Thursday, March 27, 2008
What price the music of an unsung master?
1968 was a year of upheaval. It was the year of sex and drugs and rock and roll and saw the assasination of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, the accidental death of Trappist monk and social activist Thomas Merton, the Tet offensive in Vietnam, the rise of the anti-war movement, the student rebellion that paralysed France, and the growth of the civil rights and women's movements. Stockhausen composed Stimmung, Hair opened on Broadway, the Beatles released their White Album and a Lindsay Anderson film put an African version of the Latin Mass at the top of the UK charts. Finally, as a reminder that history rarely repeats itself, but its echoes never go away, in October 1968 Tommie Smith and John Carlos made their controversial protest in support of the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR) on the podium at the Mexico Olympics.
While society was in upheaval elsewhere Dom Charles was completing the remarkable work of art seen above in the Abbey church of the Benedictine community at Buckfast in a peaceful Devon valley. The huge east window (judge the size by the altar visible in lower foreground of my photo) is in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel at Buckfast Abbey. It uses the technique known as dalles-de-verre in which ‘tiles’ of coloured glass are chipped to shaped and laid mosaic-fashion in a matrix of resin. The window was made by the monks in the Abbey's workshop, and since its completion in 1968 windows have been made by the Brothers for more than 150 other churches using the same technique. One of the most recent commissions has been a window commemorating the New York firefighters who died in 9/11.
We had travelled to Buckfast to hear a concert of choral works by the unsung master Philippe de Monte. The music of this 16th century Flemish composer is very rarely performed today (although it is recorded), which is surprising as he wrote 1,073 secular and 144 spiritual madrigals, 45 chansons, 319 motets and 38 mass settings - eat your heart out Leif Segerstam! The intelligently planned and beautifully delivered concert was given in the Abbey church (Lady Chapel seen in my photo below) by the vocal ensemble Voces directed by Martyn Warren. There may still be many voices to a part in choirs in Devon and the men may still wear suits, ties and white shirts, but in other ways they are right up there with Radiohead. Here is an extract from the free programme book which included texts:
Concerts are normally free, allowing you to make your own decision about the contribution you make to the retiring collection. After expenses this will be split equally between the Abbey and the Voce music fund. Neither singers nor conductor take a fee. As a rough guide, a ticket for a concert like this would normally cost you at least £8, and we hope you will give generously with your money as the performers have given of their time in preparing and performing.
Masses of early music on iPods here.
My wife and I stayed in one of the Buckfast Communities splendid retreat houses on the edge of the monastic domain - recommended. Photos (c) On An Overgrown Path 2008. Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk