programme notes


Christmas with Brighton Consort 2005

2005 has marked an important anniversary; the birth 500 years ago of Thomas Tallis, one of the greatest composers of all times. It is therefore highly fitting that we should be performing his beautiful Christmas mass, Puer natus est, as the main work in the first half of tonight's concert. Like much music from the past, this work has not survived intact; a mere fragment of the Credo remains, and other casualties of time include the loss of much of the second alto part and sections of the first bass. For that reason it is only in recent decades that missing music has been reconstructed to allow performance of all but the Credo.

We begin, however, with a striking work by Tallis's contemporary John Shepherd. An unpleasant and even cruel man, he wrote music of surpassing beauty and depth of feeling with a richness of sonority that included doubling some of the upper voices on final cadences to add extra brilliance and ring.

Two contrasting settings of the Christmas text, O Magnum mysterium, one by Tallis's friend, pupil and fellow Catholic William Byrd, and the other by the great Venetian Giovanni Gabrieli, will complete the more serious half of tonight's programme.

The sublime music of the 11th century mystic and nun, Hildegard of Bingen has gained enormous popularity in recent years, but sadly much of this has been via arrangements that have added inappropriate harmonies and New Age instrumentations to her pure and soaring melodies. We have added just a few simple drones in keeping with the style of the period.

The rest of the second half consists of a variety of carols from medieval times through to the gallery band carols of the nineteenth century. Anyone who has read Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy will be familiar with descriptions of these performances within rural churches, where a choir would be accompanied by a band that comprised every kind of instrument that could be found and played. Many, like viols, had been long obsolete in professional circles, but survived alongside more modern instruments in these small rural communities. Within this spirit, Brighton Consort's own gallery band and viol consort (along with some loyal friends!) will accompany with a variety of instruments, some familiar and others less so.

We do invite you all to join us in some of the better known traditional carols, so please don't overdo the mulled wine in the interval!