Medieval and modern music will be mixed at the Reinterment Service of Richard III on Thursday, the 25th 2015
A few years ago Alexandra Buckle discovered a unique description of the rites used for the Reinterment of the Earl of Warwick in 1475. This liturgical manuscript called for six antiphons and seven psalms plus other musical elements sung over a period of two days.
Antiphons are short, elaborate musical items set up as responsories to psalms. These two items would be sung by the two semi-independent choirs place on each side of the quire or choir of a medieval church. To specific psalms were linked specific antiphons. As an example the antiphon ‘Omnis Spiritus’ (‘Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord’) was linked with ‘Laudate Dominum’ or psalm 150, also known as the Praise Psalm, which has inspired countless composers throughout the ages (Mozart’s rendering being one of the most cherished).
At the service for Richard III the full package will unfortunately not be realised as the 15th century liturgy prescribed. Instead a short and modern version has been prepared, lasting 50 min.
This piece has been composed for the Reinterment service by Dr. Philip Moore from York based on an earlier setting of Psalm 150 – ‘O praise God in his holiness’ – from 2007.
The new anthem will incorporate the medieval antiphon “omnis spiritus”. This would have accompanied the psalm in medieval liturgies. The composer has also added parts for the same instruments as the Master of the Queen’s Music, Judith Weair, has used in her new arrangement of the National Anthem, which will also premiere at the same service. One element has been the inclusion of four horns.
According to an interview with the Cathedral Director of Music Dr Christopher Ouvry-Johns one of the most difficult parts of planning the music, was to find a proper setting for the psalm, which is possibly the most joyful and exuberant of all the psalms, and which was part of the authentic liturgy used in 1475. But “while Christian belief in life after death means that there is rightly an element of hope in the service, it was important that this shouldn’t eclipse the solemn and dignified nature of the occasion”, he says and adds that
‘While the lively rhythms of the main body of the piece conjure up images of celebration, even dancing, the inclusion of the antiphon ‘Omnis spiritus’ from the Bangor Pontifical (a 14th-century manuscript) at the start and at the end of the piece puts that celebratory atmosphere in an appropriate context. Indeed, what could be more appropriate for the 21st-century burial of a medieval monarch than a 21st-century composition incorporating medieval music?’ he says.
The Medieval Sound
The liturgists, who have planned the reinterment have obviously tried as best they could to straddle the more than 500-year gap between the death of Richard III and his reinterment in Leicester. And true it is: had the committee opted for staging an “authentic” reenactment of a reinterment anno 1475, it would in the end still have ended up as kitsch.
But it might be nice to try an imagine the original sound of such an event.
Thus, when Alexandra Buckle discovered the manuscript with the description of the medieval ritual from 1475, she was as a musicologist somewhat disheartened by the fact that the text did not include actual notations, but only short titles referring to the antiphons, psalms etc. Nevertheless, she decided to find notations in manuscripts from the same period and fell upon the Bangor Pontifical, a medieval manuscript copied in east Anglia in the early 14th century, but still in use in Bangor in mid 15th century.
With the help of this and other sources, she was able to get the new College Choir to perform a tiny bit.
Anyone interested in the authentic sound may check it out below.
Princely Reburials in the 15th Century
With links to the work of Alexandra Buckle
Music for Henry V & the House of Lancaster
Performed by The Binchois Consort, Andrew Kirkman (conductor)