Evensong at Chichester Cathedral – Monday 27th May 2013

Posted on July 4, 2013

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We arrived just in time to see the male Peregrine hunting for food!

We arrived just in time to see the male Peregrine hunting for food!

Arriving later than planned due to Traction Engines heading for the Surrey County Show, we made it to the refectory just in time to glimpse some of the famous Chichester Peregrines, whose progress we had been following on the web. As we ate lunch, the male (Tiercel) flew out from the nest into the tower to hunt for food for his three 24 day old female chicks (who had recently been ‘tagged’ by RSPB volunteers. The Tiercel effortlessly circled the fifteenth century spire, which looked fantastic set against a clear blue sky. The female (Falcon) had recently given up trying to hatch a fourth egg and the webcam had been recording what seemed like arguments between her and her mate. The chicks were not visible from the ground; they had only just begun to explore the environment around their “scrape” on the tower ledge.

One of the peregrine chicks, photographed a few days before our visit

One of the peregrine chicks, photographed a few days before our visit

Before rehearsals started, we had the opportunity to look around the cathedral, which was home to the Elizabethan composer and organist Thomas Weelkes and, with its history of commissioning contemporary art, most of which under Dean Walter Hussey, is one of my favourites. The altars, rails, candle-stands and other furnishings are to me, just as beautiful as the famous Piper and Benker-Schirmer tapestries, the Sutherland painting and the Chagall window and were designed by the Surveyor to the Fabric Robert Potter and the sculptor Geoffrey Clark.

The beautiful Chagall window depicting Psalm 150

The beautiful Chagall window depicting Psalm 150

The vibrancy of the Chagall window and the deep hues of the John Piper tapestry are as nothing compared to the colourful – and tragically short – life of the composer Michael Wise (c1648-1687), whose setting of the Evening Service we sang. One of the first choristers in the Chapel Royal when services resumed there after the civil war, he was later appointed organist, lay vicar and instructor of the choristers at Salisbury Cathedral in 1668. He managed to hold down both positions for some time, despite being reputedly negligent in his duties, frequently drunk, prone to profanity and highly argumentative with the cathedral hierarchy who charged him with unspecified “excesses in life and conversation” (the mind boggles!)

As was common at this period, few fragments of repertoire survived. Wise’s bawdy ditty “A Catch on the Cats” can be found on You Tube and , unlike his sacred works (which are said to have outnumbered those of Blow and Purcell at the time) hints at his exuberant personality. Shortly before taking up the post of Master of the Choristers at Wren’s newly re-built St Paul’s Cathedral in 1687, Wise was hit across the head and “kill’d downright” by the nightwatchman at Salisbury Cathedral for “stubborne and refractory language.”

Everything in the cathedral is beautifully designed

Everything in the cathedral is beautifully designed

Wise’s Mag and Nunc in Eb is a restrained, refined work, which formed the centre-piece of a music list which Richard described as “perfect for a weekday evensong on a summer’s day.” The canticles were preceded by responses by Ayleward and five (!) psalms (126, 127, 128, 129, 130 and 131) including the enigmatic lament de profundis.

Our Anthem was a beautiful setting of a compline hymn by William Byrd, Christe qui es et dies (O Christ who art the light and day). The first and last of the seven verses are set in plainchant, which was sung beautifully by Nicola Carver, with the remaining five verses sung by the choir, each part taking the melody (cantus firmus) in turn, changing pitch in fifths and fourths. A beautiful piece!  After Evensong we took a quick trip to the seaside for fish and chips before venturing back to Southgate. A perfect summer’s day!

The Choir in front of the John Piper tapestry at the High Altar

The Choir in front of the John Piper tapestry at the High Altar

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