Programme note for ‘Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis’ in D Minor by Thomas Attwood Walmisley
The Magnificat is a canticle of the Virgin Mary, delivered in response to the greeting of Elizabeth; the words are found only in the Gospel according to Luke. It’s praise for the Lord who blesses the lowly and brings down the mighty echoes the Old Testament prayer of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. The words for the Nunc Dimittis are from the same Gospel. Joseph and Mary took their firstborn son to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. They encountered Simeon, a righteous and devout man, who had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Simeon took Jesus in his arms and praised God with the words of the Nunc Dimittis.
This setting by Walmisley (1814-56) is from the Evening Service in D minor which is popularly regarded as Walmisley’s masterpiece. Arthur H Mann, organist at King’s College in the second half of the 19th century, who acquired the ‘autograph copy’ (as he called it) of the music, described the work as ‘one of the finest evening services ever written by any musician’. The Magnificat alternates between powerful unison sections for the lower voices and lyrical three part sections for the upper voices. Especially beautiful is the setting of the words ‘He rememb’ring His mercy’ in triple time for four part chorus. The melodious and calm setting of the Nunc again uses unison for all four parts and a short section for three voices before the Glory.
Walmisley was the eldest son of the musician and teacher Thomas Forbes Walmisley (1783-1866); he was organist of Trinity and St John’s College in Cambridge 1833-56 and believed to have been by far the best organist Cambridge had heard for years. He composed a sizeable amount of service music and anthems. Much of this was written for the joint choir at Trinity and St John’s which was thought to have been one of the best in the country.
Both father and son studied with Thomas Attwood (1765-1838) who was an English organist and composer. Attwood studied in Naples from 1783-85 and Vienna from 1785-87, where he was a favourite pupil of Mozart. He was appointed organist at St Paul’s Cathedral in 1796. Interestingly he was a close friend of Mendelssohn who dedicated his op. 37 preludes and fugues to Attwood.
Programme note for ‘There shall a star from Jacob come forth’ F Mendelssohn
After the success of his oratorio Elijah, which received its world premiere in Birmingham in 1846, Mendelssohn (1809-47) began work on another oratorio. This chorus, together with a recitative and an aria, is all that was completed for part 1 before his untimely death.
Epiphany celebrates the visit of the three wise men to Bethlehem, guided on their journey by a star. The words for this chorus are taken from the Old Testament book of Numbers, Psalm 2 and the well known Lutheran chorale ‘Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern’. The Israelites had fled from Egypt and spent 40 years travelling through foreign lands. The Moabite king wanted his prophet to curse the Israelites, but God revealed to the prophet that Israel would be blessed – ‘there shall a Star from Jacob come forth’ – and princes and nations would be ‘dashed to pieces’.
The first part combines lyricism with drama which vividly depicts the destruction of princes and and nations. The chorus concludes with a contemplative section based on a Lutheran chorale sung at Epiphany. Mendelssohn uses only the first phrase of the hymn ‘How brightly shines the morning star’; the words then remind us that Jesus’ word rightly leads us, just like the star led the wise men.
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Date(s) - 05/02
6:30pm - 8:00pm
St Barbara's Church