Tag Archives: Cecilian Choir

Passion play: discovering the darkness at the heart of Vivaldi this Easter

This Easter, the Cecilian Choir and Sinfonia explore the dark side of Vivaldi, his Credo and Magnificat, two ferocious statements of religious belief that are shaped by the fear, uncertainty and death that coloured Venetian life at the time.

Less than a hundred years before the composition of the Credo, the population of Venice had been devastated by a particularly fierce outbreak of the Black Death; a scant two generations separated the fearsome death-toll, accounting for nearly a third of the population, from Vivaldi’s writing. The city had been riven by plague five times; after each, relieved and terrified citizens gave money to the building of so-called ‘plague churches,’ in the hope that thankfulness and prayer would save them. It was a time when the prospect of Purgatory and Hell was all too real, and the awareness of the fragility of human life hovered at every turn.

The mood of the times is captured perfectly in its art, too. One of the plague churches, the Scuola di San Rocco, houses Tintoretto’s Annunciation, painted between 1583-87; but this is no dewy-eyed moment of revelation. Instead, the angel and various cherubs tumble out of dark, louring skies to find the Virgin amidst ruin, tumble-down woodwork, executed in a dark, sombre palette with only a hint of clear skies in the distance.

Tintoretto: Annunciation
Tintoretto: Annunciation

The same sense finds expression in Vivaldi’s music, with sheer drama realised musically in stark black and white with vivid contrasts. Part of a large collection of music written between 1713-17, the Credo is no rose-tinted joyous affirmation of faith; rather, it’s a fist-clenched proclamation, driven by a very real fear. The sombre E minor tonality broods throughout the first and last movements – there is no escape from its relentless grip. The mystery of Christ’s birth is expressed in slowly-evolving harmonies in the ‘Et incarnatus est,’ which move in unexpected ways as we marvel at the incarnation of God in the flesh. But the mood is dispersed in the ensuing ‘Crucifixus,’ in which the steady, unremitting crotchet pace of the lower strings takes the listener on each step of the walk to the crucifixion with Christ himself, underlined in the angular shape of the fugal idea. The phrase ‘Passus est’ (He suffered) sighs through the choir in sympathy with Christ’s misery, rising to a peak and then gradually subsiding onto ‘Et sepultus est’ (He was buried) in a very low tessitura.  The last movement’s ‘Et expecto resurrectionem’ is delivered in an almost manic intensity, underlined with stark homophony, giving voice to a very real desperation as much as it is a declaration of belief; I expect – nay, demand – the Resurrection of the dead because I have little else left to me.

Similarly, the Magnificat celebrates the Virgin Mary not only as the Mother of Christ but as a Protector of the Venetian Republic, as another prospect of hope in these plague-ridden times. The grand sonority of the opening moves from a brooding G minor through a series of gradually heightening dissonances before returning, inescapably, to the tonic; hope is scarce. A quantum of solace is offered in the dancing ‘Et Exultavit,’ but it is all too brief; the aching dissonances of the ‘Et misericordia’ movement unfold hesitantly, as though the musicians themselves don’t know how the music is going to proceed. Then comes the truly astonishing heart of the work: two fiercely declamatory movements – ‘Fecit potentiam’ (He hath shewed strength with His arm) as much a comment on the devastation of the plague as it is on the might of God – followed by choir and orchestra coming together in a ferocious, unison ‘Deposuit potentes’ (He hath put down the mighty from their seat), railing with anger, and with the choir in full spate in ceaseless quaver runs. The final ‘Gloria’ is given menacing overtones in its return to the tonic minor, and a vigorously fugal ‘Et in saecula saeculorum’ seems to suggest that the consolation of eternal salvation is a long way off. After the cascading fugue, the piece finally offers hope in its conclusion in the major – but Vivaldi makes you wait until the very last chord.

Luini: Madonna and Child Enthroned with Angels
Luini: Madonna and Child Enthroned with Angels

Fear, plague, darkness; these elements combine to inform two of Vivaldi’s greatest choral works, revelling in the drama and the fervour of the text. The concert on Thursday 31 March also includes Mozart’s sublime Ave Verum – a lyrical antidote to the Vivaldi, yet not without its intense harmonies too – and a Vivaldi trio sonata. The light, airy interior of St Peter’s Methodist Church, on the High street in Canterbury, will, for one afternoon in March, become a Venetian plague church, with its hopes, dreams, fears and beliefs brought to life in Vivaldi’s vivid music; admission is free, find out more here.

Cecilian Choir sing the Anthem for Kent: the video

The heady excitement generated by the run-up to the University Cecilian Choir‘s appearance on Heart Kent Radio this morning – and if you’ve missed it all, where HAVE you been ?! – finally peaked when the station broadcast the recording this morning.

P1000735 webTo the delight ot listeners, commuters and those on the school-run throughout the county, the air-waves resounded to staff and students singing ‘England’s Gateway To The World,’ the mock anthem celebrating the glories of our county, arranged for mixed choir by Your Loyal Correspondent.

If you missed this stirring moment, watch the video here; thanks to all the students and staff involved in the project; how about taking it to the Albert Hall ?!

Thanks to HeartKent Radio for the film.

Anthem for Kent: the day the Cecilian Choir went to Heart Radio

What an afternoon.

The rising tide of excitement surrounding the ‘Anthem for Kent,’ created by HeartKent Radio by presenters James and Becky (see previous post), and turned into a full mixed-choir arrangement by Your Loyal Correspondent, finally peaked when members of the Cecilian Choir went out to the radio station yesterday  in order to record the piece.

P1000747 webLike something out of the Italian Job, a fleet of cars left the University campus and trekked deep into the darkest recesses of the north Kent coast, to arrive at the radio station where the excitement was palpable: we were really here! Ushered into the atrium, we met the presenters and production team, before recording the anthem; soprano Charlotte Webb and tenor Joe Prescott were also interviewed about their experience learning the piece.

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The Cecilian Choir with presenters James and Becky (centre)
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Joe and Charlotte in interview

WP_20160225_022 web P1000735 web P1000736 web P1000751 webA terrific experience for all the students and staff involved, and a chance to see into the life of the radio station where all the magic happens. Thanks to James, Becky, Producer Matt and the rest of the team for making us welcome;  tune in to Heart Breakfast tomorrow (Thursday) morning between 8 – 8.30am to hear the final result…

Photos: ©  Heart Kent Radio / University Music Department

Anthem for Kent for HeartKent Radio: part Two

Since we last spoke, you and I, Your Loyal Correspondent has been busy making good on his rash promise to create a choral arrangement of the Anthem for Kent, which presenters James and Becky broadcast on HeartKent Radio a few weeks ago, and which I thought on Tuesday might work as a choral piece.

Since then, with brow furrowed and wielding quill and parchment, the arrangement has been written and type-set, and is here unveiled for the first time; the University Cecilian Choir will be taking a first look at it in rehearsal later today.


This stirring, epic hymn to the glories of the county will resound around Colyer-Fergusson Hall this afternoon; prepare for the earth to move…


Anthem for Kent for HeartKentRadio: part One

Early risers may have caught Your Loyal Correspondent live on air this morning, talking on Heart Kent Radio about the Anthem for Kent which presenters James and Becky have put together.

This stirring, majestic eulogy to the glories of the county – think Elgar and Walton – celebrates its Roman roads, its White Cliffs, as a ‘Garden of England green,’ and I rashly suggested that what better than a choral arrangement of the piece sung by the University Cecilian Choir ? A piece about the county sung by the county’s University seemed a great idea whilst listening to it in my car in the white-heat of the school run a couple of weeks ago, a thought I carelessly voiced out loud and to which my children immediately yelled ‘WE DARE YOU!’

Kent_Anthem_early_draftSo, here we are; I’ve now made a start on converting the piece to a full arrangement for mixed choir, which the Cecilian Choir will then need to learn. We’ll keep you posted as to how it’s progressing. It’s my children’s fault…

Who knows, maybe a performance in the Royal Albert Hall, anyone ?!

Image Gallery: Cecilian Choir and Sinfonia recreate the splendour of the Sun King

The University Cecilian Choir, Sinfonia and soloists came together yesterday for a sumptuous recreation of the splendour of the Sun King, in a programme of music and readings celebrating Lully.

AH4A4117Conducted by Dan Harding, costumed performers patrolled the foyer before being summoned into the re-imagined concert-hall by a side-drum, heralding the start of a selection of sacred and secular works which revisited the lavish entertainments of the court of the Sun King.

AH4A4078 AH4A4083 AH4A4091 AH4A4130 AH4A4136 AH4A4151 AH4A4166 AH4A4174The same forces combine on Thursday 31 March at St Peter’s Methodist Church, in Canterbury, when they will unleash the high drama of two of Vivaldi’s choral works, the Credo and Magnificat, alongside a trio sonata and Mozart’s Ave Verum; more details here.

Photos © Matt Wilson / University of Kent

Scholars’ Spotlight: Robert Loveless

Continuing the series profiling Music Performance Scholars at the University. This week, first-year flautist and bass reading Computer Science, Robert Loveless.

I first started flute back in primary school, where if you wanted music lessons in school, flute was the only option. I gave it a shot and have never looked back since! After a while my teacher introduced me to the West Sussex Youth Orchestra in which I moved up through the various bands and orchestras throughout my years there. Although this seemed daunting at first, it was here that I became hooked on the buzz of ensemble playing. As well as discovering loads of new music, I started playing piccolo there.

Robert_LovelessI later moved to Hurstpierpoint College where I had the opportunity to join a whole host of new ensembles. This included choirs as I had now started singing, however the Jazz band was my new favourite because I had started working on some jazz repertoire with my new teacher. Improvisation was especially enjoyable for me – In my lessons I would try to get away with as much as he would resist before he would give in to join me in a jam session until the lesson was up! I also gained a keen interest in chamber music on the singing side and would later get to sing with the choir in residence at the national pilgrimage in Walsingham. Other personal highlights include performing Vivaldi’s La Tempesta Di Mare Concerto accompanied by a full orchestra – a memorable experience! During my A-levels at Hurst I took Music Technology which allowed me to dabble in writing and recording my own music. The technological aspect of this was particularly interesting to me as a computer scientist and is an industry I still follow closely.

Now at Kent, I am very glad to be able to not only continue with music and developing my skills but also meet likeminded people with whom I share a common passion. I currently participate in the Concert Band, Flute Choir, Chorus and Cecilian Choir. The performances these ensembles have been in so far were thoroughly enjoyable and I am really looking forward to those yet to come, in particular the upcoming cathedral concert.


Read more in the series here.

A Christmas cracker of a Baroque concert

The Cecilian Choir and Sinfonia rose to the occasion in splendid fashion last Friday, and delivered a scintillating concert full of festive Baroque favourites to launch Christmas music-making from the Music department.


Excerpts from Part One of Handel’s Messiah were combined with instrumental concerti by Vivaldi, with four out of the five soloists being drawn from the School of BioSciences – second-year oboist and National Youth Orchestra member Jonathan Butten, second-year singing Scholarship students Charlotte Webb and Ruth Webster, and Senior Lecturer in BioSciences, oboist Dan Lloyd. Vivaldi’s Double Oboe Concerto had a crisp vigour, and Elina Hakanen‘s performance of Winter with the Sinfonia combined moments of drama with expressive lyricism in a sure-footed and musically articulate performance.

The Cecilian Choir

The Cecilian Choir were in rousing form in the Handel choruses, aided by the Sinfonia, directed from the department’s new harpsichord by Your Loyal Correspondent, and the enthusiastic audience even rose to its feet for the concluding ‘Hallelujah Chorus.’

The String Sinfonia

Bravo to everyone involved; the festivities continue this Saturday as the Symphony Orchestra and Chorus come together in music by Vaughan Williams, Shostakovich and Sibelius – details here.

The BioSciences team: Jonathan Butten, Ruth Webster, Charlotte Webb, Dan Lloyd