|About this Recording
8.555795 - LEIGHTON: Easter Sequence (An) / Crucifixus Pro Nobis
Kenneth Leighton (1929-1988)
Kenneth Leighton was born in the northern English city of Wakefield and started composing at the age of eight. He gained many formative musical experiences while a chorister at Wakefield Cathedral, before he went up to Queen’s College, Oxford, where he read Classics, and then the BMus. At Oxford his composition teacher was Bernard Rose, and after being awarded the Mendelssohn Scholarship, he studied with Goffredo Petrassi in Rome. During his career he held several university appointments at Leeds, Edinburgh and Oxford, and in 1970 returned to Edinburgh as Reid Professor of Music until his untimely death.
Leighton’s compositions include three symphonies. The first of these (1964), a purely orchestral essay, was followed by two including voices (1974, 1984). He was drawn to writing for virtuosi which resulted in several concertos. There are three of these for piano (1951, 1960, 1969), and, amongst others, concertos for violin (1952), cello (1956) and organ (1970). His choral music includes the large-scale The Light Invisible (1958), and the well-known carol Lully, lulla, thou little tiny child (1948). He wrote an opera, Columba (1978), as well as vocal and chamber music, and a fine body of piano works that reflect his skills as a pianist. Characteristics of his music are its lyricism, rhythmic energy, virtuoso writing, and a penchant for instrumental colour.
The legacy of Leighton’s experience at Wakefield Cathedral was profound, and accounts for the reason why he was drawn to compose for the church throughout his career. As he commented: ‘Any natural composer is a product of his background, experience and training … With my upbringing and my boyhood as a cathedral chorister this is perhaps why I respond emotionally to Christian subjects and texts … church music is undoubtedly a channel of communication for me … early experiences are of immense and fundamental importance in musical as in all other kinds of development and I therefore speak as one who comes from inside the church’.
Leighton’s first setting of the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis is subtitled Collegium Magdalenae Oxoniense being composed for the choir of Magdalen College in 1959 and dedicated to its choirmaster Bernard Rose. In both canticles the organ part is elaborate, providing a buoyant texture that underpins the words. The Magnificat is bright and joyous with its sections bound together by the two-bar organ call to attention at the opening. Its Gloria ends fervently with the words ‘world without end’ as an exultant descending phrase punched out by the voices. In the Nunc dimittis the organ part becomes more and more elaborate until it reaches its full glory in the triumphant Gloria.
Give Me the Wings of Faith was composed in 1962 to a commission from the church of St John the Baptist, Leytonstone, for its Patronal Festival. It is written for soloists, choir and organ and within its short span Leighton achieves a variety of sonorities and moods, which culminate in a sonorous unison melody.
An Easter Sequence was commissioned by the Berkshire Boy Choristers of the United States for their service in St Severin, Paris, on Low Sunday 1969. For his texts Leighton used the Propers for the Sundays after Easter, the Antiphon at First Vespers on Ascension Day and Psalm 23. It is scored for two-part boys’ or female voices, organ and trumpet. The music of the Introit is vigorous, built around fanfare-like figures for trumpet and voices as if heralding the risen Lord. Gently rocking voices begin the Gradual over which a solo treble intones Christ’s prophecy. His words ‘Peace be to you’ are cast as a benign descending spread chord, which is followed by joyful Alleluias. The organ takes over the rocking figure in the Offertory, as the Angel greets the women in the garden, and a paean of dancing praise bursts out with trumpet and voices echoing each other suggesting the perpetually ecstatic voices of the heavenly host. For At the Communion, an organ solo marked by florid writing forms a prelude to a serene setting of Psalm 23, whilst the linked Communion is built around an exquisite oscillating melodic fragment. Another organ solo with chord clusters leads to a final allegro in which the trumpet returns and the voices unite for a flowing melody of affirmative strength.
In the last decade of his life Leighton was striving to compose music that spoke more directly to the listener, music that was, he suggested, ‘more static, but perhaps more varied and relaxed, with greater emphasis on colour and harmony’. An example of this tendency is the motet What Love is This of Thine? composed in 1985 for Dennis Townhill to mark his 25 years as organist and master of the choristers at St Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh. It is written for unaccompanied chorus with soloists and exemplifies Leighton’s superb skill at word-setting in the context of melody and harmony that colours and heightens the text, as, for instance, the mellifluous blossoming of the choral textures at the words ‘O matchless love’.
During his thirties and forties much of Leighton’s music was austere in mood, using a highly chromatic harmonic language. Such dark astringency is apparent in the cantata Crucifixus pro nobis, a masterpiece in miniature, composed in 1961 for David Lumsden and the Choir of New College, Oxford. Its four movements are, in effect, a concentrated, intense Passion, scored for tenor, choir and organ. The metaphysical seventeenth-century texts, three by Patrick Carey and the last by Phineas Fletcher, are redolent with vivid imagery to which the composer was manifestly drawn. A stark, chill organ motif heard at the opening recurs as a unifying element within the cantata, and the raw melody of the tenor evokes the wintry images of Christ in the Cradle. In Christ in the Garden the chorus portrays the emotion of the Lord in the garden of Gethsemane in impassioned music that reflects words in the text such as ‘flame’ and ‘fire’. For Christ in his Passion the tenor and chorus are combined, and its central six-part section rises to an anguished, dissonant climax as it dwells on the agony of the crucifixion. The almost unbearable build up of tension of the successive movements is typical of Leighton’s music at this time; its musical and emotional catharsis is reserved for Fletcher’s Hymn with its soothing harmonies and affecting vocal line.
Throughout his life Leighton found inspiration in hymns, chorales and plainsong chants which were quarried as musical material for pieces. An example is Veni creator spiritus for organ composed for the Dunfermline Abbey Festival in 1987. The ancient melody is used in the manner of a Bachian chorale prelude, as is the hymn tune Rockingham, composed in 1975 to a commission by Oxford University Press for inclusion in their collection Chorale Preludes on English Hymns. The tune is set to the familiar words When I survey the wondrous Cross, which is heard against a haunting, lilting rhythm that creates a mood of hushed awe.
Leighton’s second setting of the evening canticles, The Second Service, dates from 1971 and was commissioned by the Cathedral Organists Association. It was dedicated to the memory of Brian Runnett, the outstanding, organist and choirmaster of Norwich Cathedral, who died tragically at the age of 35 in a car accident. Cushioned by gentle note clusters, the lyrical, melismatic melody of the trebles floats above them, and is extended to the other voices. A dance-like accompaniment for organ is established, recalling that Leighton used to insist that in performance his music should be made to dance, and over its syncopated rhythms the voices have long-limbed melodies that are often sung in unison. The peaceful Gloria is built from the opening motif and particularly effective is the overlapping descending phrase at the words ‘world without end’. A sombre mood characterizes the Nunc dimittis, as its opening words so aptly befit the work’s dedication, as do the tolling bells in the accompaniment that commence at the word ‘peace’. It concludes with a consoling ‘Amen’.
 &  Magnificat
My soul doth magnify the Lord:
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son,
 &  Nunc Dimittis
Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace,
 Give me the wings of faith
Give me the wings of faith to rise
Once they were mourning here below,
I ask them whence their victory came;
They marked the footsteps that he trod,
Our glorious Leader claims our praise
An Easter Sequence
An angel of the Lord descended from heaven
 At the Communion
The Lord is my Shepherd,
God is ascended,
 What love is this of thine?
What love is this of thine that cannot be
Edmund Taylor, c. 1642 - 1729
Crucifixus pro nobis
 Christ in the Cradle
Look, how he shakes for cold!
Patrick Carey, d. 1651
 Christ in the Garden
Look how he glows for heat!
 Christ in his Passion
What bruises do I see!
Why did he shake for cold?
Drop, drop, slow tears,
Phineas Fletcher, 1582 - 1650
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