HCS Friends play a key role in helping the choir to continue a long-standing and successful tradition of staging live choral music in Hertford.

An essential ingredient of any HCS concert programme is the recruitment of professional orchestras and musicians of the highest calibre to accompany the choir. The support given by Friends means that we can continue to meet these standards and, where appropriate and possible, ensure the talent is “locally sourced” from the increasingly rich pool of young as well as established musicians in and around East Herts.

The additional benefits of being a Friend of HCS are that you will:
* receive the HCS Newsletter at the beginning of each term to keep you in touch with what’s happening in the Society;
* have the opportunity for advance purchase of concert tickets;
* have your name acknowledged in concert programmes (unless anonymity is requested);
* be invited to share pre-concert refreshments in the Meeting Room of All Saints’ Church;
* have opportunities for involvement, particularly on concert days, acting as stewards or serving interval drinks;
* be most welcome to take part in HCS workshops and our various social activities.

The support we receive from our Friends makes a really big difference. We set no specific donation level - any donation our Friends care to make is welcome, whether it be £3, £30 or £300!

We offer all HCS Friends the opportunity for acknowledgement on our website, should they wish, and are delighted to count the following amongst our much-valued Friends:

Norman Anderson Robert Fawcett Hugh & Brenda Parry
James & Janet Barber Mark & Frances Green Gill Pollard
Maureen Bodden Juliet Hatfull Ann Poulton
Wendy Brodie-Waghorn Steve Hemingway Mark & Lesley Prisk
Pam Burchett Susan Hitch Suzanne Rutland Barsby
Rosemary Caruana Brenda & Alan Hobbs Peter Ruffles
June Crew Jessie Hopkins Liz Sanders
Bob Deering  Carol Lewis  Michael & Gillian Thornton
Sheila Dorling  David & Ruth Marshall  Robert Wilson
Fran & Peter Dukes  Linda Martin  

If you are already a Friend, reading this, thank you again for your valued support! If you would like to become a Friend, please send your name and contact details with a cheque made payable to Hertford Choral Society to: Jill Coggins, Fieldgate, 12 Cole Green, Hertford SG14 2NL.  Or you can make a transfer directly into HCS' bank account number: 91447564; bank sort code: 40-24-13 with reference FRIENDS. Any queries, please ring 01707 321342 or email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  Thank you!

Below are some notes on each piece of our programme to be performed on Satruday 9th June at St Albans Cathedral and at which we are pleased to be joined by soloists Sarah Fox (soprano), Robert Gildon (baritone), Sue Graham Smith (piano), Marnus Greyling (organ), and with the Chameleon Arts Orchestra. To listen to examples of performances of each piece, please click on the various links, each of which has a visual element which may add a dimension to your listening.

The sea is a mighty power. Sometimes it is gentle, unruffled, as calm as a millpond. At other times, we see the huge power of the mass of water. Therefore, it is no surprise that the sea has been an inspiration to writers, artists and musicians who have tried to capture both the character of the sea and the character of those whose business involves the sea – those who ‘occupy their business in deep waters’ (Psalm 107).

The programme begins with the result of Mendelssohn’s trip to the Hebridean islands of Iona and Staffa where he watched the relentless Atlantic Ocean waves pounding into the shoreline and could appreciate the grandeur of Fingal's Cave. In August 1829 (at age 20) he wrote to his sister, ‘In order to make you understand how extraordinarily the Hebrides affected me, the following came into my mind there’, and he quoted the opening theme of the Overture. That short, restless figure with which the Overture begins runs through the entire composition and evokes the ceaseless battering of the waves upon the seashore. The music describes the rolling sea; it concludes with a dramatic coda that just suddenly ebbs away rather like a wave going out to sea. The final version of the Overture was first performed in London in 1832.

We then leave the sea for the beautiful Eclogue for piano solo and strings by the English composer Gerald Finzi (1901-56). The title was ascribed posthumously to the work which is believed to be an unfinished piano concerto. The term Eclogue is used to describe a poem on a pastoral subject. A number of other composers have used the title ‘Eclogue’ including Dvorak, Sibelius and Stravinsky.

In Herbert Sumsion’s setting of part of Psalm 107, we hear clearly how ‘these men see … the wonders … of the Lord’, how ‘the stormy sea ariseth … and they are carried up to heaven and down again to the deep’. This is an anthem in the spirit of the great English cathedral tradition. Sumsion was himself the organist of Gloucester Cathedral (1928-1967). However, this was written for the choir of Repton Preparatory School. One can imagine the enjoyment of the composer in writing such colourful and dramatic music; a little musical idea for almost every phrase in the text. Surely the boys must have enjoyed singing it too – as have choirs ever since enjoyed ‘reeling to and fro’?!  

In 1910, A Sea Symphony (in four movements) was first performed at the Leeds Festival. Two years earlier, Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) had returned from studying with Maurice Ravel in Paris. However, he had been working on this symphony since 1903. It is a high point of the English choral tradition showing, for example, the composer’s admiration for Hubert Parry. Significantly, the choir is used as an integral part of the musical texture together with the large orchestra and the mighty organ. In that and other ways, it marks a new approach to the symphonic form. It was not the first time that the composer had set the poetry of Walt Whitman which, while some might find ponderous or even portentous, clearly inspired the composer. The text of A Sea Symphony comes from Whitman's Leaves of Grass.

The music is very descriptive not only of the sea (with the tempo of the music often pushing forward and easing back like the waves on the seashore) but of an expansive voyage of broad and leisurely reflections on man, nature and the restless spirit typified by the mariner.

  1. A Song for all Seas, all Ships: Andante maestoso - The beginning, one of the most impressive of any choral work, is like the opening of a mighty door – ‘BEHOLD, THE SEA itself …’ followed by a wash of sea sound to the words ‘and on its limitless heaving breast, the ships’. Later for ‘Today a rude brief recitative’, the baritone sings to almost sea-shanty rhythms; and, further on, the soprano sings of the ‘various flags and ship signals’.
  2. On the Beach at Night, Alone: Largo sostenuto - The slow movement opens sombrely as the soloist reflects on the ‘thought of the clef of the Universes’. The ‘vast similitude spans them’ is reflected in declamatory music. The movement concludes darkly referring back to the opening music.
  3. Scherzo: The Waves: Allegro brillante – There is plenty of wind and spray in this fast-moving music though also with time for a magnificent striding theme with a hint of the naval band in the background.
  4. The Explorers: Grave e molto adagio – The music of this, the longest, movement touches many aspects from the hushed ‘O vast rondure swimming in space’ to the majestic final chorus ‘Sail forth - steer for the deep waters only.’ Along the way, a semi-chorus asks perhaps the works central question: ‘Wherefore unsatisfied soul? Whither O mocking life?’ At the end, the music eventually dies away in the depths of the orchestra.


Derek Harrison

This performance celebrates the beginnings of the Choral Society when they performed the Messiah in 1940 (the first piece listed as being performed by the choir). A reminder that the excellent book “HCS – a history : 1938-2018” is now available.

We are in the era of Sir Malcolm Sargent (see left) and Sir Thomas Beecham (see right).





It was a time when it was likely that the choir would have used the edition produced in 1902 by Professor Ebenezer Prout. The edition by Watkins Shaw that is most commonly used nowadays was not produced until 1954.

In 1940, it is likely that the performance would have sounded rather different to performances we are used to today. For a long time, editors have become increasingly aware of the performance practices of Handel’s time. This came to a focus in the second half of the 20th century so that we are now accustomed to fast speeds and light orchestral accompaniment including the use of the harpsichord and small organ. Ebenezer Prout’s new edition of The Messiah that he intended would be suitable for choral societies to use. He considered that the size of choirs (being similar to HCS today) required more instruments than would be associated with a Baroque orchestra. So in our performance, in addition to the instruments that Handel wrote for, you will also hear flutes, clarinets, horns and trombones. Also we shall use, as Prout intended, the large organ playing exactly the notes that he (Prout) intended – many more than Handel actually wrote down!

An amazing number of “editors” have produced performing versions of the Messiah. One of the first to add extra instruments to the Messiah (and to write additional music for them) was Mozart. He was commissioned by Baron van Swietan in 1789 to “fill out” Handel’s scoring and to write extra music for them all to play. Prout, in 1902, considers Mozart’s ideas – and keeps some of them! Though he does so with great respect, acknowledging Mozart to be an “unsurpassed genius”. Prout took great care to review the various editors’ work up to that time in creating his own performing edition. Nevertheless much of the “extra music” you will hear is Prout’s own composition.    

In some sense, this is not entirely out of keeping with Handel’s own practice in that he wrote and re-wrote parts of the piece depending on circumstances. This of course contributes, from the outset, to the difficulty of determining in every detail what exactly is the music of The Messiah!

Prout details the speed at which each movement should be performed – in his view. If followed literally, some would be uncomfortably slow. However, taking the spirit of these indications, the work takes on a different dimension – more space and grandeur for the music. We have found in preparing the work in this way, that there is more time to hear the detail and to present the text with care.

So this is a rare opportunity to hear what people 80 years ago would probably have expected rather than what we are used to nowadays. As an example, you will find some definitely non-Handel music added into the bass aria “The people that walked in darkness” (in the middle of the First Part). This is by Mozart. Several editors acknowledge that it is almost too far from Handel to be acceptable. However Prout describes it as “so beautiful” and MacFarren (1884) as of the “most delicious sweetness and .. charm”. Prout includes the music in the score and leaves it to the conductor’s discretion whether it should be played. I think it is well worth hearing on this special occasion!

This 80th Anniversary season has, at times, a reflective feel behind it. Welcoming back friends who have performed with us in former seasons is part of that. In this first concert, we are therefore pleased to welcome back Clare McCaldin who sang with us in November last year when we performed Cecilia McDowall’s Magnificat and Haydn’s Nelson Mass. Although the Camerata of London are joining us for the first time, one of their trumpeters is our own Ellie Lovegrove. We shall be delighted to welcome another old friend. Peter Jaekel will be playing the All Saints Willis organ. Peter was our accompanist from 1998 to 2013 (see page 62 of the HCS history). All soloists are given within the concert details.

Listening opportunities:

If it is of interest, there are recordings of the Messiah that can be heard on the internet:

Sir Malcolm Sargent – 1946:

Sir Thomas Beecham:

Derek Harrison, October 2018

Verdi’s Requiem is one of the best-known pieces of the choral repertoire. A fantastically dramatic work calling on lots of stamina from the choir as they are required sometimes at full power and at others very tenderly – but always passionately!

Read a note about Verdi as a man and musician and where the Requiem fits into his life here and a translation of the text can be found here.

You can find out more about each of our soloists by clicking through to their own sites: Fiona Hammacott (soprano),  Margaret McDonald (contralto), Tom Raskin (tenor), Alan Fairs (bass).

As a reminder of what you will hear at our concert on March 30th, below is a quick tour of the piece. The links will take you to the particular point in the recording. Listen to as much or as little as you like before moving on to the next one! The recording is conducted by Guilini as you will see; while our performance will be different in approach in some places, I hope this will give an idea of what the piece is about.

REQUIEM and Kyrie

The beginning is very hushed with the choir almost murmuring “Grant them eternal rest, O Lord”. This is interrupted by a declamatory Te decet hymnus (A hymn in Zion befits you O god). The opening section returns and then there is an extended section for soloists and choir Kyrie eleison. The movement concludes with hushed Christe eleison.


This extraordinarily dramatic music of the Dies Irae (Day of wrath) occurs three times; each time it continues in a different way. The second series of loud orchestral chords are punctuated with blows on the drum – there is a special “Verdi” drum usually used for this – it is 50” in diameter and we shall have it in All Saints for the performance! This eventually subsides into another touch of drama: Quantus tremor (How great will be the terror). As lead up to tremendous Tuba mirum (The trumpet, scattering a marvellous sound…), Verdi uses the device of having four trumpets off-stage as a distant echo of those on-stage. After that short but immensely impressive section, the bass soloist sings in hushed and detached phrases, Mors stupebit (Death and nature shall stand amazed…).

The soprano soloist begins the next section with Liber scriptus proferetur (A written book will be brought forth…) with occasional interjections from the choir; eventually there is a reference back to the powerful music of the Dies Irae.

The next section, Quid sum miser (What can a wretch like me say) is sung by three soloists (soprano, mezzo soprano and tenor). It begins with the lovely colours of the woodwind of the orchestra featuring especially a solo for the bassoon. (There are four of them in the orchestra and they have a prominent moment later on). A moment after this concludes (with just the three voices alone), Rex tremendae (King of dreadful majesty) bursts onto the scene. This music is mixed with the beautiful phrase for Salva me (Save me) of which this is an example shared between the soloists. Later similar phrases are passed to the choir. Eventually a gentle phrase from the lower instruments leads to the Recordare (Recall, merciful Jesus, that I was the reason for your journey) which is sung by the two lady soloists.

The tenor soloist then picks up a new idea at Ingemisco tamquam reus (I groan as a guilty one). At the end of that section there is some agitation in the orchestra leading to Confutatis maledictis (When the damned are silenced) sung by the Bass soloist. The dramatic beginning is soon followed by a more gently and sustained melody. But be prepared – the drama of the Dies Irae returns! However, this eventually subsides making way for the haunting melody for Lacrymosa dies illa (That day is one of weeping); first for the mezzo soprano but then the choir and other soloists join in

Described as “one of subtlest and most impressive strokes of genius in all Verdi’s work”, the last word (Amen) takes on a completely unexpected chord before dropping back to the home key. We join the music just before that moment here

After all that drama, we can relax for a while and take an interval.


As we re-join the music, the first movement (Domine Jesu – O Lord Jesus Christ) is taken by the four soloists. In all there are six sections: the first, a lilting theme for the opening text following the orchestral introduction; then the soprano joins beginning with an amazingly long note (sed signifer sanctus – But may the holy standad-bearer..); Quam olim Abrahae – promised to Abraham…) is set in a broad melodic style with notable chromatic phrases sliding down; the next section takes a bright (major) key for Hostias et preces tibiLord, receive our sacrifices and prayers) in which the tenor soloist leads and is then joined by the other soloists. The Quam olim Abrahaae is repeated and the movement closes with echoes of the music at the beginning (Libera me).


Bursting into the quiet reflections of Domine Jesu, come the trumpets in fanfare mode to begin the Sanctus (Holy Holy Holy).   After that mighty outburst, the whole text is taken as a complicated (and busy) fugue – that is a musical structure where all the parts of the choir sing the same tunes at different times and mixed with different counter tunes. Later through the movement, the style of the choir’s singing changes to something calmer – but the orchestra continues on with their light dancing music! However, the final Hosanna in excelsis (Hosanna in the highest) is suitably exultant.  


Next is yet another strange idea: the Agnus Dei (O Lamb of God) begins with just the two lady soloists singing the same melody with no accompaniment and then followed by the choir repeating the melody.  The nature of the Agnus Dei is that the text is repeated three times the third time with a final sempiternam (everlasting [rest]). Thus, we hear three times the pairing of soloists then choir. The middle one is in a minor key. The harmonisations and accompaniments are different each time. The third is notable for using the unusual accompaniment of three flutes with the two solo voices.


The Lux aeterna (Let eternal light shine upon them) begins with high tremolo violins – perhaps that is the fluttering of angels’ wings; a sound that is heard in different places in this work.  The mezzo-soprano is the first of the three soloists to sing. The bass melody and accompanying trombones present a dark soundscape. At times the three soloists sing alone – with no accompaniment. 


Finally, the Libera ma. It is worth remembering that Verdi wrote this movement long before the rest of the work (for the composite Requiem for Rossini – see the programme notes for further explanation). It is strange therefore to hear echoes of music that we have already heard but which hadn’t been written when this movement was composed.

The movement begins with the soprano declaiming the text Libera me Domine (Deliver me, O Lord, from eternal death on that awful day) echoed in hushed tones by the choir. Quite soon, the Dies Irae comes crashing in after the gloriously bright yet reserved final phrase of the soprano soloist. After this subsides, there is one of the most exquisite moments, Requiem aeternam, which takes the music from the opening of the first movement (or, again, is it the other way around since this was written first!) but this time setting the orchestral music now for solo voice and choir alone. With a startled tremolo on the violins, the soprano again declaims the text and the choir then begin the final fugue (as before, the different parts of the choir singing the same tune with many counter tunes). The soprano soloist joins them from time to time. For greater impact, Verdi eventually brings all the choir to sing the text Domine, Libera me together with full orchestra. This begins the concluding section. The music finally dies away with soprano soloist and choir repeating Libera me to the end.    

Derek Harrison
March 2019

Requiem was written in 1985 in memory of the composer’s father. The first performance was given in Dallas, Texas in October 1985, and what was conceived as a personal memorial has gone on to become one of John Rutter’s internationally most often-performed choral works, both in church and concert hall.

Unlike the dramatic, large-scale Requiems of Berlioz and Verdi, Rutter’s setting belongs in the smaller-scale, more devotional tradition of Fauré and Duruflé. The choral forces do not need to be large, there is only one soloist and the instrumentation is restrained. As with Fauré and Duruflé, the Latin text of the Missa pro defunctis is not set in its entirety, the chosen portions being those which underline a theme of light and consolation emerging out of darkness and despair; and as with more than one twentieth-century Requiem, vernacular texts are interwoven with the traditional Latin.

There are two psalms associated with the rite of burial, the sombre De profundis (Psalm 130) and the serenely confident Psalm 23, each of these settings having an important part for a solo instrument, cello and oboe respectively. In addition, movements 5 and 7 incorporate sentences from the Anglican Burial Service, in the incomparably magnificent English of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.

The complete seven-movement work forms an arch-like structure: the first and last movements are prayers to God the Father, movements 2 and 6 are psalms, 3 and 5 are prayers to Christ the Son, and the central Sanctus is an affirmation of divine glory.

The first movement comprises the Requiem Aeternam and Kyrie Eleison:

This is followed by a setting of Psalm 130, ‘Out of the deep have I called unto thee O Lord’ which begins darkly with an unaccompanied cello solo in C minor, later giving way to a more positive C major at the words ‘for with the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption’.

As with the Requiems of both Fauré and Duruflé, the Pie Jesu focuses on the soprano soloist, though in this case with the addition of a subdued choral commentary.

The Sanctus and Benedictus are both followed by an exhilarating Hosanna.

In the Agnus Dei the Latin text alternates with verses from the Burial Sentences, taken from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.

At this point Rutter inserts his superb setting of the 23rdPsalm, notable for its plaintive oboe solo, delicate orchestration and sensitivity to the text. This exquisite and moving piece, though composed some seven years earlier for Mel Olson’s First United Methodist Church Choir in Omaha, was surely destined for this context, encapsulating as it does the work’s message of reassurance.

The last movement (Lux Aeterna) opens with another verse from the Burial Service, sung by the soprano soloist, which leads seamlessly into the Lux Aeterna itself, finally returning to the opening Requiem Aeterna theme for the peaceful conclusion.

The occasion of a Requiem is one for reflection and looking back, and, like a number of composers in their Requiem settings, Rutter pays homage to his predecessors – influences including Fauré, Mahler, Howells and Gershwin can be detected, along with the use of Gregorian chant at two key points in the work – but out of these disparate elements a synthesis emerges which has been widely recognized as the composer’s own.

Though it necessarily has its dark moments, Rutter’s Requiem is unmistakably optimistic in its message of hope and comfort, expressed through the beauty of the chosen texts and Rutter’s uplifting music. It is not entirely surprising that after the tragic events of 9/11 it was this setting of the Requiem that was the preferred choice of music at the many memorial services which followed across the USA.

Notes compiled from those of Louise Luegner and John Bawden

To hear a complete performance of the Requiem, one option is here

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Harold Baynes Remembered
10.12.1928 – 07.02.2018

Vice President 2004–2018, Chairman 1989-1996
Treasurer 1982-88, Committee member 1967-72
HCS Friend 2000 - 2018

It takes every one of its members to make a society, but invariably there are some members who play particularly notable roles and leave behind a lasting legacy of goodwill, fond memories and achievements.  It was with very great sadness that members learned of Harold’s death last month.

Harold played a major role in the life and history of the choir.  He had been a member of HCS since 1965/66 having previously sung at Durham University and with Oldham Choral Society.  He started his singing career as a choir boy in his home town of Cannock, Staffordshire.

Recalling his experiences of working with Harold, Alan Cropp said: ‘Harold was the perfect gentleman and was made to be a chairman. His working background was in education and he was a master at addressing and chairing meetings. He spoke French perfectly. He had a wide knowledge of music and I believe Derek Harrison found him a most congenial person to work with. He was, until very recently, a very frequent concert-goer, particularly to the LSO in the Barbican.’

Harold did much to shape HCS and encourage it in new ventures. Two in particular are highlighted:

Joint Herts Choirs concerts: Royal Albert Hall

HCS performed four huge concerts under this banner in the Royal Albert Hall:  Britten’s War Requiem (1994), Mahler’s Symphony no. 8 (1999), Verdi’s Requiem (November 2003) and Berlioz’ Grande Messe des Morts (November 2007).

The initiative began under Harold’s chairmanship. HCS planned to manage the first concert jointly with the Aeolian Singers of Hemel Hempstead.  After the untimely death of Ian Butler, conductor of the Aeolian Singers (aged 49), Harold approached Westminster Philharmonic and asked its conductor Jonathan Butcher to become involved. It was a strong partnership.   Each of the concerts involved around 750 singers, drawn from fourteen adult Hertfordshire choirs, and the Westminster Philharmonic Orchestra with approximately 150 members. The story of the first project was told by Harold in his publication Britten’s War Requiem: A Brief History.

Evron, Saint-Brieuc and Wildeshausen

Harold was geographically as well as musically adventurous. He and Derek Harrison initiated the choir’s visit to Evron (one of the twin towns of Hertford) in May 1984.  Harold said that a favourite choir memory was the performance of Fauré’s Requiem with Mary Hitch singing the Pie Jesu from the organ loft in the Basilica at Evron.  An amusing incident he recalled from a later choir visit to Saint-Brieuc in 1988 was being confronted with the dormitory accommodation (boys and girls together!).

Harold and Derek also visited Wildeshausen (second twin town of Hertford) in May 1992. The occasion was a performance of a musical by the Kantorei of Alexanderkirche’s Director of Music, Ralf Grössler.  The Kantorei subsequently visited Hertford in October 1992.  A joint concert was performed on the 3rd October in All Saints’ Church. Great and long-lasting friendships were made over an enjoyably sociable weekend; the start of a tradition of shared singing that still flourishes.

Harold continued to attend HCS concerts once he stopped singing and we were delighted to catch up with him at our 2017 Christmas concert. As Derek says: ‘It was always such a pleasure to see him – and always with his lovely smile’. We have lost a very dear friend and mentor. We send our condolences to his family and wide circle of friends; he will be very greatly missed by us all.

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NOTE: the audio clips are taken from the HCS recording made in 1996. The artists involved were: Rogers Covey-Crump (tenor) Michael Frith (organ) and Naomi Rudoe (harp).

The religious music of the Czech Republic (formerly Czechoslovakia and, before that, Bohemia) has always been unique, sandwiched as the country is between Catholic southern Germany and the Orthodox countries of the East. The Hapsburg dominance of the country in the 18th century combined with 19th-century nationalism to produce an anti-German and anti-Catholic feeling; in short, 19th-century Czech culture was based on a kind of modern reformation myth. The best-known Czech composer is Antonín Dvorák, whose output of religious music was prodigious.

His disciple and countryman, Leos Janácek is more famous for his operas and orchestral works, although he wrote two religious pieces of note: the barbarically stirring Glagolitic Mass and the more sensitive setting of the Lord's Prayer, Otcenás, written in 1906.

Janáček’s childhood Catholic faith had ceased to convince him long before he wrote this setting of the Lord’s Prayer in the summer of 1901. What did convince him was faith as an expression of the life of a nation, a community; the product of a shared Slavic heritage and spirit. Otče náš (Our Father) served exactly that purpose. He wrote it not for use in a church but in response to a request from the trustees of a women’s shelter in Brno.

As you will see on the church pillars at the concert, HCS brings music together with visual art in the form of the paintings by artists of the Hertford Art Society inspired by (all) the music that we are singing. For Janacek, the inspiration for Otcenás was a set of religious paintings by the Polish nationalist painter Józef Męcina-Krzesz (1860-1934), which showed Russian peasants in devotional attitudes suggested by the lines of the Lord’s Prayer, and which had been reprinted in an illustrated weekly.

The idea was that amateur actors from the Brno theatre club ‘Tyl’ would act out a series of scenes of tableaux-vivants resembling the pictures, while Janáček’s music - scored for the available forces of piano, harmonium, mixed choir and solo tenor - would serve as an accompaniment. Perhaps an idea for HCS to extend its cross-arts activities?!

Janáček wrote the piece in little more than a month prior to the fundraising performance at the Brno Theatre on 15 June 1901. But he revised it, rescored it for organ and harp, and authorised a Prague performance in November 1906 - to mixed reviews. ‘Perhaps having the pictures in the programme would have helped’ he commented.

The paintings vanished during the Second World War, but even so, this comment hardly seems necessary. This is Janáček responding to the associations and sonorities of the words before him, and speaking directly and frankly to his community.

Notes compiled from several sources including Barry Creasy, Collegium Musicum of London

The six sections flow together, linked by instrumental interludes to allow time for the necessary rearrangements on stage.

The choir intones the opening lines in a gentle canon,

before the tenor’s heroic entry on ‘Thy kingdom come’ and the chorus’s stirring response.

The tenor leads off again, on ‘Thy will be done’;

Janáček repeats the verse, and a pensive interlude suddenly bursts into a boisterous choral plea ‘Give us this day our daily bread’

before, to dolcissimo (very quiet) chords, the tenor sings ‘And forgive us our trespasses’.

The tempo leaps to energico moderato and a bustling ostinato for ‘And lead us not into temptation’,

as this non-devotional devotional work by a fiercely spiritual agnostic speeds to a decisive ‘Amen’.

The complete recording of the piece (on the HCS 1996 CD) can be heard here:

As a footnote about the association between HCS and the Hertford Art Society, there is a gallery of all the pictures for the concerts over a number years displayed on the HCS website. Please take a look here.

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