The British Isles: A Musical Tour – South East England

Brighton Belles and redbrick Reading may not appear the most appealing sources of inspiration; don’t be deceived. Not only is there historic Canterbury, but composers have also discovered music tucked away in those innocuous little villages, and many a poignant little masterpiece has been inspired by the beauties of rural Essex and Sussex.

Dyson – The Canterbury Pilgrims
Her in 597AD St Augustine brought plainchant to England. 900 years later Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales, Canterbury having become a place of pilgrimage second in importance only to Jerusalem and Rome; these colourful stories told by the various pilgrims have inspired several composers, including Dyson who wrote his oratorio in 1931.

Vaughan Williams
4 December 1903: Vaughan Williams hears a labourer, Mr Pottipher, sing ‘Bushes and Briars’, inspiring him to cycle around Leith Hill Place collecting English folksongs. So started an activity which was to last several years and which both made an imprint on his revision of The English Hymnal and profoundly influenced his music – one can hear this in the modal inflections of In the Fen Country and Sea Symphony, and coming to full fruition in Hugh the Drover.

Sumer is icumen in
In this city, supposedly, Britain’s first round for singing, ‘Sumer is icumen in’, was composed c 1250. Holst also taught at the University College, giving courses in harmony and composition; among the pupils there was Edmund Rubbra.

Holst – Four Songs for Voice and Violin
Summer 1916 – Holst wanders into the church and happens upon a young lady singing as she accompanies herself on the violin: this inspires him to write Four Songs.

Bernstein – Chichester Psalms
The Dean of this city, the Very Reverend Walter Hussey, commissioned several great choral works, including services from Berkeley, Howells and Walton; Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms (1965, for the Southern Cathedrals Festival) and – while based in Northampton, St Matthew – Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb (1943).

Vaughan Williams – The Pilgrim’s Progress
John Bunyan composed his allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress while in prison, a work which in turn inspired Vaughan Williams to compose over several decades possibly the greatest opera on the same title.

Classic CD magazine, 1998


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