Music for Our Final Day in Residence at the Abbey

Tomorrow is our final day in residence at Westminster Abbey and we have three services to sing: Matins at 10 am, Eucharist at 11:15 am, and Evensong at 3:00 pm. 

Much of our repertoire for tomorrow is very familiar to us – it is representative of the music we do year-round at St. Thomas's. But to sing it in these venues, which are so strongly connected with particular composers and whose music has been sung here for decades, or in some cases for centuries, is a remarkable experience.

Last Sunday at Evensong in St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, we sang the beloved double-choir anthem "Faire is the heaven" by William H. Harris (1883-1973). This work, written in 1925, and "Bring us, O Lord God" (1959) are among the St. Thomas's Choir's favourites and are arguably Harris's most famous choral compositions. During rehearsal last Sunday afternoon, John Tuttle reminded us that Harris is buried in the north ambulatory. The monument, which is on the floor, right near the door to the organ loft, commemorates Harris and his wife, Doris. Harris was director of music at St. George's Chapel from 1933 to 1961.

At Matins at the Abbey on August 4 we sing Vaughan Williams' "Te Deum in G," also a favourite. The ashes of Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) and his wife, Ursula, are buried in the north choir aisle of the Abbey. You can read more in this entry on the Abbey website.

The St. Thomas's Choir regularly sings settings of the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis by Herbert Howells (1892-1983): the Gloucester Service, the St. Paul's Service, and the Westminster Service. The latter is scheduled for Evensong tomorrow. Howells' ashes are also buried in the north aisle. You can read more on the Abbey website here.

We have the opportunity to sing "Faire is the heaven" again tomorrow, our final anthem of this amazing tour. Whereas last week it was the composer's resting place that was just steps from where we were singing, tomorrow it will be the poet's.

Edmund Spenser (1552-99), author of "Faire is the heaven," is buried in Poets' Corner (in the south transept). During our spring Lunch and Learn series, entitled Luminaries of Westminster Abbey, St. Thomas's parishioner and acolyte Dr. Alice Degan talked about Chaucer and some of the other figures buried in and/or commemorated in Poets' Corner. Details about Edmund Spenser are available on the Abbey site here

Faire is the heaven, where happy soules have place
In full enjoyment of felicitie,
Whence they doe still behold the glorious face
Of the Divine Eternall Majestie;
Yet farre more faire be those bright Cherubins,
Which all with golden wings are overdight,
And those eternall burning Seraphins,
Which from their faces dart out fiery light;
Yet fairer than they both, and much more bright,
Be th' Angels and Archangels, which attend
On God's owne Person, without rest or end.
These then in faire each other farre excelling,
As to the Highest they approach more neare,
Yet is the Highest farre beyond all telling,
Fairer than all the rest which there appear,
Though all their beauties joynd together were;
How then can mortall tongue hope to expresse
The image of such endlesse perfectnesse?

Edmund Spenser



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