Chichester Singers celebrate three of the greatest English composers

Jonathan Willcocks
Jonathan Willcocks

The Chichester Singers promise the music of three of the greatest English composers of the 20th century – Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Tippett – in their Chichester Cathedral concert on Saturday, November 9.

As musical director Jonathan Willcocks says: “Composers and all artists produce their works, and it is then the distillation of time which then results in whether history will regard them as great composers or whether history will rather neglect them.

“But I think these three Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Tippett – along with Britten, Walton and Holst – after 100 years are the really established, major figures.

“Tippett’s A Child of Our Time was the big work we wanted to build a programme around, and we thought that it would be good to have the theme of English composers from the first half of the 20th century.

“It makes a lovely selection, two of the great choral works and Elgar’s Enigma Variations, one of the great orchestral pieces.

“A Child of Our Time was inspired by the terrible oppression of the Jews in the years preceding and during the Second World War and is, alongside Britten – War Requiem, the most powerful choral work to emerge from those dark times.

“It has at its heart settings of five spirituals – themselves songs of oppression – and has an overall message of protest against all that war and conflict inevitably results in, Tippett being imprisoned for a period during WW2 for his pacifist views.

“It was inspired by the awful events, the pogroms of the Jewish race in the late 30s and during the war with the Holocaust. He was an ardent pacifist and felt very strongly about the suffering, the result of which was this impassioned plea against war.

“It is a challenging piece chorally, but it has a lovely connection with two of the great works of the baroque period. In the way he structured it, it has the same outline as Handel’s Messiah, and he was very much influenced by Bach’s St Matthew Passion. He uses five spirituals which are the songs of oppression in exactly the same way that Bach used chorales… so there is a very close connection between this near-contemporary piece and great works from the past.

“The second choral work is Vaughan Williams – Toward the Unknown Region, which sets the poetry of Walt Whitman. It was the first substantial choral work by Vaughan Williams to capture the attention of the music world and place this composer at the first rank of his generation.

“The Vaughan Williams is a lovely piece to sing. It doesn’t involve solos. It is purely chorus and orchestra. Vaughan Williams was a great admirer of Walt Whitman. It is an extremely rewarding piece from a chorus point of view and immediately attractive to an audience. It is a piece that the choir has really enjoyed learning. It is a full-hearted expressive piece. We last did it in 2003.”

They last did the Tippett 25 years ago, in 1994.

“Between the two choral works Southern Pro Musica will perform Elgar’s ever-popular Enigma Variations – again a work which on its first performances in 1899 became immediately recognised as a work of great genius.”

It all comes at a good time for the Chichester Singers: “We had a very strong season last season with excellent audiences.

“The choir has excellent supporters. It is very fortunate that it enjoys a very strong following, both with audiences but also with new singers that move into the area and come along and join the choir. It is the major large-scale choir in the Chichester area, and I am very proud to work with them.”

Tickets from TicketSource. The Box Office at The Novium will also have limited tickets for callers by phone or in person (01243 816525).

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