third prelude is in the same key as the first four fantasias, but that the second prelude (a very popular piece preserved in about a dozen sources) does not have a corresponding fantasia in the same key.
The fantasias are all freely composed in fugal style, though the first two are very short. The others are rather ambitious, the three outstanding ones being the fantasia from Parthenia (no. 8), the fantasia for double (i.e. two-manual) organ, apparently the earliest of its kind by an English composer (no. 3), and the fantasia 'in gamut flatt' (i.e. G minor, no. 5). This last shows Gibbons in an unusually affective mood, exploiting the interval of the diminished fourth both melodically (e.g. in the opening theme) and harmonically, and modulating widely. It is an aspect of his idiom not often revealed elsewhere, and it should act as a warning not to typecast this versatile composer too narrowly.
- 1994 John Caldwell
Robert Woolley was born in London and studied piano and harpsichord at The Royal College of Music, where he is now Professor of harpsichord and pianoforte and Adviser for Early Music.
He has given concerts as a soloist and chamber musician in this country, Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Switzerland, the USA and Japan and has taught on courses in Austria, Portugal and Prague.
His solo recordings include the complete harpsichord music of Purcell, discs of J. C. Bach, Bohm, Frescobaldi, Handel, Poglietti, Scarlatti, and his broadcasts for the BBC include seven programmes of the harpsichord music of John Blow and Bach's French Suites.
Robert Woolley is a founder member of the Purcell Quartet, which has recorded Corelli's and Purcell's complete trio sonatas, and made recordings of C. P. E. Bach, Leclair, Marais and Alessandro Scarlatti.
St John's College is one of the most ancient of the colleges that make up the University of Cambridge. Since its foundation in 1511, it has possessed a College Choir whose main duty is to sing the daily services in the College Chapel during the University Term.
As one would expect in so long a history the College Choir has passed through periods of insecurity and neglect, but, especially since the advent of recorded music, it has become one of the most famous choirs in the world and it is constantly in demand in Great Britain, the major centres of Europe, and North and South America for concerts.
The College Choir consists of 16 Choristers and 4 Probationers (these latter as the very little boys aged between 7 and 9 years, and who become Choristers as vacancies occur). They are elected after a Voice Trial to which boys from all over the country come, and they become boarders at St John's College School. The tone of the boys' voices is distinctive and they are taught to show sensitivity towards the stylistic demands of whatever music they tackle. Their ages range between 9 and 13 years.
The Alto, Tenor and Bass parts are taken by young men who are usually students at the University and who are elected to the places in the College Choir (and therefore to the University, as well) as Choral Scholars. They study a variety of subjects, and remain in the Choir until they have taken their degree at the end of their third year of residence. Frequently, former Choral Scholars of St John's become professional singers in later life.
The present Director, Christopher Robinson, C.V.O., has been in charge since 1991. The Director is assisted by two Organ Scholars, elected after an open competition which is held every two years.
Philip Scriven is a native of Somerset, and was born in 1970. After singing as a chorister in Westminster Abbey, under Douglas Guest and Simon Preston, he won a scholarship to Charterhouse, where he took up the organ and double bass, as well as continuing his studies of the piano and flute. In addition to winning national organ competitions, he has played on radio and television. His recital tours have taken him round Britain, and also to France, Germany, Canada and the United States.
In 1989 he was appointed Organ Scholar at St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, under Christopher Robinson, and also won a place at the Royal Academy of Music, where he won the Academy's prize for organ accompaniment. In 1990 he assumed the position of Organ Scholar at St John's College, Cambridge under Dr George Guest, and accompanied the Choir on its tours and broadcasts. He also conducts the New Cambridge Singers, and the Cambridge University Symphony Orchestra.
Christopher Robinson took up the position of Organist and Director of Music at St John's College, Cambridge in October 1991, in succession to Dr George Guest, prior to which he was Organist of St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle for 17 years. From 1963-1974 he was Organist of Worcester Cathedral where he was much involved with the work of the Three Choirs Festival. In 1964 he became Conductor of the City of Birmingham Choir, a position which he still holds, and in 1977 he took on the conductorship of the Oxford Bach Choir. He has conducted most of the standard choral repertoire with occasional excursions into less familiar territory. With the Birmingham Choir and City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra he has performed many contemporary works including Britten's War Requiem, Messiaen's La Transfiguration and Tippett's Mask of Time.
Christopher Robinson has undertaken many foreign tours and made regular recordings with various choirs. He still finds time to do some organ recitals and occasional piano accompaniment. He became an honorary member of the Royal Academy of Music in 1980 and President of the Royal College of Organists from 1982-1984. He holds honorary degrees from Birmingham University and Birmingham Polytechnic. In 1992 the Queen bestowed on him the honour of C.V.O. in the New Year's Honours List.
The Ploujean Organ
The history of the Ploujean organ is not well documented, but it is possible to relate its main stages with a degree of certainty. We know that in 1677 the parish council of Ploujean (near Morlaix) asked Thomas Dallam, sieur de la Tour, to build a new organ for 1,300 livres. The following year the parish councillors required financial help from the Count of Locmaria and the final instalment was paid in 1680, with a supplement of 90 livres. We also know that another builder, Michel Made, a frequent partner of Dallam, was called to work in Ploujean. We can safely conclude that the Ploujean organ was a joint venture of Made and Dallam.
This organ does not seem to have been altered over the next two centuries, except for the usual repairs and the addition of another bellows in 1724. After an expert's appraisal during the French Revolution, the instrument was valued at 260 livres. In the 19th century an unknown builder moved the organ and placed it on a loft at the far end of the nave. The church accounts mention the last payment to an organist in 1885. Reduced to silence and the target of plunderers, the organ was rediscovered in 1937 and underwent a so-called restoration which damaged it severely. Reduced to silence once more a few years later, the organ waited until 1979 for a preliminary study to show its exceptional value. In 1983 the organ was listed as an Historic Monument and a survey was made by myself for the Ministry of Culture. A real work of restoration, recovering the original state as much as possible, was entrusted to the French-Italian builder Barthelemy Formentelli in 1990/92. The official opening recital was given on 5 March 1994, a few months after the present recording.
The Ploujean organ was built at exactly the same time as that of Ergue-Gaberic, near Quimper, also by Thomas Dallam, sieur de la Tour. Both organs have one manual and about the same number of stops (a dozen), but the Ploujean organ is slightly bigger. The case is covered with burgundy paint, while the Ergue organ is polychrome. Their outlook is very similar, with three towers, the middle one shaped like a ship's bows and two side ones rounded. The manual has 50 keys, from C to D without bottom C sharp, with a small pedalboard. Nearly half the original pipework was found and used again - rather a miracle after a century of ill treatment - and replicas were made of the missing pipes. The chest and most of the key and stop action are original. In addition to the 50 grooves corresponding to the keys, the soundboard contains two extra grooves for accessories, one of them a nightingale. The wind pressure is 70 mm W.G., the pitch 395 Hz (B flat). The temperament is a meantone with 6 pure thirds. The wind is supplied by two bellows which rise and fall alternately under the action of an electric motor or manually.
Western Brittany boasts of possessing three of Thomas Dallam's organs, all in playable condition: those of Ploujean, Ergue-Gaberic and Guimiliau, not forgetting to mention the one at Lanvellec, built by Robert Dallam, Thomas's father.
- Michel Cocheril
Organist at Guimiliau, Brittany