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A few examples of pieces we have performed. Listen to a live recording by the choir of 
O Nata Lux by Thomas Tallis

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Notes on the choir's founding principle: article in the Parish Magazine, King Charles the Martyr, April 2001

Easter Eve, April 14th, marks the tenth anniversary of the King Charles Singers.

Our very first service was the Easter Vigil in 1991, when Patrick Wenham, Ros and Michael Bacon, Caroline and I sang Palestrina’s Missa Brevis into the darkness from the south gallery. And we’ll be doing the same again this Easter.

The choir was founded from within the congregation to provide cathedral-style worship, primarily through choral evensong. Over the years, we’ve seen quite a few members of the group come and go, including four emigrations! (Cathy and James Little back to Balfast, David Smith to France, and Patrick to Singapore.) But our basic principles, of what we do and why, remain the same.

We have aimed to offer the congregation music from the best of the English cathedral tradition, including pieces which are rarely heard in parish churches. We have enjoyed ourselves singing ambitious music with minimal rehearsal. But the most rewarding experiences have been singing the best music - that is, not only the highest quality compositions but those most appropriate for the liturgy of each occasion. For example, this Whitsun, on June 3rd, we will sing Tallis’ famous 7-part antiphon Loquebantur variis linguis, which is a telling musical account of the disciples speaking in tongues.

This is the music I grew up with, as a chorister, choral scholar and lay clerk. Thank you for letting me share it with you! In return, I hope we have encouraged more people to attend the church more often, and to go away with a renewed sense of the power of the Spirit, experienced through the high standard of music and liturgy that King Charles can provide.

Programme notes from the Millennium Concert with the Gregorian Singers, April 2000

It was inevitable that Dante would describe his journey through Paradise to a vision of the Trinity in terms of light and harmony. Classical philosophy had been interpreted from a Christian point of view in increasing detail for hundreds of years by the fifteenth century, most significantly by the teaching of Boethius and St Augustine. It was a commonplace understanding that heavenly perfection was characterised by the purity of mathematical proportion and luminosity. So Dante’s Paradise is flooded with light, the light that emanates from the highest heaven, is dimly perceptible even on earth, and gains intensity the nearer it is to its source. "La luce divina e penetrante per l’universo secundo ch’e degno" (Paradise XXXI:22) - the divine light penetrates the universe according to degree.

Light was therefore seen as the most noble of natural phenomena because it gave an insight into the perfection of the cosmos. Similarly, proportion, or concordance, was considered to be the loftiest aesthetic principle in the arts and architecture. And in music, the beauty (or the truth) of a work was determined by its use of the mathematically purest intervals - the octave, the fifth and the fourth. Thus, in his De Musica, St Augustine argues that music properly understood is a science, as opposed to the "art" of unintellectual, vulgar performances.

Hence also the enthusiasm Medieval thinkers had for the Pythagorean idea of the music of the spheres. Consonance in music signified perfection, the celestial harmony, and each of the planetary spheres sung its own note as it revolved around the earth. Light and the unison in music were the essence of true beauty, as they fulfilled man’s longing for the ultimate concord, the reconciliation of the multiple into one.

Plainsong flows through the music in this concert, sometimes explicitly, sometimes by suggestion. In a manner typical of his generation, Sheppard (Libera Nos) deploys a chant melody as a cantus firmus in long notes throughout. Unusually, it is the bass voice which has this role, accounting for the piece’s extraordinary harmonic structure. The plainchant Salve Regina is evident throughout Franco’s counterpoint, often quoted at length, as well as being chanted for alternative verses.

This approach is hinted at by Bach in the Kyrie from the Mass in F Major, as there is a suggestion of plainsong in the main subject of the fugue, although when he introduces a cantus firmus, it is naturally a Lutheran chorale. And again, Durufle used the traditional chants of the requiem mass, often not for note, embedded in rich modern harmonies, and during the Kyrie from the Requiem chant can be heard in sections in the organ part, in deliberate imitation of Bach’s habitual method.

The tradition of singing antiphonally, which developed from practices in monastic worship, is reflected in this concert by a number of works for separate choirs. The opportunities for bold effects through the use of large acoustics were seized on by Italian Baroque composers, and Croce’s double-choir In Spiritu Humilitatis, and Allegri’s Miserere illustrate this is different ways.

Finally, Sir John Tavener’s Prayer for the Holy Trinity employs effects designed to represent music from the Orthodox tradition - Eastern chant melodies, and a distant choir as it were beyond the iconostasis. This piece was commissioned in 1995 by the Cambridge Taverner Choir to celebrate the 450th anniversary of the death of the Tudor composer, John Taverner, whose most famous work is the Missa Gloria Tibi Trinitas. The Trinitarian theme is indicated by the semi-chorus, who sing shifting triads throughout, against a continuous drone on a fifth. The main chorus is directed to sing "with utmost compunction". Technically demanding, and requiring extreme stamina, this is probably rarely sung: this is thought to be only its third performance.

© king charles singers 2004
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Want to join us? Singers wanting to join the choir, on an occasional or regular basis, are more than welcome to contact us. Good sight-reading is helpful, as we generally rehearse no more than twice for each event.

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