Here's a churchman who has left the world a better place: the remarkable, or at least remarkably persuasive, Walter Hussey (1909-85). I was going to put 'the good dean', but then I read Frances Spalding in her book on the Pipers describing him as 'a conflicted person...unable to conceal his passion for boys' (not so much of a problem only if, like Britten, he never acted on it, and Spalding's turn of phrase suggests he did).
The almost-finished portrait by Graham Sutherland below hangs in Chichester's Pallant House Gallery, which we're returning to visit when it's open; Hussey chose Pallant House as the recipient of his own collection and it now has one of the best selections of British 20th century art in the country as well as a series of enticing exhibitions.
Anyway, as vicar of St Matthew's Northampton, his home town, Hussey helped to commission wonders I'd like to go and see there, chiefly a Madonna and Child by Henry Moore and Graham Sutherland's striking Crucifixion. These gave the cue for the art of the new Coventry Cathedral. The others we can hear or read at will - Britten's Rejoice in the Lamb was composed for the church's 50th anniversary, and there was other music from Finzi, Tippett. Malcom Arnold, Rubbra and Lennox Berkeley.
Auden (pictured below in 1939, some years before the commission in question) wrote Hussey a rather tart prose Litany followed by an Anthem for St Matthew's Day - hard to find, though I've just come across excerpts in an Australian newspaper. They include an amusing-serious prayer for 'all who, like our patron saint, the Blessed Apostle and Evangelist Matthew, occupy positions of petty and unpopular authority, through whose persons we suffer the impersonal discipline of the state...deliver us, as private citizens, from confusing the office with the man...and from forgetting that it is our impatience and indolence, our own injustice, that creates the state to be a punishment and a remedy for sin'.
I'm getting carried away by Auden's drollness, but let me just also include the following: 'deliver us, we pray thee, in our pleasure and in our pain, in our hour of elation and our hour of wan hope, from insolence and envy, from pride in our virtue, from fear of public opinion, from the craving to be amusing at all costs, and from the temptation to pray, if we pray at all: "I thank Thee, Lord, that I am an interesting sinner and not as this Phrarisee" '.
Our Easter weekend visit to Themy and Eben in the Cathedral Close was the chance to find out how much we owe to Hussey, the great yet cosy building's dean from 1955 to 1977: chiefly the John Piper altarpiece, Sutherland painting and Chagall window. Arriving there as a known advocate of the new, Hussey had to tread more carefully at first with the antique sensibilities of the clergy. The first task was to reinstate the Arundel Screen we so admired on Easter Saturday. Work on the chapel of St Mary Magdalen followed, showcasing Noli me tangere, a work by Sutherland more miniature by far than the Northampton Crucifixion or the vast Coventry tapestry.
Introduced to John Piper by Spence and Moore, Hussey discussed with him what might be done with the high altar reredos now that the 16th century Sherburne Screen was revealed. Piper didn't much care for Hussey's proposal of gleaming enamels, suggesting instead a tapestry which he wanted to avoid approaching in 'too painterly a way' like Sutherland's in Coventry and settling on shapes rather than figures. Woven by Pinton Frères near Aubusson, the finished work has six panels. Central are symbols of Father, Son and Holy Ghost, while on either side are those of the four Evangelists matched to the four elements.
What a marvellous designer Piper would have made for Tippett's The Midsummer Marriage, on the evidence of his earth, air, fire and water. The latter two are to the right of the Tau cross, matched to Luke's winged ox and John's winged eagle (seen in the detail up top) while to the left earth joins Matthew's winged man and air Mark's winged lion (below)
Of course the installation in 1966 caused a hubbub. A canon pointedly attended the opening evensong in dark glasses. But there were plenty of others who loved it, like the Chichester resident who wrote, as quoted in Spalding's book, that she 'felt here was something glowing and alive and symbolic of what the church must and should be in the present age. It took away the feeling that Christianity is old and crumbling like the cathedral'.
I love its vibrancy, and never more than at the Easter Vigil when the lights finally went up and the altarpiece's magic was glimpsed through the Arundel Screen. J thinks it's a bit of its time, but agrees that high quality art works don't often join the old in churches and cathedrals (I think of the amateurish tapestries in Durham). Hussey also had commissioned for Chichester a window by Chagall
which is based on the celebration of the final psalm, 150: 'Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord'.
It's encouraged us to make an expedition in due course to Tudeley Church near Tonbridge, which has no less than 12 Chagall windows designed and executed over a period of 15 years.
Curiously, nothing can seem more modern in Chichester Cathedral than the two Romanesque panels in Caen limestone (second quarter of the 12th century, it's now believed) depicting Christ arriving in Bethany and the subsequent Raising of Lazarus. Those expressive heads seem both old and new. Sadly they're now behind glass, and hard to see, but we illuminated them with torchlight, which may give the faces a rather unwonted look. Thus Christ
as well as Martha and Mary.
But I digress. One final extraordinary commission, thanks to Hussey's far-sightedness, was Bernstein's Chichester Psalms. Humphrey Burton's magnificent biography of 'Lenny' quotes a letter Hussey wrote to him in which he notes, 'I think many of us would be very delighted if there was a hint of "West Side Story" about the music'. More than a hint emerged: Burton also tells us that the 'Why do the heathens' sequence, cutting percussively into the lyric treble/countertenor solo of the middle movement, was reworked from a discarded chorus in the musical's Prologue.
There was some debate about Bernstein's slightly tricksy wish for the actual premiere to take place in New York first; Hussey soon graciously deferred. But how remarkable that soon after, in July 1965, an Anglican cathedral played host to the Psalms as sung in Hebrew. That makes them, along with all the metrical changes apparent even in the opening,
devilishly difficult as well as liberating to sing, as I know from performing them with the Renaissance Singers, organ and percussion, in Edinburgh during my student days.
Later I heard Bernstein not long before his death conduct the Chichester Psalms with the London Symphony Orchestra and then-treble Aled Jones; by that time the master was taking them a bit too slow and reverently. I met him not long afterwards, courtesy of Ted Greenfield who took me along to the Candide recording sessions in December 1989, Bernstein's last. He grabbed me by the hand, and strode towards the gents with me still locked in his grasp, fortunately soon released. But what a man! Like half the cast, he was struggling with a nasty strain of influenza that was doing the rounds and even attacked Buckingham Palace, leading Bernstein to call it 'the royal flu'. He died the following October.
Here he is, anyway, conducting the three movements of the Chichester Psalms. The coming-together nature of the piece is further emphasised in 1977 by the Berlin location, the young Austrians in the choir alongside the Vienna Boys' Choir soloist and the collaboration of Bernstein's beloved Israel Philharmonic.
Bach cantata for the week is 'Es ist euch gut, dass ich hingehe', BWV 108, for the fourth (Cantate) Sunday after Easter. Composed for Leipzig in 1725, so for performance exactly a week later than the pick of last week's three cantatas ' Ihr werdet weinen und heulen', it boasts another splendid chorus, this time at its very core: a fugue in which the theme is very briskly snatched up, that opening idea varied with an elegantly rhythmed turn or gruppetto on 'zukünftig' (the future) in the third set of 'runs'. The text of the bass's opening aria, with a lightness-of-being oboe d'amore stealing the show, is taken from Christ's so-called 'Farewell Discourse' in John 16. Strictly speaking, the 'true vine' speech belongs to the previous chapter, but it's all I need as excuse for its fascinating realisation in a 16th century eastern orthodox manuscript.
Third of the vocal solos, with a second solo instrument in the shape of a violin obbligato, is the alto's 'Was mein Herz von dir begehrt'. There are interesting expressive shadings on 'Herz' and later, in the setting of 'überschutte' ('shower') and repeated notes on 'schaue' (regard). These new sentiments having run their course, there's no vocal repeat of the first section, and the short cantata is quickly tied up with the affirmative final chorale. Once again Suzuki with Gilchrist and Blaze - bass Dominic Wörner much less good, salvaged by the Japanese oboe d'amoreist - delivered the goods; on YouTube Harnoncourt is the only familiar choice.
The photos of the Piper altarpiece, the detail of the Chagall window and the Romanesque faces are mine. Sutherland portrait courtesy of the Pallant House Gallery, Chichester; the rest (I think) Wikidomain.