Hope and protection

On to happier things… we went to an enjoyable concert last night at St Paul’s Cathedral – John Rutter’s Requiem, conducted by the composer himself as part of a special concert to mark his 60th birthday.

The Requiem was preceded by Brahms’s Academic Festival Overture followed by one of my favourite pieces of music, John Tavener’s work for cello and orchestra, The Protecting Veil. (Tavener and Rutter were at school together.)

The Protecting Veil is inspired by the Orthodox Church’s Feast of the Protecting Veil of the Mother of God, which was instituted to commemorate the vision of Andrew, the holy fool, during an all-night vigil when Constantinople was under Saracen attack in the early tenth century. As Tavener puts it in his notes to the piece:

[Andrew and his disciple] saw the Mother of God; she was standing high up above them in the air, surrounded by a host of saints. She was praying earnestly and spreading out her Veil … as a protective shelter over the Christians. Heartened by this vision, the Greeks withstood the Saracen assault and drove away the Saracen army.

Tavener explains that his piece seeks “to capture some of the almost cosmic power of the Mother of God”. The solo cello represents the Mother of God, and the work is “an attempt to make a lyrical ikon in sound, rather than in wood, and using the music of the cellist to paint rather than a brush.”

A gorgeous piece of music. Rumours that its composition was funded by Eastern Orthodox missionary societies are, I’m sure, exaggerated…

As for Rutter’s Requiem, this was another treat, and again the Amazon samples are worth listening to if you’re unfamiliar with the piece.

One of my favourite aspects of this work is the way Rutter combines the Latin Requiem Mass with the Burial Service from the Book of Common Prayer. It brings out the contrast between the imploring tone of the Requiem (whose opening words are “Grant to them eternal rest, O Lord”) and the message of hope and assurance of Cranmer’s service (which opens, by contrast, with the words, “I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die”).

If there’s any place for the former (and, to a limited extent, I think there is, as did Luther), then that’s only in the context of the latter.

This combination is used to great effect in the final movement, Lux Aeterna, as well as in the Agnus Dei:

Agnus Dei, qui tollis pecatta mundi:
dona eis requiem.

Man that us born of a woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery.
He cometh up, and is cut down like a flower;
he fleeth as it were a shadow.

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi:
dona eis requiem.

In the midst of life, we are in death:
of whom may we seek for succour?

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi.
dona eis requiem.

I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord:
he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:
and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.

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20 Responses to Hope and protection

  1. Rick Ritchie says:

    What a great program.
    I have heard both the Rutter and the Tavener performed. And I have some Tavener that I listen to at home (Icon of Light and Thunder Entered Her). Tavener certainly shows us what else is possible.

  2. Rick Ritchie says:

    What a great program.
    I have heard both the Rutter and the Tavener performed. And I have some Tavener that I listen to at home (Icon of Light and Thunder Entered Her). Tavener certainly shows us what else is possible.

  3. Rick Ritchie says:

    What a great program.
    I have heard both the Rutter and the Tavener performed. And I have some Tavener that I listen to at home (Icon of Light and Thunder Entered Her). Tavener certainly shows us what else is possible.

  4. Rick Ritchie says:

    What a great program.
    I have heard both the Rutter and the Tavener performed. And I have some Tavener that I listen to at home (Icon of Light and Thunder Entered Her). Tavener certainly shows us what else is possible.

  5. Rick Ritchie says:

    Oops. Failed to close the italics properly.

  6. Rick Ritchie says:

    Oops. Failed to close the italics properly.

  7. Rick Ritchie says:

    Oops. Failed to close the italics properly.

  8. Rick Ritchie says:

    Oops. Failed to close the italics properly.

  9. Twylah says:

    The first Tavener piece I ever heard was the one they played at the Princess of Wales’ funeral … I remember it so well. The lyrics contained a (rare!) combination of scripture and Shakespeare.
    You are SO LUCKY to live in England. I have to struggle not to break the 9th commandment when I think of it …

  10. Twylah says:

    The first Tavener piece I ever heard was the one they played at the Princess of Wales’ funeral … I remember it so well. The lyrics contained a (rare!) combination of scripture and Shakespeare.
    You are SO LUCKY to live in England. I have to struggle not to break the 9th commandment when I think of it …

  11. Twylah says:

    The first Tavener piece I ever heard was the one they played at the Princess of Wales’ funeral … I remember it so well. The lyrics contained a (rare!) combination of scripture and Shakespeare.
    You are SO LUCKY to live in England. I have to struggle not to break the 9th commandment when I think of it …

  12. Twylah says:

    The first Tavener piece I ever heard was the one they played at the Princess of Wales’ funeral … I remember it so well. The lyrics contained a (rare!) combination of scripture and Shakespeare.
    You are SO LUCKY to live in England. I have to struggle not to break the 9th commandment when I think of it …

  13. No 9th commandment struggle here. But I thought you had filled your quota of culture? I know I fulfilled mine earlier this year.

  14. No 9th commandment struggle here. But I thought you had filled your quota of culture? I know I fulfilled mine earlier this year.

  15. No 9th commandment struggle here. But I thought you had filled your quota of culture? I know I fulfilled mine earlier this year.

  16. No 9th commandment struggle here. But I thought you had filled your quota of culture? I know I fulfilled mine earlier this year.

  17. Todd Granger says:

    I was introduced to Rutter’s Requiem when my wife and I sang it in a superb choir nearly two decades ago, I’ve never failed to be moved by it. I agree with your assessment about his skillful weaving together of the Requiem Mass and the BCP’s burial service. The music fits the texts well, even if it is derivative in places(from Fauré’s Requiem).
    And I’m no great fan of Rutter’s music.

  18. Todd Granger says:

    I was introduced to Rutter’s Requiem when my wife and I sang it in a superb choir nearly two decades ago, I’ve never failed to be moved by it. I agree with your assessment about his skillful weaving together of the Requiem Mass and the BCP’s burial service. The music fits the texts well, even if it is derivative in places(from Fauré’s Requiem).
    And I’m no great fan of Rutter’s music.

  19. Todd Granger says:

    I was introduced to Rutter’s Requiem when my wife and I sang it in a superb choir nearly two decades ago, I’ve never failed to be moved by it. I agree with your assessment about his skillful weaving together of the Requiem Mass and the BCP’s burial service. The music fits the texts well, even if it is derivative in places(from Fauré’s Requiem).
    And I’m no great fan of Rutter’s music.

  20. Todd Granger says:

    I was introduced to Rutter’s Requiem when my wife and I sang it in a superb choir nearly two decades ago, I’ve never failed to be moved by it. I agree with your assessment about his skillful weaving together of the Requiem Mass and the BCP’s burial service. The music fits the texts well, even if it is derivative in places(from Fauré’s Requiem).
    And I’m no great fan of Rutter’s music.

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