Wednesday 31 October 2018

Ethel Smyth's Mass in D at Southwark Cathedral

London Oriana Choir - Ethel Smyth mass in D
There are some works which hover on the edge of the repertoire without ever appearing, and it is often ironic that when such works appear it is often in clusters. Such is the case with Dame Ethel Smyth's Mass in D, not only is it being performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus at the Barbican, but Dominic Ellis-Peckham will be conducting at at Southwark Cathedral on 3 November 2018. The concert is part of the choir's five15 initiative championing the work of women composers.

At Southwark Cathedral, Dominic Ellis-Peckham will conduct the London Oriana Choir and Meridian Sinfonia in Smyth's Mass in D and the Magnificat by J S Bach, and the concert is preceded by a pre-concert talk given by the renowned expert Dr Christopher Wiley from the University of Surrey.

Ethel Smyth composer her Mass in D following a reading of Thomas a Kempis' The Imitation of Christ whilst ill in Munich; The book belonged to her Catholic friend Pauline Trevelyan, to whom Smyth dedicated the Mass. She composed much of it while a guest of Empress Eugénie at Cape Martin, near Monaco, in the summer of 1891. It was thanks to Empress Eugénie's support (and her connections with the British Royal family) that Smyth was able to have the mass premiered at the Royal Albert Hall in 1893. The mass received a number of performances in the 1920s and 1930s, following Adrian Boult's performance of the work in Birmingham, and Sir Thomas Beecham conducted it in 1934 as part of the celebrations for Smyth's 75th birthday.

The mass is a large-scale concert work (though Smyth wrote it following a renewal of her belief, it was never intended as a liturgical piece), for chorus, soloists and orchestra. Though the published score places the Gloria second, Smyth's preference was for this movement to come at the end so that the piece could end triumphantly! Though Smyth devoted the majority of her musical career to opera, she returned to large-scale choral music at the end when she produced her large-scale symphonic cantata The Prison which was based on the writings of Henry Brewster (HB) who had been the great love of her life, and who had written the libretto (originally in French) of The Wreckers. The Prison would be one of Smyth's last works, as she went deaf and by the time of the 75th birthday celebrations in 1934 she was entirely unable to hear the music or the adulation of the crowds.

Full details from the London Oriana Choir website.

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