“Noel went more for a sense of lyricism, making points with delicacy and paying attention to details”
Channing Gray
Providence Journal
17 December 2017
(Handel Messiah)


Ralph Vaughan Williams
Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958)
“He found in the Elizabethans and folk-song the elements of a native English language that need no longer be spoken with a German accent, and from it he forged his own idiom.”   (Obituary, The Times)

Ralph Vaughan Williams

O Clap Your Hands  (1920)
Lord, Thou Hast Been Our Refuge  (1921)

“[Hubert] Parry once said to me: ‘Write choral music as befits an Englishman and a democrat.’ We pupils of Parry have, if we have been wise, inherited from him the great English choral tradition, which Tallis passed on to Byrd, Byrd to Gibbons, Gibbons to Purcell, Purcell to Battishill and Greene, and they in their turn through the Wesleys, to Parry. He has passed on the torch to us and it is our duty to keep it alight.”

— Ralph Vaughan Williams
    Musical Autobiography (1950)

Ralph Vaughan Williams’ musical pedigree was rich and varied. He studied with the major British figures of the time — Hubert Parry, Charles Wood, and the great writer of Victorian part songs, Charles Villiers Stanford. Like Stanford, an Irishman known for his arrangements of traditional songs, Vaughan Williams had a strong interest in folk melodies and, in 1903, had begun to transcribe folk songs during his travels in the countryside. He also studied composition with Max Bruch in Berlin and with the gifted orchestrator Maurice Ravel in Paris.

Like Howells and his other contemporaries, Vaughan Williams was searching for — and adding to — a musical tradition that was unequivocally English and of a quality commensurate with “the imperishable glories of English prose.” He found much of his inspiration in the polyphony of Thomas Tallis, William Byrd and other composers from the 16th century. His Mass in G minor was, in fact, the first truly English setting of the Mass since the Elizabethans.

Ironically, Vaughan Williams, who considered himself a benign atheist, wrote some of the greatest church music of his time, including the hymn “For All the Saints.” He served as musical editor of The English Hymnal and helped to edit The Oxford Book of Carols. “There is no reason,” he once said, “why an aetheist could not write a good Mass.”

Sir Richard R. Terry, who led the first liturgical performance of Vaughan Williams’ Mass in G minor at Westminster Cathedral, found it to be a work of immense power and significance for a nation that had just come through the horrors of a world war — a war in which Vaughan Williams served first as medical corpsman and later as a commissioned officer. Terry said to Vaughan Williams, “I’m quite sincere when I say that [this] is the work one has all along been waiting for. In your individual and modern idiom you have really captured the old liturgical spirit and atmosphere.”

The two works from this weekend’s concerts — O Clap Your Hands (1920) and Lord, Thou Hast Been Our Refuge (1921) — date from the same time as the Mass in G minor. They demonstrate a deep respect and thorough understanding of Anglican chant. O Clap Your Hands is a joyful, triumphant setting drawn from Psalm 47, building toward the repeated final phrase, “Sing praises unto our King, sing praises.” Lord, Thou Hast Been Our Refuge begins as chant with a soft underlayment of the hymn tune St. Anne’s (“O God, Our Help In Ages Past”) sung by the chorus. It works its way forward toward a triumphal conclusion of the tune for chorus and organ.

O Clap Your Hands
Psalm 47: 1, 2, 5-8

O, clap your hands, all ye people;
    shout unto God with the voice of triumph.
For the Lord most high is terrible;
    He is a great King over all the earth.
God is gone up with a shout,
    the Lord with the sound of a trumpet.
Sing praises to God, sing praises;
    sing praises unto our King, sing praises.
For God is the King of all the earth;
    sing ye praises, every one that hath understanding.
God reigneth over the heathen,
    God sitteth upon the throne of His holiness.
Sing praises unto our King.
    Sing praises.

Lord, Thou Hast Been Our Refuge
Psalm 90, hymn set in verse by Isaac Watts (1674-1748)

O God our help in ages past
    our hope for years to come.
Our shelter from the stormy blast
    and our eternal home.

Lord, Thou hast been our refuge from one generation to another, before the mountains were brought forth or ever the earth and the world were made. Thou art God from everlasting and world without end.

Thou turnest man to destruction; again Thou sayest Come again ye children of men. For a thousand years in Thy sight are but as yesterday, seeing that is past as a watch in the night.

As soon as Thou scatterest them They are even as asleep and fade away suddenly like the grass. In the morning it is green and groweth up, but in the evening it is cut down, dried up and withered.

For we consume away in Thy displeasure and are afraid at Thy wrathful indignation. For when Thou art angry all our days are gone; we bring our years to an end as a tale that is told.

The years of our age are three score years and ten, and though men be so strong that they come to fourscore years, yet is their strength but labour and sorrow. So passeth it away and we are gone.

Turn Thee again, O Lord, at the last. Be gracious unto Thy servants. O satisfy us with Thy mercy and that soon. So shall we rejoice and be glad all the days of our life.

Lord, Thou hast been our refuge from one generation to another, before the mountains were brought forth or ever the earth and the world were made. Thou art God from everlasting and world without end.

And the glorious Majesty of the Lord be upon us. Prosper Thou, O prosper Thou the work of our hands. O prosper Thou our handywork.