Elgar: Great is the Lord

A stunning new performance by Westminster Abbey Choir of sacred choral works by Sir Edward Elgar in celebration of the composer's 150th birthday.

The Choir of Westminster Abbey
Robert Quinney organ
James O'Donnell conductor

Aug 5 - 20.30 hrs
Jenderal Besar Suharto No 1
Jakarta Pusat

From the regal opulence of Great is the Lord, first performed in Westminster Abbey in 1912, to the quiet devotion of the Opus 2 Ave verum and Ave Maria, this varied programme is the perfect guide through Elgar’s rich choral output.

The full gamut of Elgar’s career – from son of a provincial instrument dealer to ‘composer laureate’ – is represented and at every turn these performers offer new insights into the performing possibilities of these all-too-often-hackneyed works. There is also a rare performance of the long-forgotten Queen Alexandra Memorial Ode – a fitting tribute by Poet Laureate (John Masefield) and Master of the King’s Music (Elgar) to Edward VII’s much-lamented consort.

Westminster Abbey Choir

The Abbey's archives show that boys' voices were first used here in the 1380s. The first boy choristers were only four in number, and came from the Abbey's almonry school. They were trained by the professional choir master who was employed by the monastery to direct the music for the daily services in the Lady Chapel, which had long been more complicated and elaborate than the simpler plainchant sung by all the monks in the Abbey church itself. The music was obviously a success and the choir was enlarged to include more boys and more professional men singers.

By the time of the Reformation in the sixteenth century the boys' and men's choir of the Lady Chapel was very well-established and renowned for its quality. King Henry VIII, who had assumed the title of 'Supreme Head of the Church of England' tranferred the choir from the Lady Chapel to the Quire of the Abbey Church, where it remained. Under Queen Elizabeth I's founding charter of 1560 the choral foundation of the new collegiate church was to include ten (boy) choristers under the care of a suitably qualified Master of the Choristers. The boys were educated at Westminster School, alongside the forty Queen's Scholars.

The first 'Chorister School' was opened in 1848 in a room off the South Cloister and in 1891 a Choir House was built in Little Smith Street which was used until the opening of the present building in Dean's Yard in 1915. World War II had a disruptive effect and in the autumn of 1939 the boys were evacuated to Christ's Hospital in Horsham, Sussex, but by Christmas 1940 the school had to be disbanded.

In 1947 the Choir was re-assembled under the Master of the Choristers, Sir William McKie. This was the Choir that sang at the dedication of the Battle of Britain window in July 1947 and at the wedding of Princess Elizabeth in November of the same year.

Since then, the Choir has been heavily involved, performing at most Services in the Abbey. These included the Coronation in 1953 of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Royal Weddings and other special events of national and international importance.

Today the choir is one of the glories of the Abbey. But to produce the special quality in boys' voices demands intensive training in a specialised choir school. Westminster Abbey Choir School is now the only school in Britain attended entirely by choirboys.

James O'Donnell (born 1961 in Scotland) is the current Organist and Master of the Choristers of Westminster Abbey. He has held this position since 2000.

Mr O'Donnell was a student at the Royal College of Music and later attended Cambridge University, where he was Organ Scholar of Jesus College. He graduated from university in 1982 to be appointed Assistant Master of Music at Westminster Cathedral, being promoted to Master of Music in 1988.

He is also Professor of Organ at the Royal Academy of Music, having held this position since 1997, and also being a lecturer at this establishment.



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