About this Recording
8.555255 - RUBBRA: Nine Tenebrae Motets / Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis
English 

Edmund Rubbra (1901-1986)

Sacred Choral Works

Edmund Rubbra was born in 1901 to poor, working-­class parents in Northampton. His father was employed in a boot factory and the young Edmund was running errands to supplement the family income long before he left school at the age of fourteen to work as a railway clerk. His mother sang in the local Congregational church choir and took care to encourage his musical development at the piano. In 1920 he gained a scholarship in composition to Reading University where he studied with Gustav Hoist, study which was further encouraged by an open scholarship to the Royal College of Music in 1921. Rubbra left the RCM in 1925 and supported himself by teaching privately; composing, contributing to music journalism and playing the piano. During the course of his war service with the Royal Artillery he was seconded to give chamber music concerts (he was an excellent pianist) and formed an ensemble which later became the Rubbra-Gruenberg-Pleeth Trio. From 1947 to 1968 Rubbra lectured in music at Oxford and was awarded a fellowship at Worcester College, Oxford in 1963. From 1961 to 1974 he also served as professor of music at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. He died at his home in Gerrards Cross in 1986.

Rubbra is a composer who defies easy description. He embraced traditional forms and structures with ease but with a unique voice and a sophisticated concept of tonality and harmony. This concept seems to grow from the starting point of a composer such as Debussy, where harmonic inventiveness is always logical but often breath-takingly wonderful. Tonality is clear but not set in stone and the context in which it is presented opens up endless possibilities. This combined with Rubbra's innate sense of melody and a love of counterpoint shines through in his compositions.

The other defining characteristic of Rubbra was his firmly held religious belief. Of his colleagues few had definite ideas of faith. Vaughan Williams, Finzi, Britten and Tippett always felt uncomfortable with set forms of religion and indeed both Britten and Tippett had to sublimate their personal feelings in order to produce music for the Church, but for Rubbra spirituality was the starting point for work, an inexhaustible wellspring from which flowed not only choral and vocal music but also much of his instrumental and orchestral writing. His reception into the Roman Catholic Church in 1948 was to prove the inevitable point of rest for a man who had begun his spiritual journey many years earlier. His belief was not simply a gut reaction, its gestation period was lengthy and when it finally emerged it was intellectual, wide-ranging, consistent and deep. Reflected in his output are not only the influences of major Catholics such as Thomas Aquinas, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Teilhard de Chardin (whose name the Eighth Symphony bears) but also English metaphysical writers and elements of Buddhism and Eastern mysticism.

The Magnificat and Nunc dimittis in A flat major, Op. 65, and the Missa Cantuariensis, Op. 59, were both written for the Anglican rite. The two Evensong canticles composed in 1948 are remarkably bold and original compared with the rather more polite versions offered by late Victorian and Edwardian writers. There is an unusual sense of muscularity at the opening of the Magnificat, underlined by the surprising, slightly threatening use of the diminished fifth and a majestic tempo. Throughout there is sensitivity to just accentuation and word stress, most obviously in the Nunc dimittiswhere a unison melody in octaves between the upper and lower voices stretches languorously around the text. The Gloria is sung to the same music in both cases, still muscular but with self-­assurance replacing angst, in spite of the notorious writing of simultaneous duplets and triplets in the organ accompaniment.

The Missa Cantuariensis written during the last years of the Second World War was the result of a conversation between the Reverend J .W. Poole, the then Precentor of Canterbury Cathedral, and the Cathedral Organist, Gerald Knight. The far-sighted Precentor wished to encourage musicians to write for the liturgy and realised (with great clarity) that it was essential for the Church itself to encourage new music. The Mass was first performed on 20th June 1946 in St Bartholomew the Great, Smithfield in London with the Sadler's Wells Chorus conducted by Alan Melville: it was first sung in Canterbury Cathedral on 20th July 1946 conducted by Gerald Knight and has remained a regular part of the repertoire.

This was Rubbra's first and largest of his four settings of the Ordinary. It is essentially a festal piece scored for double choir. The full eight-part texture is used throughout with occasional antiphonal effects (at the words Christ have mercy upon us) and reductions in scoring (at the Benedictus) and it makes full use of the vocal ranges. Following the use of the 1662 and 1928 Prayer Books the Gloria is placed at the end of the service. This is a work rooted in the Anglican tradition with even occasional nods in the direction of Tudor polyphony (the Amen of the Gloria, for example), all that is except for the Creed. Rubbra himself drew attention to the difference. It is the only movement to use organ and its unison writing is heavily reminiscent of accompanied Gregorian chant. Rubbra 'felt strongly that the Credo should somehow be isolated in its texture from the other movements, in order to underline the difference between a solitary personal statement of belief and the act of corporate worship and appeal'. The succinct Sanctus and Benedictus show excellent dramatic pacing whilst the Agnus Dei once again delights in the polyphonic heritage with its downward minor sixth intervals used for particular poignancy in the sixteenth century.

A comparison of the Latin and English sacred music of William Byrd reveals a remarkable fact. Both are well crafted and equally beautiful but there is an extra dimension to the Latin music, a deeper spirituality, which is somehow not present in the more serene Anglican writing. The Missa in honorem Sancti Dominici, Op.66, and the set of Tenebrae Responsories for Maundy Thursday, the nine Tenebrae Motets, Op.72, Nos.1-9, leave the listener in no doubt as to their provenance. These pieces are worlds apart from the Anglican music. The Mass was written as a personal response to his own conversion on the feast day of St Dominic (4th August) and was first performed on 26th October 1949 at the Royal Academy of Music in London, in the presence of the Queen, by the Fleet Street Choir conducted by T.B. Lawrence. It is apiece tailor-made for the liturgy, concise but spacious, with each section clearly characterized according to the text. The mystical elements are particularly obvious at the salient moments - the Kyrie, the Et incarnatus est and Crucifixus of the Credo and the Agnus Dei. Lennox Berkeley thought it 'beautifully done - dignified and simple' and went on to say how much he admired 'the way you managed to find a suitable style without falling into the pastiche of polyphonic music, which so easily happens'. There is no hint of 'old wine in new bottles' here, instead this piece, more than any other, helps to place Rubbra more completely in the tradition of twentieth-century European religious writing. He described it as having 'red blood' running 'through its veins' - not simply the 'red blood' of drama and commitment but also that contained in the sacrifice of the Mass.

The Nine Tenebrae Responsories are settings of the texts used during Matins on Maundy Thursday. Matins consists of three Nocturns, each with three psalms and antiphons and three readings with three responsories: hence nine responsories in total. There is a similar scheme for Good Friday and Holy Saturday. The three responsories of the first Nocturn were written in 1951 with the first being dedicated to Charles Kennedy Scott for his 75th birthday. There was then a gap of ten years before the next six were completed, the second Nocturn on the Feast of Christ the King in 1961 and the third during Advent, this last set being dedicated to and first performed by Denys Darlow and the Tilford Bach Choir. It seems then that Rubbra did not initially conceive these pieces for complete liturgical performance but there is a unity of purpose and approach and all textual repetitions as dictated by the liturgical rubrics have been observed.

Holy Week is the most highly charged time in the Church's calendar, and Rubbra has responded with mystical, intensely dramatic works. The repetition of the phrase Judas mercator pessimus with its unrelenting use of the augmented fourth grips the soul with discomfort, whilst the dramatic shout of “Quid dormitis? surgile el orate” in Una hora is a clarion call not just to the disciples but to us all. There are overtones of the bitter-sweet harmony and homophonic textures of Francis Poulenc on occasion and again like Poulenc this music can look prosaic on the page. Only when the colour of the words is married to the music is the genius of these pieces released. Moments reminiscent of the late twentieth-century minimalists, especially in Amicus meus, give an extra sense of timelessness but this is only one technique in a set bristling with integrity, variety and emotional power.

Rubbra did not contribute much to the solo organ repertory but Bernard Rose, a colleague of Rubbra's at Oxford, transcribed for organ a piano composition, the Prelude and Fugue on a theme of Cyril Scott, Op.69, written in 1949. Rubbra was much taken with the music of Cyril Scott, having promoted a concert of his music as a teenager in Northampton. This piece was written in honour of Scott's seventieth birthday and uses a theme from the composer's First Piano Sonata. The Prelude retains the character of the opening of Scott's Sonata while introducing a second voice to form a dialogue with the melody but also quotes the imminent fugal subject. The Fugue, retaining both the subject and countersubject throughout and using the techniques of stretto, augmentation and diminution to bring the piece to a splendid climax, is firmly within the tradition of Bach. The much shorter Meditation for Organ, Op.79, was dedicated to James Dalton and is based around the note C, which is present in the pedal throughout. Its winding melody with frequent use of ornamentation again harks back to an earlier age.

Andrew Carwood

Edmund Rubbra (1901-1986)

Sacred Choral Works

 

Magnificat and Nunc dimittis in A flat, Op. 65

 

[1]

 

Magnificat

 

[2]

Nunc dimittis

 

 

My soul doth magnify the Lord:

and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

For he hath regarded

the lowliness of his hand-maiden.

For behold from henceforth

all generations shall call me blessed.

For he that is mighty hath magnified me,

and holy is his Name,

And his mercy is on them that, fear Him throughout all generations.

He hath showed strength with his arm;

he hath scattered the proud

in the imagination of their hearts.

He hath put down the mighty from their seat,

and hath exalted the humble and meek.

He hath filled the hungry with good things,

and the rich he hath sent empty away.

He remembering his mercy

hath holpen his servant Israel,

as he promised to our forefathers,

Abraham and his seed, for ever,

 

 

Lord, now lettest thou they servant depart in peace, according to thy word;

For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,

which thou hast prepared before the face of all people,

To be a light to lighten the Gentiles,

and to be the glory of thy people Israel.

 

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son,

and to the Holy Ghost:

as  it was  in the beginning, is  now, and ever shall be;

world without end. Amen.

 

(Luke 2, vv 29-32)

 

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost:

as it was in the beginning, is now,

and ever shall be;

world without end. Amen.

 

 

 

 

(Luke I vv 46-55)

 

 

 

Missa in honorem Sancti Dominici, Op. 66

 

[3]

Kyrie

 

 

Kyrie eleison,

Chrisle eleison,

Kyrie eleison.

Lord have mercy upon us.

Christ have mercy upon us.

Lord have mercy upon us,

 

 

 

[4]

Gloria

 

 

Gloria in excelsis Deo,

et in terra pax hominibus bonae volunIalis.

Laudamus te, benedicimus te,

adoramus te, glorificamus te.

Gratias agimus tibi propter Magnam gloriam Iuam.

Domine Deus, Rex caelestis,

Desu Pater omnipotens,

Domine Fili unigenite Jesu Christe.

Domine Deus, Agnus Dei, Filius Patris.

Qui tollis peccata mundi,

miserere nobis,

suscipe deprecationem nostram.

Qui sedes ad dextram Patris,

miserere nobis.

Quoniam tu solus sanctus,

tu solus Dominus,

tu solus altissimus, Jesu Christe.

Cum sancto Spiritu

in gloria Dei Paltris, Amen.

 

Glory be to God on high,

and on earth peace to men of good will.

We praise thee, we bless thee,

we worship thee, we glorify thee,

we give thanks to thee for Thy great

glory,

O Lord God, heavenly King,

God the Father Almighty.

O Lord the only begotten Son, Jesus Christ; Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father.

Thou that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us,

receive our prayer.

Thou that sittest at the right hand of the Father, have mercy upon us.

For thou only art holy;

thou only art the Lord;

thou only, O Christ,

with the Holy Ghost,

art most high in the glory of God the Father, Amen.

 

 

 

[5]

Credo

 

 

Credo in unum Deum, Patrem amnipotentem, factorem caeli et terrae,

visibilium omnium et invsibilium.

Et in unum Daminum Jesum Christum,

Filium Dei unigenitum.

Et ex Patre natum ante omnia ,saecula.

Deum de Deo, lumen de lumine,

Deum verum de Deo vera,

genitum non factum, consubstantialem Patri:

per quem omnia facta ,sunt.

Qui propter nos homines et propter nostram ,salutem descendit de coelis.

Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Mariae Virgine et homo factus est.

Crucifixus etiam pro nobis, sub Pontio Pilato;

passus et sepultus est.

Et resurrexit tertia die

secundum scripturas.

Et ascendit in caelum:

sedet ad dexteram Patris.

Et iterum venturus est cum gloria

judicare vivos et mortuos:

cujus regni non erit finis.

 

I believe in one God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth,

and of all things, visible and invisible;

And in one Lord Jesus Christ,

the only-begotten Son of God,

begotten of his Father before all worlds,

God of God, Light of Light,

very God of very God, begotten not made,

being of one substance with the

Father;

by whom all things were made;

who for us men, and for our salvation came down from heaven,

And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man;

And was crucified a1so for us under Pontius Pilate;

he suffered and was buried;

And the third day he rose again,

according to the Scriptures,

And ascended into heaven,

And sitteth on the right hand of the Father;

And he shall come again, with glory,

to judge both the quick and the dead;

whose kingdom shall have no end.

 

 

Et in Spiritum, Sanctum,

Domimum, et vivificantem,

qui ex Patre Filioque procedit.

Qui cum Patre et Filio

simul adoratur, et conglorificator;

qui locutus est per Prophetas.

 

And I believe in the Holy Ghost

the Lord, and Giver of Life;

who proceedeth from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together

is worshipped and glorified;

who spake by the prophets.

 

 

Et unam sanctam catholicam

et apostolicam eccelesiam,

Confiteor unum baptisma

in remissionem peccatorum.

Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum,

et vitamventuri saeculi.

 

And I believe in one catholic

and apostolic Church;

And I acknowledge one baptism

for the remission of sins;

And I look for the resurrection of the dead;

And the life of the world to come.

 

 

Amen.

Amen.

 

 

 

[6]

Sanctus

 

 

 

Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus,

Dominus Deus, Sabaoth.

Pleni sunt caeli et terra gloria tua,

Hosanna in excelsis.

Holy, Holy, Holy,

Lord God of Hosts.

Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory, Hosanna in the highest.

 

 

 

[7]

Benedictus

 

 

Benedictus qui venit in nominee Domini.

Hosanna in excelsis.

Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.

Hosanna in the highest,

 

 

 

[8]

Agnus Dei

 

 

 

Agnus Dei,

qui tollis peccata mundi,

miserere nobis.

Agnus Dei,

qui tollis peccata mundi,

dona nobis pacem.

Lamb of God,

who takest away the sins of the world,

have mercy upon us

Lamb of God,

who takest away the sins of the world,

grant us peace,

 

Tenebrae Motets, Op. 72

[10]-[12] 1st Nocturn

 

[10]

I

Respond: In monte Oliveti oravit ad Patrem: Pater, si fieri potest, transeat a me calix; iste: Spiritus quidem promptus est, caro autem infirma.

Response: He prayed to his Father on the Mount of Olives: Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: the Spirit indeed is ready but the flesh is weak.

 

 

Versicles: Vigilate et orate ut non intretis in tentationem. Spiritus quidem promptus est, caro autem infirma.

Versicles: Watch and pray, that ye may not enter into temptation. The Spirit is indeed ready but the flesh is weak.

 

 

[11]

II

R: Tristis est anima mea usque ad mortem: sustinete hic,

et vigilate mecum: nunc videbitis turbam, quœ  circumdabit me: Vos fugam capietis,

et ego vadam immolari pro vobis:

R: My Soul is sorrowful to death: stay here and watch

ith me: now ye shall see a multitude

that will surround me. Ye shall run away,

and I will go to be sacrificed for you.

 

 

V: Ecce appropinquat hora, et Filius hominis tradetur in manus peccatorum, Vos fugam capietis, et ego vadam immolari pro vobis.

V: Behold the time draws near, and the Son of Man shall be delivered into the hands of sinners. Ye shall run away, and I will go to be sacrificed.

 

 

[12]

III

R: Ecce vidimus eum non habentem speciem, neque decorum: aspectus ejus in eo non est: hic peccata nostra portavit et pro nobis dolet: ipse autem vulneratus est propter iniquitates nostras, cujus livore sanati sumus.

R: Behold we have seen him disfigured and without beauty: his aspect is gone from him: he has borne our sins and suffered for us: and he was wounded for our iniquities, and by his stripes we are healed.

 

 

V: Vere languores nostros ipse tulit, et dolores nostros ipse portavit. Cujus, livore sanati sumus.

V: He has truly borne our infirmities, and carried our sorrows, and by his stripes we are healed.

 

 

R: Ecce vidimus eum non habentem speciem, neque decorum: aspectus ejus in eo non est: hic peccata nostra portavit et pro nobis dolet: ipse autem vulneratus est propter iniquitates nostras, cujus livore sanati sumus.

R: Behold we have seen him disfigured and without beauty: his aspect is gone from him: he has borne our sins and suffered for us: and he was wounded for our iniquities, and by his stripes we are healed.

 

[13]-[15] 2nd Nocturn

 

[13]

I

R: Amicus meus osculi me tradidit signo: Quem osculates fuero, ipse est, tenete eum: hoc malum fecit signum qui per osculum adimplevit homicidium.  Infelix prœtermisit pretium sanguinis, se suspendit.

R: My friend betrayed me with a kiss;

Whom I shall kiss, that is he: hold him fast.

That was the wicked token which he gave, who by a kiss accomplished murder. Unhappy man, he relinquished the price of blood, and in the end hanged himself.

 

 

V: Bonum erat ei, si natus non fuisset homo ille. Infelix prœtermisit pretium sanguinis, et in fine laqueo,

se suspendit.

V: It had been good for that man, if he had never been born. Unhappy man, he relinquished the price of blood, and in the end he hanged himself,

 

 

[14]

II

R: Judas mercator pessimus, osculo petiit Dominum: ille, ut agnus innocens,

non negavit Judœ osculum: Denariorum numero Christum Judœis tradidit.

R. Judas, worst of traffickers, approached the Lord with a kiss:

He like an innocent lamb refused not the kiss of Judas;

For a few pence he delivered Christ to the Jews.

 

 

V: Melius illi erat,

si natus non fuisset.

V: It had been better for him

if he had never been born.

 

 

R: Judas mercator pessimus, osculo petiit Dominum: ille, ut agnus innocens,

non negavit Judœ osculum: Denariorum numero Christum Judœis tradidit.

R: Judas, worst of traffickers, approached the Lord with a kiss:

He like an innocent lamb refused not the kiss of Judas;

For a few pence he delivered Christ to the Jews.

 

 

[15]

III

R: Unus ex discipulis meis tradet me hodie: Vae illi per quem tradar ego: Melius illi erat, si natus non fuisset.

R: One of my disciples will this day betray Me: woe to him by whom I am betrayed. It had been better for him if he had not been born.

 

 

V: Qui intingit mecum manum in paropside, hic me traditurus est in manus peccatorum. Melius illi erat,

si natus non fuisset.

V: He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, he it is that will deliver Me into the hands of sinners.

 

 

 

R: Unus ex discipulis meis tradet me hodie: Vae illi per quem tradar ego si natus non fuisset.

R: One of my disciples will this day betray me: woe to him by whom I am betrayed. It had been better for him if he had not been born.

 

[16]-[18] 3rd Nocturn

 

[16]

I

R: Eram quasi agnus innocens: ductus sum ad immolandum, et nescieham: Consilium fecerunt inimici mei adversum me, dicentes: Venite, mittamus lignum in panem ejus, et eradamus eum de terra viventium.

R: I was like an innocent lamb: I was led to the sacrifice and I knew it not; mine enemies conspired against me, saying, Come, let us put wood into his bread, and root him out of the land of the living.

 

 

V: Omnes inimici mei: adversum me cogitabant mala mihi: verbum iniquum mandaverunt adversum me, dicentes: Venite, mittamus lignum in panem ejus, et eradamus eum de terra viventium.

V: All mine enemies contrived mischief against me, they uttered a wicked speech against me, saying, Come let us put wood into his bread, and root him out of the land of the living.

 

 

[17]

II

R: Una hora non potuistis vigilare mecum, qui exhortabamini mori pro me? Vel Judam non videtis, quomodo non dormit, sed festinat tradere me Judœis?

R: Could ye not watch one hour with me, ye that were ready to die for me? Or see ye not Judas, how he sleepeth not, but maketh haste to betray me to the Jews?

 

 

V: Quid dormitis? surgite, et orate,

ne intretis in tentationem. Vel Judam non videtis, quomodo non dormit, sed festinat tradere me Judœis?

V: Why sleep ye? Arise, and pray,

lest ye enter into temptation. Or see ye not Judas, how he sleepeth not, but maketh haste to betray me to the Jews?

 

 

[18]

III

R: Seniores populi sonsilium fecerunt, ut Jesum dolo tenerent, et occiderent:

cum gladiis et fustibus exierunt tamquam ad latronem.

R: The Elders of the people consulted together: How they might by craft apprehend Jesus and slay him: with swords and clubs they went forth as to a thief.

 

 

V: Collegerunt pontifices et pharisœi concilium: ut Jesum dolo tenerent, et occiderent:

cum gladiis et fustibus exierunt tamquam ad latronem.

V: The Priests and Pharisees held a council:

How they might by craft apprehend Jesus and slay him: with swords and clubs they went forth as to a thief.

 

 

R: Seniores populi sonsilium fecerunt, ut Jesum dolo tenerent, et occiderent:

cum gladiis et fustibus exierunt tamquam ad latronem.

R: The Elders of the people consulted together: How they might by craft apprehend Jesus and slay him: with swords and clubs they went forth as to a thief.

 

Missa Cantuariensis, Op. 59

 

[20]

Kyrie

[22]

Sanctus

 

Lord have mercy upon us.

Christ have mercy upon us.

Lord have mercy upon us.

 

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts,

heaven and earth are full of thy glory:

Glory be to thee, O Lord most High.

 

 

 

 

[21]

Credo

[23]

Benedictus

 

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty,

Maker of heaven and earth,

And of all things visible and invisible:

And in one Lord Jesus Christ,

the only-begotten Son of God,

Begotten of his Father before all worlds,

God of God, Light of Light,

Very God of very God,

Begotten, not made,

Being of one substance with the Father,

By whom all things were made:

Who for us men and for our salvation

came down from heaven,

And was incarnate

by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary ,

And was made man,

And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.

He suffered and was buried,

And the third day he rose again

according to the Scriptures,

And ascended into heaven,

And sitteth on the right hand of the Father.

And he shall come again with glory

to judge both the quick and the dead:

Whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost,

The Lord and giver of life,

Who proceedeth from the Father and the Son,

Who with the Father and the Son

together is worshipped and glorified,

Who spake by the Prophets.

And I believe one Catholick and Apostolick Church.

I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins.

And I look for the Resurrection of the dead,

And the life of the world to come. Amen.

 

Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord.

Hosanna in the highest.

 

 

 

 

 

[24]

Agnus Dei

 

 

O Lamb of God that taketh away

the sins of the world,

have mercy upon us.

O Lamb of God that taketh away

the sins of the world,

grant us thy peace.

 

 

 

 

[25]

Gloria in Excelsis

 

 

Glory be to God on high, and in earth peace,

good will towards men.

We praise thee, we bless thee, we worship thee,

we glorify thee, we give thanks to thee

for thy great glory,

O Lord God, heavenly King,

God the Father Almighty.

O Lord, the only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ;

O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father,

that takest away the sins of the world,

have mercy upon us.

Thou that takest away the sins of the world,

receive our prayer.

Thou that sittest at the right hand of God the Father,

have mercy upon us.

For thou only art holy; thou only art the Lord;

thou only, O Christ, with the Holy Ghost,

art most high in the glory of God the Father. Amen.

 


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