The Edington Festival of Music within the Liturgy 22 – 29 August 1999
The Festival Director’s Introduction
Welcome to the 1999 Edington Festival of Music within the Liturgy.
This year’s Festival is structured around the ‘Advent (Great 0) Antiphons’ which invoke the coming of the Lord under various Old Testament titles. These are familiar from the well-known Advent hymn ‘0 come, O come Emmanuel’, where each verse is based on one of the antiphons, thus providing a useful overview of the scheme of the week. Similarly, the new hymn that John Barnard and Paul Wigmore have (with their customary liturgical aplomb) written for Thursday’s Choral Matins also incorporates a survey of this imagery.
It might at first feel rather peculiar to be exploring the nature of Advent in late August, but perhaps less so if one remembers the origin of Advent as a season not only of preparation for the celebration of Christmas but also of preparation for Christ’s coming at the end of time. Our own position at the end of a millennium adds an interesting gloss to this. The first accounts of Advent from Spain and Gaul depict the penitential flavour of the season, with a rising emphasis on judgement. The Synod of Saragossa (AD 380) obliged the faithful to be in church between 17 December and 6 January, which coincided with the pagan celebration of Saturnalia. The beginning of Advent’s core (17-24 December) could in this case have been a Christian ascetic practice to counter that ribald event.
The composition of the poetic ‘0 Antiphons’ in the seventh century exemplifies the preparation for the solemnity of the nativity. By this stage the commemoration of the feast had taken precedence over the judgement themes found earlier in the Gallican church. Nevertheless, the antiphons incorporate many historical allusions. For instance, the antiphon ‘0 Oriens’ reflects the Roman sun festival (‘Natalus solus invicti’), re-established in 274 by Emperor Aurelian. The popularity of sun worship (related to the winter solstice) provided fertile ground for a celebration of the unconquered Sun, cementing the already existing understanding of Jesus as the “Sun of Righteousness”.
The antiphons also constitute a rich source of devotional imagery, and images of new life (a birth in the depths of winter) and of illumination. Advent itself is replete with strong and resonant themes: Patriarchs, Prophets, the Forerunners (St John the Baptist and the Virgin Mary) and the eschatological themes traditionally summarised as the Four Last Things – Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell.
Advent is a season of watching and waiting in preparation for the coming of the Lord. Liturgically, it is the curtain-raiser on the whole of the church’s year and the full spread of the Incarnation: a clergyman friend of mine compares Advent with the overture to an opera – a helpful image for music lovers! The well-loved hymn ‘0 little town of Bethlehem’ speaks of “the hopes and fears of all the years”, and it is this mixture of excitement and anxiety which is so critical to Advent, characterised by the Old Testament prophets looking forward to the coming of the promised Messiah. The focus is on redemption and repentance. St John the Baptist prepares the way, “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. Christ comes to judge and to save, and (as Ying of the Nations) to redeem not just mankind but the whole of creation. Christ is second Adam to Mary’s second Eve (Queen of Heaven).
The epic story of the deliverance of the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt with which we start the week (‘0 Adonai’ on Monday) foreshadows the universal act of redemption which God has wrought through Jesus Christ. (God sent his Son to deliver a world enslaved by sin, evil and death). This has strong links with antiphons ‘0 Emmanuel’ and ‘0 Rex Gentium’, with their supplication for salvation. During the Festival week, we will be considering one antiphon each day, although not always in the order that they would be sung during the Advent season itself, when they form the antiphons to the Magnificat at the Evening Office from 17 to 23 December. The Leader of the House of Israel makes for a dramatic and historically apt point of departure, whilst God appearing to Moses in the burning bush is one of the most striking pictures from the Old Testament. Tom Walker has captured this scene vividly in his image for the Festival literature, and I am very grateful for this and for the privilege of having his work on display in the Priory again this year.
We cover two antiphons on Tuesday, partly because they are closely linked, and partly so as to make room for the extra antiphon ‘0 Virgo virginum’ on Wednesday. This is not part of the original set, but its inclusion seemed appropriate, given the dedication of this church, the Virgin’s pivotal role in Advent and the wealth of glorious Marian music. This ‘Spotless Rose’ is sprung from the tender root of Jesse, as prophesied in Scripture (‘0 Radix Jesse’). Tuesday’s other antiphon (‘0 Clavis David’) describes the releasing of prisoners, and this manifestation of the teaching and ministry of Christ and his apostles fits in well with the feast of St Bartholomew, which falls on that day.
The ground for Thursday (‘0 Emmanuel’) is really first prepared in Tuesday’s Sequence, and also flows naturally from Wednesday. The Sequence opens with the world as a desert waiting for God, and creation waiting for Mary. This is the thrust of the great passage from Romans 8, included in the service. “The human task is to reflect God’s image into the whole of creation” (Tom Wright): humans co-operating with God, and a young girl Mary is the highest and most profound example of this – bringing God to us. (Emmanuel – God with us.) Thus, humanity is part of a universal “tarrying expectation in hope” (Henry Vaughan). The whole concept of waiting is examined in W.H. Vanstone’s spiritual classic ‘The Stature of Waiting’. Waiting implies dependence on others, and can be fruitful in outcome or frustrating. Equally, “the experience of waiting is the experience of the world as in some sense mattering” (Vanstone).
The Solemn Requiem on Friday evening is sung to Fauré’s beautiftilly serene setting, and ties in with the antiphon ‘0 Oriens’. The Dayspring connects with St John the Baptist, and the song of his father Zechariah (the Benedictus: “And thou, child, shall be called the Prophet of the Highest … to give knowledge of salvation unto his people … whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us”). Also the reference to light everlasting reminds us of Christ’s teaching while he lived among us about our own death, when we will appear before the judgement seat: our own mortal life is a preparation for the fulfilment of living beyond time (“in heaven it is alwaies autumn, [God’s] mercies are ever in their maturity” – Donne).
The selection of ‘0 Sapientia’ for the feast day of St Augustine (Saturday) enables us to explore the concept of Wisdom, who was at God’s right hand in creation. The readings from Ephesians on Saturday emphasise the linkage between creation, wisdom, redemption and the glory of Christ’s kingship. On Sunday (‘0 Rex Gentium’) we look to Christ’s second coming, at the end of time, when all will be united and perfected in heaven, save what has been lost to hell, encompassing the scope of the Four Last Things, and portraying Christ as King and Judge. The Gospel reading that day (from Mark 13) is known as the Little Apocalypse, and expresses in graphic language the Final Coming and the Consummation of the ages. In her book ‘The Coming of God’, Maria Boulding portrays this final judgement as “a positive, joyful experience”. “We shall be there in our truth, undefended against the healing, affirming love of our Creator.”
An overriding consideration both in Advent and in this pre-millennial year is that of Time. T.S. Eliot’s famous opening lines from ‘Burnt Norton’ lend an interesting slant to this: “Time present and time past are both perhaps present in time future and time future contained in time past. If all time is eternally present all time is unredeemable. What might have been is an abstraction remaining a perpetual possibility only in a world of speculation.” I have always been struck, also, by L.P. Hartley’s assertion (in ‘The Go-Between’) that “the past is a foreign country – they do things differently there”. On an individual scale, the past can indeed inhabit that sense of distance and of unreality, although the past can also be comforting, and representative of an equilibrium, whereas progress (the ensign of modern society) can be unsettling. Jurgen Moltmann describes this in ‘Preparing for the Third Millennium’: “The past is irretrievable reality, the future is open possibility and the present is the interface at which the possibilities of the future are either actualised or missed, and thus at which the future is mediated with the past.” There is a balance to be held in our own minds between the ever-recurring order of the Cosmos, which God created, and so loved that he sent His only son to save it, and “the element of the new introduced by the future” (Moltmann).
Moving to historical matters of a more local nature, as ever the music list is wide ranging, and commemorates some notable anniversaries. Francis Poulenc (b.1899) and Kenneth Leighton (b.1929) made distinguished contributions to the sacred choral repertoire in their lifetimes, and have frequently featured in services here. We also include works by Javier Busto (b.1949) and John Blow (b.1649). It is a pleasure to be able to sing several works by Philip Moore, including the commission from 1985, ‘Salutatio Angelica’, and I am delighted that this year’s commission is once again by John Streeting, who is able to be here for the first part of the week. Igor Stravinsky’s Mass will be sung on the final Sunday, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the first performance, and there are also two particularly fine renaissance mass settings by Guerrero (d.1599) and Rogier. Amongst a wealth of other music of this period are motets from William Byrd’s Cantiones Sacrae of 1589, which are closely connected with some of the themes explored by the Advent antiphons. On Monday, ‘Domine tu iurasti’ is concerned with deliverance from the hand of Pharoah, whilst on Tuesday ‘Domine praestolamur’ seeks for deliverance from captivity. On the final Sunday, ‘Vide Domine’ closes the week with the invocation “Come Lord and do not tarry”.
I am looking forward to hearing these rarely performed works, and also to Tuesday’s mass setting (sung by the Consort) by Machaut. This is Jeremy Summerly’s twentieth year at Edington, and we congratulate him and thank him and the other two choir directors Andrew Carwood and David Trendell for all their inspirational commitment over the years. Thanks are also due to Patrick Elwood, Clare Dawson, Peter Roberts, David Belcher, John Barnard, Robert Quinney, Julian Thomas, Adrian Hutton, Christine Laslett, Pat Didcock, Gilbert Green, Jeremy Moore, and John d’Arcy for their contribution to the smooth running of the Festival. Our sincere thanks also to the host families in the village and neighbouring area. Once again, Patrick merits a particular mention for the immense amount of hard work he has put into maintaining the highly professional standard of administration of the Festival.
Not only are we poised at the turn of a new millennium but also we have reached the end of the designated decade of evangelism, and it is perhaps a suitable moment to remind ourselves of the strong evangelical power of fine church music sung to the highest standards, and of the lively tradition with which we are blessed at this Festival. At Edington, we have the luxury of focusing intently on the liturgy through glorious music and inspired preaching. It is a well-rehearsed complaint that Advent all too easily gets swallowed up in Christmas, becoming a season of anticipation rather than preparation. During the Festival we have an opportunity to redress the balance, enjoy the rich musical repertoire at leisure, and hopefully return to our own churches a little better prepared for Advent and Christmas, and for the new millennium.