The Choral Pilgrimage 2018: Sacred & Profane
Over four centuries separate these two representatives of English music at its finest. William Cornysh and Benjamin Britten were prolific in both sacred and secular music. Cornysh is actually two people, often confused with one another and quite possibly father and son. Both originated in Westminster of unknown parentage, the Elder died in 1502 and the Younger in 1523, of whom much more is known. The matter of telling which man wrote which works is impossible to settle, so for the purpose of this programme we have decided to link them as one. So whether it be the Elder or the Younger, we are fortunate that they not only excelled at writing complex and adventurous antiphons for the church but also beautiful secular songs for the Tudor court. Of course for Britten writing in the 20th-century life was very different; he is a composer who encompassed so many facets of music excelling in opera, solo song and all manners of vocal and instrumental music.
This programme looks at the way these two composers mixed sacred with secular. Whilst Cornysh’s sacred music is elaborate and rhythmically complicated, his secular music is simple yet subtly evocative. Britten makes constant demands on vocal artistry best displayed in the last work he ever wrote for unaccompanied voices, Sacred and Profane, composed in the winter of 1974-5. Britten chose his texts with great care and devotion; these are mediaeval lyrics and he gives us a fascinating mixture of the devotional and the rumbustiously secular. The final song A death is a wicked blend of horror and gallows humour far removed from the melancholic canon Ah Robin by Cornysh.
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Britten Hymn to the Virgin
Cornysh My love she mourneth
Britten Hymn to Saint Cecilia
Cornysh Salve Regina
Britten Advance Democracy
Cornysh Ave Maria, Mater Dei
Cornysh Woefully array’d
Cornysh Ah Robin, gentle Robin
Britten Sacred and Profane
Harry Christophers conductor
Eamonn Dougan conductor (for selected performances)
Link to our tour film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sYXogFpblRM
The Sixteen and Harry Christophers present a beautifully curated programme contrasting the sacred and secular work of the two 16th-century composers William Cornysh (father and son), and one of the 20th-century’s great masters of vocal music, Benjamin Britten.