Pugin Birthday Concerts
On 22nd February 2014, the audience at St. Augustine’s was transported back almost 400 years to 24th February 1622, in the secret private chapel of Ingatestone Hall, Essex, by Dr. Peter Giles and his choir Quodlibet.
The evening began with Dr. Giles setting the scene, before everyone enjoyed wine and sweetmeats, followed by the concert. The audience – or was it a congregation? – were all to become recusants: Catholics who, during the Reformation, broke the law by refusing to attend Church of England services. They were meeting at the home of the recusant Lord Petre to hear Mass. To be at a Mass or even to be a Catholic priest was illegal, and so this clandestine gathering met under significant threat. Dr. Giles took on the voice of Lord Petre: “Did you tell anyone why you were coming here tonight? Did you make sure you came by quiet winding roads? Did you keep your lanterns low? Were there shadows at the gatehouse? Young boys cannot be trusted, so the boys’ parts of the music will be sung by women. The renowned composer William Byrd, a friend of the Petre family and recusant who, for his musical talent, has had positions at the royal Court, is here to provide the music. This is a clandestine gathering, meeting under threat of the King’s Men, and in great peril. And so, if anyone asks why you were here, we meet only for sweetmeats and madrigals.”
Following this scene-setting the audience moved from the church into the schoolroom, where all were served with wine and sweetmeats. This jolly part of the evening filled the schoolroom, and some people stood in the cloister, with much discussion, though perhaps under the slight apprehension felt by the recusants that the audience members were unwittingly playing!
Back in the church, the audience listened to a couple of madrigals, one a lament and another declaring these recusants’ secular loyalty to the king, for many recusants were loyal to the king, even if they could not join his religion. Taking the role of William Byrd, Dr. Giles announced that the priest for Mass – the Jesuit Fr. Henry Floyd – had arrived. The nave church was lit only with candles, the audience becoming secrets even to each other in the shadows.
So the madrigals ended and the music became the music for Mass. Mass was not celebrated; the music was intended to evoke it. Many of the pieces were by Byrd, including his Mass for Four Voices, with other pieces by Morley, Kirbye, Philips and Tallis. Richard Pond (tenor) read out the English meaning of the pieces, and Dr. Giles explained either the moment of the Mass each piece corresponded to or the relevance of the piece to the setting. For example we heard Morley’s Nolo mortem peccatoris – “I wish not the death of a sinner; this is the word of salvation,” around what would have been the central point of Mass, and Tallis’ O Nata Lux – “O nascent light of light” – filled the dark space as Mass would have come to a safe end.
Back to the present, the choir received warm applause, and St. Augustine’s is very grateful to Quodlibet for providing such an entertaining evening.
Quodlibet is a chamber choir established in 2000 by Dr. Peter Giles, singing concerts in the south east and London as well as for weddings, private functions, and charities. They specialise in the diverse and rich repertory written for small mixed-voice ensembles around the Renaissance.
They consist of: Ruth Hoskins (soprano); Jane Farrell (mezzo-soprano); Peter Giles (countertenor); Richard Pond (tenor); Jon Williams (bass-baritone); Neil Richards (bass).
The second concert in the series will be on Saturday 8th March at 7pm. Victoria Consort will perform “Allegri Miserere by Candlelight: Passiontide Music from the Sistine Chapel”