Friday, 5 February 2010

Second Hand Music Shops: A Good Haul

I often haunt second-hand bookshops - especially those that sell sheet music. Today I have just had a rather good haul at a shop in ...[well, would I let on where my sources are?] All of the music I found was British and had formerly belonged to a cathedral musician.

First up on the list was a setting of the Te Deum and Jubilate by E.J. Moeran. I must admit that I did not know he had written such a work. It was composed in 1930 and duly published the following year. The reviewer in the Musical Times was impressed: " is a well written work with a decided modal flavour."

I have long known Herbert Howells setting of 'Like as the hart desireth water brooks' but have never seen the music. This is No.3 of the Four Anthems that were composed in Cheltenham during 1941. Howells had moved here after the family home in Barnes had been bombed. Typically he was to commute between Gloucestershire and the Royal College of Music where he had a 'bedroom' in the basement. However over the New Year period of 1940/41 they were snowed in at Cheltenham and Howells decided to try to compose a new work each day - until the thaw came. One of the results of this burst of industry was the Four Anthems, originally entitled In Time of War...

I next discovered two short settings of the Magnificat & Nunc Dimittis by Herbert Sumsion, the Gloucestershire composer and organist. Both settings are in G major, although one was composed in 1943 and the second some ten years later. Both are effective liturgical works that are still heard on occasion in 'quires and places where they sing.'
The second tranche of my find was an all Britten event! The earliest is the Te Deum in C Major dating from 1934. Michael Kennedy has noted that this is for Britten, "a strangely conventional work", and Constant Lambert referred to it as 'drab and penitential.' The piece was written for Maurice Vinden and the Choir of St Mark's North Audley Street, London. In another pile of music I found the Jubilate which Britten wrote some 27 years after the Te Deum as a companion piece. It was written for St. George's Chapel, 'at the request of H.R.H The Duke of Edinburgh.'

The next Britten work I found was the organ score for the Missa Brevis in D. This is a work dating from 1959 that was composed for George Malcolm and the boys of Westminster Cathedral Choir. My score is inscribed with the note "September 1962 - Three Choirs Festival - Gloucester." Arthur Jacob noted in the Musical Times (October 1962) that "...under Guest the boys very skilfully managed Britten's recent Missa Brevis, with its almost too determined unconventionality of word-setting, vocal harmony, and accompaniment."

But perhaps the best buy was a copy of the War Requiem in the original format. I note that the price stamped on the inside cover was 50/- (£2:50) and surely represented a lot of money back in 1962. It is not the place to discuss this major work, but to note that the vocal score was prepared by Imogen Holst. It is a work that I remember hearing at school in the early 'seventies.' There was a score, just like mine, in the music-room cupboard. I recall putting the old Decca LPs onto the turntable...
One last thing - tucked inside the score was a 'Souvenir Programme' for a performance of this great work at a variety of venues in the South of England. I have scanned the cover above. The singers were Heather Harper (soprano), Robert Tear (tenor) and Thomas Hemsley (baritone). The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Charles Groves.

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